A journey along the Congo River in search of a mysterious man known as Mr. Kurtz, Joseph Conrad’s novella The Heart of Darkness takes readers on a descent into madness. Eerie, troubling, difficult, not words one would typically use when first describing a classic novel but it fits for this one. The narrator Marlow goes in search of Mr. Kurtz, a man he has built up in his mind as the epitome of the white man saving colonial Africa. But along the way he discovers that he had things the wrong way around.
I liked the premise of this book, I liked the way it made me reflect on the history of European colonialism and I liked the way it depicts the attitudes that shaped this world. I did not like the writing style. For me, it just didn’t flow the way I had hoped. Like others who have read the book, I found the use of metaphors a little much.
This is a story of greed, morality, racism, and the human capacity for evil. What I like about this book compared to other classics I’ve read is the way it radiates the thinking of the time. It’s a horrible topic, a horrible time in our history and is difficult to read, I can only wonder about its reception and how convicting it was for many people to read at the time. Yes, it comes across as racist and some of the language may be harsh for some readers. There is a tendency to want to excuse that with the fact of “that’s what things were like at the time” but for me, I think it set out to magnify the reality and inaccuracy of these attitudes rather than perpetuate them.
This book was a mixed bag for me, one I should have read for a university course but took the opportunity to skip. While I’m glad I finally read it, it’s not going to become a favourite of mine. That being said, I think it takes an interesting look at the prevailing attitudes of the time and definitely adds to the discussion of morality. Set in a time when European colonialism ran rampant through the African continent, Heart of Darkness takes us deep into the interior and what lies at the heart of human nature.