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Heart of Darkness
Joseph Conrad
Published by The Easton Press in 1980
Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©2002


In this slightly autobiographical novel, Conrad's hero sails a steamer up the Congo River into the heart of darkness. Darkness is the central metaphor for this classic English novel. It refers to the skin of the natives of the Congo, the night during which the adventures take place, the Congo region itself, and, literally, the heart of Mr. Kurtz, the head of the last outpost of the steamer company up the Congo River.

As the journey begins the reader is drawn into the metaphor of darkness at every level: we learn about the natives' headhunting, the lonely river outposts that seem to be on the brink of engulfment by dark vegetation, the workers and agents of the ivory company that extract gleaming white ivory from the depths of the dark environs of the Congo, and the dark habits of Mr. Kurtz.

We follow the hero through the sinking of his steamer and its plank by plank re-building at a way station on the river. The attack by the natives that turns out to be a defensive measure designed to prevent extraction of Mr. Kurtz from their midst by his company's agents.

In this book we discover the original paradigm for the character played by Marlon Brando in "Apocalypse Now." The setting was updated from the Congo River to the Mekong River, and turn of the century Africa to 1960's Vietnam. But the journey remains true to Joseph Conrad's vision. The closer we get to the end of the book, the closer we come to understanding what was in the heart of Mr. Kurtz, and in the darkness of his heart we resonate with the darkness of the night, the jungle vegetation, the natives' ignorance, and with the primitive state of our civilized understanding of the ways of the Congo natives. Mr. Kurtz, in his understanding of the natives, went into the heart of darkness and became one with it.

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