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A reflection on “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad

I took a class this past semester called “Readings in the Short Story,” and we were asked to read “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad, then write a reflection about it.  My professor is pretty liberal with our writing, and only gives us some ideas to write about.  We’re never confined to stay strictly with the ideas he has given us, unless he wants us to answer a specific question.  If he does ask a specific question, we have the freedom to answer it in any way we choose…as long as it’s written and stays on topic.  In fact, his only request is that we write about whatever story we recently read, and it has to be at least one page…you know, to ensure some actual thought went into the writing.  The following paragraphs are my thoughts…my reflection on Conrad’s story.


Heart of Darkness reflection

I’m not exactly sure where to begin with this story.  I had to read it a second time, because I kept falling asleep and losing track of where I was with the story.  However, once I figured out a good strategy for digesting the material, I was hooked.  The story doesn’t start off in a way that will grab your attention and suck you in…it does take some time to get there.  Once I got there, I was good with the story and the flow of it.  I also began to glean a deeper meaning, or another way to look at the story.  When I began to think about what Conrad’s message was, I began to realize that this story can be considered an allegory.  This story shows how the human mind can be effected by its surroundings, and by experiencing trauma.

When you take a step back and look at the big picture, you first see Marlowe as the man who was changed by his experiences.  During his storytelling, he explains how he felt and his perspective, which helps you to see who he was before going to the Congo.  We watch the transformation, we watch him go from Marlowe the proper Englishman to Marlowe the guy who was transformed by life in the Congo.  This story telling, or transformation, can be adapted to just about anyone on the planet.  At one point or another, we all experience some sort of trauma—be it tragic or jubilant.

Those who are imprisoned experience a transformation.  Some are transformed into a better person during their time behind bars, while others become worse.  Some inmates allow their surroundings to take them over and make them become the hell that is the prison system.  However, there are some who are strong enough to resist that type of change.  There are some who can learn to adapt to their daily schedule without allowing the environment to become who they are.  They will go through some sort of change, who wouldn’t in that type of environment?  The difference is how each person allows the environment to effect them.  Some  continue their bad behaviors once released, while few others are able to maintain a stable life and do not return to prison.  

Another comparison is a woman before, during, and after childbirth.  Not all women go through a change or transformation, but I know many who have.  Before pregnancy, a woman may drink more or be a little bit more of a risk taker.  Why not?  She doesn’t have any responsibilities, right?  Then, the pregnancy begins the change of her perception—she begins to think about her decisions and how she lives her life.  She’ll think about her actions and if they are unbecoming of a good mother, and if she’d be happy about how she lived her life before having a child.  The physical act of giving birth, however, is traumatic for a woman.  All of the changes her body goes through during the nine months of carrying the child, then the length of time that the birthing process takes place, and at the end it all just suddenly stops.  That’s a lot for a woman to process, and it can be extremely taxing on her mentality, just like Marlowe’s experience in the Congo.

The Congo symbolizes any traumatic or tragic experience that a person can/will experience in his or her lifetime.  Marlowe symbolizes the person who is effected by the tragedy, but hasn’t been sucked in to it.  Kurtz symbolizes the person who is changed and succumbs to the tragedy, or the environment where the tragedy took place.  Marlowe’s audience symbolizes those who will come along in your life that will benefit from your story in one way or another.  

An interesting element that Conrad used is the three characters who have no names, but are referred to by their occupation.  The Director of Companies, or the captain, symbolizes trust, as stated in the text, “He resembled a pilot, which to a seaman is trustworthiness personified.”  The Lawyer symbolizes wisdom, while the accountant symbolizes the good in any situation.  

I’m not exactly sure if it was Conrad’s intention to make this story allegorical.  However, that’s not the point, because he crafted an intricate story so wonderfully that no matter how many times you read it, you’ll get something different out of it every time.  I can definitely see this story being read for at least another hundred years, if not for the story itself, but for the fine craftsmanship and appreciation of an incredible read.




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