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Heart of Darkness and Selected Short Fiction

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Heart of Darkness and Selected Short Fiction, by Joseph Conrad, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics: * New introd Heart of Darkness and Selected Short Fiction, by Joseph Conrad, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics: * New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholars * Biographies of the authors * Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events * Footnotes and endnotes * Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work * Comments by other famous authors * Study questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectations * Bibliographies for further reading * Indices & Glossaries, when appropriate All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works. One of the most haunting stories ever written, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness follows Marlow, a riverboat captain, on a voyage into the African Congo at the height of European colonialism. Astounded by the brutal depravity he witnesses, Marlow becomes obsessed with meeting Kurtz, a famously idealistic and able man stationed farther along the river. What he finally discovers, however, is a horror beyond imagining. Heart of Darkness is widely regarded as a masterpiece for its vivid study of human nature and the greed and ruthlessness of imperialism. This collection also includes three of Conrad’s finest short stories: “Youth,” the author’s largely autobiographical tale of a young man’s ill-fated sea voyage, in which Marlow makes his first appearance, “The Secret Sharer,” and “Amy Forster.” Features a map of the Congo Free State. A. Michael Matin is a professor in the English Department of Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina. He has published articles on various twentieth-century British and postcolonial writers.


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Heart of Darkness and Selected Short Fiction, by Joseph Conrad, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics: * New introd Heart of Darkness and Selected Short Fiction, by Joseph Conrad, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics: * New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholars * Biographies of the authors * Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events * Footnotes and endnotes * Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work * Comments by other famous authors * Study questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectations * Bibliographies for further reading * Indices & Glossaries, when appropriate All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works. One of the most haunting stories ever written, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness follows Marlow, a riverboat captain, on a voyage into the African Congo at the height of European colonialism. Astounded by the brutal depravity he witnesses, Marlow becomes obsessed with meeting Kurtz, a famously idealistic and able man stationed farther along the river. What he finally discovers, however, is a horror beyond imagining. Heart of Darkness is widely regarded as a masterpiece for its vivid study of human nature and the greed and ruthlessness of imperialism. This collection also includes three of Conrad’s finest short stories: “Youth,” the author’s largely autobiographical tale of a young man’s ill-fated sea voyage, in which Marlow makes his first appearance, “The Secret Sharer,” and “Amy Forster.” Features a map of the Congo Free State. A. Michael Matin is a professor in the English Department of Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina. He has published articles on various twentieth-century British and postcolonial writers.

30 review for Heart of Darkness and Selected Short Fiction

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mark Lawrence

    I read this a long time ago, and then again this weekend, and realised that I remembered maybe 5% of it. It's perhaps not that surprising because the existential meandering dominates the actual events, and many of the those events involve lying around being too hot, too sweaty, and too sick, just waiting. That's unfair - events do unfold, characters are met, unpleasantness witnessed, at at the creshendo, blood is spilled. The pace, however, is slow. Nineteenth century slow. Dickens sprints by co I read this a long time ago, and then again this weekend, and realised that I remembered maybe 5% of it. It's perhaps not that surprising because the existential meandering dominates the actual events, and many of the those events involve lying around being too hot, too sweaty, and too sick, just waiting. That's unfair - events do unfold, characters are met, unpleasantness witnessed, at at the creshendo, blood is spilled. The pace, however, is slow. Nineteenth century slow. Dickens sprints by comparison. Each moment of emotion and contemplation is picked apart, over-written, beaten into submission with $100 words. Two things save this from being discarded within pages and perhaps (along with academia's love affair and inclusion on ten thousand secondary school English curricula) explain its longevity. Firstly, if you forgive the overblown language that is perhaps a sign of his times more than anything, Conrad has a rare eye for characterisation and description. He 'sees' and manages to share, delivering, when he chooses to, whole people with a handful of lines. Secondly, the heart of the heart... of darkness is a mystery that obsesses the narrator and starts to compell the reader. Like our narrator steaming his way upriver into the unknown, we want to meet Kurtz, to find out what it is about this man that's so extraordinary. In the end, like anything that is built up and built up again, Kurtz is a let down, but somehow Conrad saves it with the man's last words. Another mystery left for the reader and one that's kept people reading the work for a hundred years. 3.5 stars from me - I can appreciate its worth, but I wasn't enraptured. Join my 3-emails-a-year newsletter #prizes

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    This book sucked me in one end and spat me out the other and I'm still not entirely sure what happened. It was incredibly absorbing because it took place exclusively inside the narrator's head. This felt something like a whirlpool of thoughts. This was fascinating and I really want to reread it so I can understand more of it.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    Predivna kolekcija. Ako nekom treba najbolji način da upozna Jozefa Konrada ove tri piče su odličan uvod. Ili neka pogleda Apocalypse Now, i to funkcioniše :) Tolko emocija, ljudskosti i uopšte poznavanje ljudske psihe i to tako verno preneti na papir ... pa prosto ne umem d objasnim kako to neki ljudi mogu. Naravno priče kao priče su relativno obične ali dubina pisanja i pažnja koja mora da se posveti čitanju su daleko veća nego večina knjiga koje sam čitao u poslednje vreme tako da to što nema Predivna kolekcija. Ako nekom treba najbolji način da upozna Jozefa Konrada ove tri piče su odličan uvod. Ili neka pogleda Apocalypse Now, i to funkcioniše :) Tolko emocija, ljudskosti i uopšte poznavanje ljudske psihe i to tako verno preneti na papir ... pa prosto ne umem d objasnim kako to neki ljudi mogu. Naravno priče kao priče su relativno obične ali dubina pisanja i pažnja koja mora da se posveti čitanju su daleko veća nego večina knjiga koje sam čitao u poslednje vreme tako da to što nema 1000 strana uopšte ne umanjuje obimnost ovoga dela.... u suštini tolko me je oduševilo da više buncam nego što šišem tako da PROČITAJTE knjigu.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Karl

    I wanted to read this book mainly due to Conrad's influence on Lucius Sheppard's work. So far I have gone through almost fifty pages of introduction material. That's almost as long a the whole work it self. The extensive imagery and use of language is amazing. It's hard to imagine in these times of Political Correctness just how harsh these colonial British times were in relation to the population they were "ruling". This is certainly an intense and thought provoking book. I am amazed I had not re I wanted to read this book mainly due to Conrad's influence on Lucius Sheppard's work. So far I have gone through almost fifty pages of introduction material. That's almost as long a the whole work it self. The extensive imagery and use of language is amazing. It's hard to imagine in these times of Political Correctness just how harsh these colonial British times were in relation to the population they were "ruling". This is certainly an intense and thought provoking book. I am amazed I had not read it up to this point in my life. This is certainly not light and escapist reading. What is also amazing is that this is Conrad's third language. He has completely mastered its use and imagery.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    This is a review for Heart of Darkness. Read 5/3/17 - 5/11/17 3/5 stars for Heart of Darkness. I'm not sure I fully understand it but I think what Conrad was getting at is the evil consequences of colonialism in Africa, and to illustrate every man's search for the "meaning of life". Marlow's journey into the dark jungles of The Congo was gripping. His journey is one of self discovery and I think another point to this story was that Kurtz had found the "meaning of life", and Marlow only got to se This is a review for Heart of Darkness. Read 5/3/17 - 5/11/17 3/5 stars for Heart of Darkness. I'm not sure I fully understand it but I think what Conrad was getting at is the evil consequences of colonialism in Africa, and to illustrate every man's search for the "meaning of life". Marlow's journey into the dark jungles of The Congo was gripping. His journey is one of self discovery and I think another point to this story was that Kurtz had found the "meaning of life", and Marlow only got to see a glimpse of it before Kurtz died. Was Kurtz able to pass his worldly knowledge on to anyone?

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    Finally read it and now I finally get Apocalypse Now, really I should have read this years ago but it just seems like the world is steaming up this river now.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Zachariah

    Heart of Darkness is an astounding feat of literature, displaying an uncanny command of the written English language, and written by a man who learned English as his third fluent language while in his late teens. I will not spoil the story here, but Heart of Darkness is a strange and grim, yet fascinating, look into the horror that was the Belgian Congo and the horror of human enterprise. The language may at times seem difficult for after-all, it is the common British-English of 1899. As greatly Heart of Darkness is an astounding feat of literature, displaying an uncanny command of the written English language, and written by a man who learned English as his third fluent language while in his late teens. I will not spoil the story here, but Heart of Darkness is a strange and grim, yet fascinating, look into the horror that was the Belgian Congo and the horror of human enterprise. The language may at times seem difficult for after-all, it is the common British-English of 1899. As greatly as I enjoyed Heart of Darkness, I was even more elated with the other selected stories; Youth!, Amy Foster, and The Secret Sharer. All of these tales, including Heart of Darkness, are nautically informed and drawn from Conrad's experience as a sailor. Most unfamiliar nautical terms are explained in the end-notes and those that aren't will not diminish the story. Youth! is an enticing story about a young man on somewhat of a micro-Odyssey. He is charged with the task of serving on a vessel upon its last sea-legs, a vessel which must make the long journey from Britain to Bangkok. It is a story of a a man views the world, his experiences, through the lens of youth. Amy Foster, is a tragic tale of a shipwrecked man, a stranger in a strange land if you will, who finds himself alive but downtrodden and utterly perplexed with the unfamiliarity of his new 'home'. Ultimately, the novella is a tale of a broken heart, a broken body, and a man and his wife. The Secret Sharer, the final and perhaps my favorite of Conrad's stories, centers around two men, a fugitive and a captain who are parallel to each-other yet strangers on the captain's own ship. Strangers to the crew and to the ship itself, that is. The captain struggles to bring some sort of salvation to his unlikely companion. I found this story to be quite the page turner and was quite satisfied with its language, length, and intrigue. Overall, I highly recommend Heart of Darkness and Selected Short Fiction to a wide variety of readers, especially; to those who enjoy short stories of adventure, insight into the human mind, literature of the period(ca. 1900), and of course, to those who are intrigued by nautical tales.

  8. 5 out of 5

    MichelleG

    I don't believe much can be said about this book that hasn't already been said, many times over. But let me say, my thoughts on this book is that although it really is very well written and deemed one of the all time classics and listed in so many of the "must be read" lists that it simply begs that this book absolutely must be read - at least once in a persons life. With that being said, I am glad I am now finally able to tick it off the list, but for the actual book itself well obviously it is I don't believe much can be said about this book that hasn't already been said, many times over. But let me say, my thoughts on this book is that although it really is very well written and deemed one of the all time classics and listed in so many of the "must be read" lists that it simply begs that this book absolutely must be read - at least once in a persons life. With that being said, I am glad I am now finally able to tick it off the list, but for the actual book itself well obviously it is sadly dated and the content is a look into past that fills me with such loathing and disgust that I rejoiced when I finally finished this book - even though it is a small book, it certainly packs a punch, and not in a good way!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Chory

    "Racism Couched in a Critique of Racism" Certainly it was relevant in 1977 for a black African man with a “western” education to offer criticism of the dominant paradigm of the “western,” “white” status-quo; however, in his article “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness,” Chinua Achebe entirely misses the mark. His assertion is, essentially, that given the novel’s having not been written in the latter half of the twentieth century with the bleeding-heart sensibilities of a “whi "Racism Couched in a Critique of Racism" Certainly it was relevant in 1977 for a black African man with a “western” education to offer criticism of the dominant paradigm of the “western,” “white” status-quo; however, in his article “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness,” Chinua Achebe entirely misses the mark. His assertion is, essentially, that given the novel’s having not been written in the latter half of the twentieth century with the bleeding-heart sensibilities of a “white” man of that time, it is, therefore, inherently racist and seeks to hold up all of Africa as a “foil to Europe […:] in comparison with which Europe’s […:] spiritual grace will be manifest.” (337) Achebe’s evidence of this is tenuous at best, and often hinges on logical fallacy, blatant misrepresentation of Conrad’s text, or wild postulation and slander. To this end, I will (as I have done above) include my additions to the text (both his and Conrad’s), as well as omissions from it, in brackets—something Achebe has failed to do in order to further his effort to distort Conrad’s meaning and pervert an English language classic. I assert (and seek to prove) that, to quote himself, “my observations should be quite clear […:], namely that [Chinua Achebe:] was a thoroughgoing racist.” (343) Firstly, to deal with Achebe’s distortion and misrepresentation of the text: Achebe distorts Conrad’s prose through skillful lies of omission: “Herein lies the meaning of Heart of Darkness and the fascination it holds over the Western mind: ‘What thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity—like yours….Ugly.’” (339) What Achebe omits is Conrad’s insistence of kinship and similarity: the real quote reads “[…:]humanity—like yours—the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. Ugly. Yes, it was ugly enough, but if you were man enough you would admit […:] a dim suspicion of there being a meaning in it which you […:] could comprehend.” [my emphasis:] (339) Conrad’s insistence is not on Africans as Achebe’s “just limbs or rolling eyes,” (340) but as human beings, who—though their customs, beliefs, societies, and even their skin may not look like our (European) own—are more like us than we (European denizens of the 19th century) would like to perhaps admit. Achebe’s willful ignorance to these facts, his deliberate misrepresentation of the text, and his refusal to accept historical perspective speak not to Conrad’s racism, or even the insidious racism of Victorian Europe, but to Achebe’s own racist-ly preconceived notion that all “white,” “western” men are inherently racist and anti-Africa. Achebe seems unaware that a work (or a quote) exists within a context, and that outside of that context it has little meaning. Out-of-context quotation is a hallmark of his efforts here. Twice in the article he employs secondary sources, one of which is actually a third-hand quote of Conrad stripped of all relevance in order to serve Achebe’s racist purpose: “His own account of his first encounter with a black man is very revealing: ‘A certain enormous buck nigger encountered in Haiti fixed my conception of blind, furious, unreasoning rage, as manifested in the human animal to the end of my days. Of the nigger I used to dream for years afterward.’ Certainly Conrad had a problem with niggers. His inordinate love of that word itself should be of interest […:]” (344-5) Firstly to deal with the word “nigger:” The word was the accepted English language descriptor for people of black African descent no matter where they existed in the world (from the dark heart of Africa to the white halls of London) at the time in which Conrad lived. To take issue with Conrad’s use of nigger in his own time is an idiotic argument; the same could be done with Achebe’s libelous uses of “western” and “white” as indictments of racist guilt in all people who could be so described. One must look with unclouded eyes, instead, at the essential language of the sentence, this “blind, furious, unreasoning rage” is not a characteristic of blacks or Haitians, or any other subset of humanity, but (in Conrad’s grammatical construction) of “the human animal,” a universal observation. That this man in Haiti was a “nigger” is wholly irrelevant, he could as easily have been an enraged Scotsman…the observation (and its universal nature in Conrad’s experience of it) remains true. Secondly, to deal with Achebe’s quotation of Bernard C. Meyer: he quotes Meyer as saying that Conrad was “‘notoriously inaccurate in the rendering of his own history,’” (346) Achebe seems here to have missed the fact that Heart of Darkness is a work of novelistic fiction, and not a part of Conrad’s memoirs. Conrad is not (!) Marlow (though Marlow’s travels may have been informed by Conrad’s own—one is inclined, as they say, to “write what you know”) and therefore the moral decisions which Marlow makes (or the allegedly immoral suppositions he has) are not Conrad’s, but his own; just as Steven King’s writing of serial-killers does not make him the very same. Further, Meyer’s quote, again, lacks any form of contextual reference back to either Conrad or Marlow, and is, therefore, presented in the form of logical fallacy: post hoc ergo proctor hoc—Conrad has been wrong in the past, so he must always be wrong. When Achebe rants, “as though we might expect a black figure striding along on black legs to wave white arms!” in response to Conrad’s repetitive descriptive use of the term black in the sentence “A black figure stood up, strode on long black legs, waving black arms,” (345) he undermines the use of descriptive language and seems to miss a central tenant of descriptive writing (although he uses the words “white” and “western” many dozens of times in his article to the same end, forcing their belaboured repetition herein). Albeit, Conrad is beating us over the head with blackness, but that assertion is not inherently racist; it is merely observational, Marlow recognizing the difference (the otherness) of the people of the Congo. To deny them their blackness (to engage in the bleeding-heart “I don’t see colour” assertion) is far more racist in its denial of race—and accompanying racial experience—than any simple acknowledgment of race could ever be. However, it would seem that Achebe prefers the appearance of racial integration to any real discussion of it. One cannot dialogue about racial issues while denying the existence of race! The thought is absolutely absurd and belittles the experience of “others” in their “otherness.” Achebe makes two direct comparisons of Conrad to historical figures. One is to Marco Polo, the other Adolf Hitler in a section redacted eleven years after his initial release of the critique (or, rather, artists who worked in Nazi occupied Germany during the war; Achebe’s misunderstanding—or intentional misrepresentation of [see below:]—historic fact makes the distinction irrelevant). In comparing Conrad to Marco Polo, Achebe uses the term xenophobia, almost libelously. He asserts that Marco Polo was xenophobic for not recognizing the Chinese accomplishments of the printing-press and the architectural wonder of the Chinese Great Wall in his writings on his travels. Oddly—and uncharacteristically—Achebe includes a concession to reality here (perhaps because he is not out to directly attack Marco Polo) in admitting the possibility that the voyager may never have encountered either technological wonder in his time in China. The assertion that the Great Wall “is visible from the moon!” (347) verges on insanity; who ever thought Marco Polo traveled to the moon? Is Achebe insinuating that because Polo failed to do so he is inherently xenophobic and racist? The inclusion of this information verges on a straw-man logical fallacy, except that Achebe does not seem to be hinting at anything beyond it. Instead, he maintains that both Polo and Conrad are “unload[ing:] physical and moral deformities [onto Africa/China:] so that [they:] may go forward, erect and immaculate.” (348) How two individual men representing a society as diverse as the nations of Europe could do this is entirely beyond my comprehension. In equating Conrad with “All those men of Nazi Germany who lent their talent to virulent racism,” and asserting that “poetry surely can only be on the side of man’s deliverance […:] and against the doctrines of Hitler’s master races or Conrad’s ‘rudimentary souls,’” (footnote, 344) Achebe misses the reality that there were no mechanisms within the Nazi machine to create any form of art. Instead, artists had to appeal to a censorship board with whatever they created. Achebe here attempts to remove any form of personal responsibility for one’s creation, and instead assert that merely being white (or Germanic) makes one a racist (or anti-Semitic). Achebe’s implication that all Germanic people during the war period were Nazis is in itself a racist assertion which undermines his point (but illustrates mine brilliantly!). He also asserts himself as the ultimate moral judge of the validity of all art, insisting that the artist who creates art which he (Achebe) does not like “is no more a great artist than another may be called a priest who reads the mass backwards.” (footnote, 344) Achebe’s essential assertion, the linch-pin upon which the weight of his entire argument hangs, is that Conrad’s European-ness leaves in him a “residue of antipathy to black people.” (344) Chinua Achebe’s critique of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is as far off the mark as would be an assertion by this author that the novella is hetero-sexist and homophobic because it does not include a gay character, and fails to imply homo-eroticism in the relationship between Marlow and Kurtz (or Kurtz and the Russian, or Marlow and his shipmates—all apt opportunities). Simply turning Achebe’s argument on its head (there remains in Achebe’s attitude a residue of antipathy toward white people) illustrates the absurdity of it. His logical errors, denial of historical context (and therefore appropriate behaviour in a character), insistence of his own moral superiority, and placement of himself as ultimate judge of artistic value, work to wholly undermine his argument and, except in the eyes of the most racist individual (or most bleeding-heart, white-guilt, squish-brained “liberal”), place his critique soundly in the moral rubbish-bin along with the ravings of The Reverend Wright and Jerry Falwell.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Rowland Pasaribu

    A group of men are aboard an English ship that is sitting on the Thames. The group includes a Lawyer, an Accountant, a Company Director/Captain, and a man without a specific profession who is named Marlow. The narrator appears to be another unnamed guest on the ship. While they are loitering about, waiting for the wind to pick up so that they might resume their voyage, Marlow begins to speak about London and Europe as some of the darkest places on earth. The narrator and other guests do not seem A group of men are aboard an English ship that is sitting on the Thames. The group includes a Lawyer, an Accountant, a Company Director/Captain, and a man without a specific profession who is named Marlow. The narrator appears to be another unnamed guest on the ship. While they are loitering about, waiting for the wind to pick up so that they might resume their voyage, Marlow begins to speak about London and Europe as some of the darkest places on earth. The narrator and other guests do not seem to regard him with much respect. Marlow is a stationary man, very unusual for a seaman. The others do not understand him because he does not fit into a neat category in the same manner that the others do. He mentions colonization and says that carving the earth into prizes or pieces is not something to examine too closely because it is an atrocity. He then begins to narrate a personal experience in Africa, which led him to become a freshwater sailor and gave him a terrible glimpse of colonization. With the exception of two or three small paragraphs, the perspective shifts to Marlow, who becomes the main narrator for the rest of the novel. A novella, Heart of Darkness is Joseph Conrad’s most famous work and a foundational text on the subject of colonialism. Heart of Darkness is based in part on a trip that Conrad took through modern-day Congo during his years as a sailor. He captained a ship that sailed down the Congo River. Conrad gave up this mission because an illness forced him to return to England, where he worked on his novella almost a decade later. Conrad’s works, Heart of Darkness in particular, provide a bridge between Victorian values and the ideals of modernism. Like their Victorian predecessors, these novels rely on traditional ideas of heroism, which are nevertheless under constant attack in a changing world and in places far from England. Women occupy traditional roles as arbiters of domesticity and morality, yet they are almost never present in the narrative; instead, the concepts of “home” and “civilization” exist merely as hypocritical ideals, meaningless to men for whom survival is in constant doubt. While the threats that Conrad’s characters face are concrete ones—illness, violence, conspiracy—they nevertheless acquire a philosophical character. Like much of the best modernist literature produced in the early decades of the twentieth century, Heart of Darkness is as much about alienation, confusion, and profound doubt as it is about imperialism. The presence of ill characters in the novella illustrates the fact that Heart of Darkness is, at least in part, autobiographical. Many speculations have been made about the identity of various characters, such as the Manager, or Kurtz, most recently and perhaps most accurately in Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost. But the geographical, as well as biographical, vagueness of the novel--which is one of its most artistic, haunting characteristics--make it almost impossible to pin down these details for sure. Heart of Darkness first appeared in a three-part series in Blackwood Magazine in 1899. It was published as a complete novella in 1904. It has since been referred to by many authors and poets. Its most famous lines are both from Kurtz: “exterminate the brutes,” and Kurtz's deathbed utterance, “the horror! The horror!” Francis Ford Coppola directed the film version, Apocalypse Now, in which the action occurs in Vietnam in 1979. This novella is unusual in that the author does not name most of the characters in his book, other than assigning them titles that describe their larger organizational goals. It is not quite an allegory, while he does allow them some individual characteristics of speech and dress, but they are for the most part stand-ins for larger groups. The obvious exception is Marlow, and his reaction against the colonial structures supported by people with names like “the Manager” and “the Lawyer” place him slightly outside this system. Groupthink is evident in named groups like the pilgrims and the natives. These groups have a few outstanding members, such as the native woman of arresting beauty or the red-haired pilgrim drunk with bloodthirstiness, but they mostly move together, make the same decisions, and have the same intentions. Conrad critiques such patterns, in which individual in a society think like other members of their group without stopping to think for themselves. Although Marlow is by no means a heroic character, Conrad does illustrate the need for individual thought by singling him out. Although there is controversy over whether Conrad is critiquing colonialism or not, it is clear that he is critiquing religion. The two groups in the novel, the pilgrims and the natives, are linked by having religious beliefs, and the pilgrims seem at least as bloodthirsty as the natives. The rite in the woods that Marlow describes seems alien but certainly no more dangerous than the ambush. One of the seemingly admirable characteristics of Kurtz, as presented by Conrad, is that he seems just as compelled by African religion as by Christianity but seems beholden to neither. Marlow genuinely admires his ability to independently critique religions. He may not agree with Kurtz’s evaluation, but he respects Kurtz's ability to have his own opinions in the face of the various religious traditions he encounters. A logical way to begin analyzing the tale is by applying the title to the novel. "Darkness" is a problematic word with several meanings. It is initially mentioned in the context of maps, where places of darkness have been colored in once they have been explored and settled by colonists. The map is an important symbol. It is a guide, a record of exploration. The incomplete map has a dual purpose in that maps unlock mysteries, on the one hand, by laying out the geography of unknown lands for new visitors, and on the other hand, by creating new mystery and inspiring new curiosity about the lands listed as unknown, in addition to new questions about what is only partly known. The river is another important symbol, perhaps our first symbol of the “heart,” which is itself a symbol of the human spirit. Always moving, not very predictable, the gateway to a wider world, it is an excellent metaphor for Marlow's trajectory. Marlow says that as a child he had a "passion" for maps, for the "glories of exploration." Although this description seems positive, it also sounds ominous. Marlow's tone is of one who recalls childhood notions with bitterness and regret. The cause of this regret is evident in the first description of Marlow. His sallow skin and sunken cheeks do not portray him as healthy or happy. He has had the chance to explore, but apparently the experience has ruined him. This is Conrad's way of arranging the overall structure of the novella. The audience understands that this is to be a recollection, a tale that will account for Marlow's presently shaky, impenetrable state. The author is also presupposing knowledge of colonialism. The bitterness of Marlow's recollection suggests Conrad's strong bias against colonialism, which he seems to be imparting to the reader by expressing Marlow’s difficulties. The imagery of light and dark clearly corresponds to the tension already evident between civilization and savagery. The Thames River is called a "gateway to civilization" because it leads to and from the civilized city of London. It is important to note that the city is always described in stark contrast with its dark surroundings, which are so amorphous as to be either water or land. The vivid language of maps becomes more interesting when we consider that the word “darkness” retains its traditional meaning of evil and dread. The fact that Marlow applies the concept of darkness to conquered territories may indicate Conrad’s negative view of colonialism. We read clearly that colonists are only exploiting the weakness of others. Their spreading over the world is no nobler than violence and thievery. On the map, places that are blank and devoid of outside interference are apparently the most desirable for certain people. Darkness has another meaning that retains deep resonance—a color of skin. Much of this chapter describes Marlow's first encounters with and observations of the natives of the African Congo. The darkness of their skin is always mentioned. At first glance, Marlow describes them as "mostly black and naked, moving about like ants." While in the shade, "dark things" seem to stir feebly. There is absolutely no differentiation between dark animals and dark people. Even the rags worn by the native people are described as tails. "Black shapes" crouch on the ground, and "creatures" walk on all fours to get a drink from the river. They are called shadows: reflections of humans, not substantial enough to be real. Marlow observes the piece of white string on a young man, and he is taken aback by how much the whiteness stands out against the darkness, thinking about the string's probable European origin. He cannot seem to conceive of mixing black and white. Conrad portrays Marlow’s experience of otherness to such an extreme, and with such literary care, that it is hard to see Conrad simply expressing his own experience through Marlow, although Conrad likely was well aware of his own and others’ impressions of such places and did have a choice in how to present them. Writing through Marlow’s experience is a choice that leads us to look through Marlow’s eyes at the darkness he sees. It is not accidental that Marlow is the only person on the Thames boat who is named. He is a complex character while, even in England, the others are presented not so much as individuals as with titles that name their occupations. Marlow is distinct from them as well; he belongs to no category. He is a man "who does not represent his class" because he crosses boundaries. His reaction to the African natives may not be sensitive by modern standards, but he is more engaged than the other officers at the stations. The Chief Accountant dismisses the cries of a dying black man as merely irritating. Marlow's gesture of offering a biscuit to the young boy with the white string appears to be somewhat considerate. But it also seems condescending, which seems to be more of a character trait than a racist tendency. Marlow can think of nothing else to do as he looks into the boy's vacant eyes. Marlow means well, and despite his individual character he is partly a product of his society. Immediately following the encounter with the young boy, he meets the Chief Accountant, who is perfectly attired with collar, cuffs, jacket, and all the rest. He refers to him as "amazing" and a "miracle." We observe at this moment the distinctions between savagery and civilization as perceived by Marlow. The diction demonstrates a type of hero worship for this man. His starched collars and cuffs are achievements of character, and Marlow respects him on this basis. It is far too early for readers to think we understand what Marlow is all about. Beyond Marlow’s distinction of savagery and civilization, we have a window into Conrad’s distinction when we consider his presentation of colonialism through Marlow and the colonists. The bitter irony here is that those who look the most civilized are actually the most savage. Indeed, the institution of colonialism is referred to as a "flabby, pretending, weak-eyed devil." Everything it touches turns sour: the station is an administrative nightmare, and decaying machinery lies everywhere. Marlow takes this situation, however, as indicative of a poor work ethic, which he despises. For this reason he is drawn to the blustering accountant, who is a hard worker if nothing else. Marlow, in his own bumbling way, does occasionally try to relate to the natives. The sense of time throughout the chapter is highly controlled. Conrad purposely glides over certain events while he examines others in minute detail. He does this in order to build suspicion about the place to which Marlow has committed himself. Notice that he painstakingly describes precursor events such as the doctor's visit and all conversations that involve the unseen character Kurtz. Thus begins Marlow's consuming obsession with this man. So far, Marlow’s interest in Kurtz is more or less inactive and does not inspire fear. Perfectly placed leading questions such as the one about a history of family insanity have the desired effect, however, of alerting readers to a rather fishy situation. That Marlow ignores all of these warnings creates some dramatic irony; it will take him longer to arrive at conclusions that the reader has already reached. It also is important to recognize that Marlow is telling a story. His recollections have a hazy, dreamy quality. The narrative is thus an examination of human spirit through his perspective, which is quite subjective. Thus, we should question how trustworthy the narrative speakers are. This situation puts even more distance between Conrad’s perspective and the perspective taken by characters in the story. The outside narrator only refers to what Marlow says and does; all others are ignored, and we understand their perspective only through Marlow’s account of what they say and do. Marlow selects the facts (even though Conrad ultimately selects them). Readers interested in this topic should consider in particular Marlow's perception of the African environment, which develops into the novella’s larger themes. So far as Kurtz is concerned, there has been incomplete communication. Marlow and the reader know him, but not much, yet. He seems sinister; people discuss him in a hushed manner, making sure to praise him. The fact that nobody has anything negative to say about him is suspicious, suggesting that they are all terribly anxious to stay on his good side. The portrait of the blind woman holding a torch, in the first agent's room, suggests the failing of Kurtz: perhaps he has blindly traveled into a situation and has become absorbed in it, much as the woman is absorbed into the darkness of the painting (despite the torch, she is painted in insufficient light). This preemptive warning is useful to keep in mind as we consider subsequent chapters. Heart of Darkness explores the issues surrounding imperialism in complicated ways. As Marlow travels from the Outer Station to the Central Station and finally up the river to the Inner Station, he encounters scenes of torture, cruelty, and near-slavery. At the very least, the incidental scenery of the book offers a harsh picture of colonial enterprise. The impetus behind Marlow’s adventures, too, has to do with the hypocrisy inherent in the rhetoric used to justify imperialism. The men who work for the Company describe what they do as “trade,” and their treatment of native Africans is part of a benevolent project of “civilization.” Kurtz, on the other hand, is open about the fact that he does not trade but rather takes ivory by force, and he describes his own treatment of the natives with the words “suppression” and “extermination”: he does not hide the fact that he rules through violence and intimidation. His perverse honesty leads to his downfall, as his success threatens to expose the evil practices behind European activity in Africa. However, for Marlow as much as for Kurtz or for the Company, Africans in this book are mostly objects: Marlow refers to his helmsman as a piece of machinery, and Kurtz’s African mistress is at best a piece of statuary. It can be argued thatHeart of Darkness participates in an oppression of nonwhites that is much more sinister and much harder to remedy than the open abuses of Kurtz or the Company’s men. Africans become for Marlow a mere backdrop, a human screen against which he can play out his philosophical and existential struggles. Their existence and their exoticism enable his self-contemplation. This kind of dehumanization is harder to identify than colonial violence or open racism. While Heart of Darkness offers a powerful condemnation of the hypocritical operations of imperialism, it also presents a set of issues surrounding race that is ultimately more troubling.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Chelsey

    I did not necessarily dislike this book, but - my gosh! - the language is so difficult! I now wish I had read it in a classroom, because one small book club discussion was not enough!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Aram Mohammed

    It is amazing novel. Really it is about the nature of human! We should guide ourselves to the best and correct path of live.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Rogelio Briseno

    A very confusing and boring book. The whole book was mainly about Marlowe travelling to the Congo and finding out about Kurtz and then him trying to meet him. The book felt very slow at most times throughout the book. The book tackles the morals of imperialism and if it is right or wrong. The main character seems to be against imperialism yet he traveled with an imperialistic company so he can go to the Congo. A very dull book overall.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    I think it had whispered to him things about himself which he did not know, things of which he had no conception till he took counsel with this great solitude --and the whisper had proved irresistibly fascinating. It echoed loudly within him because he was hollow at the core... Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, is a book that I've been meaning to get to for some time. The theme and underlying story has influenced many other pieces of fiction so returning to the source has intrigued me. Man ver I think it had whispered to him things about himself which he did not know, things of which he had no conception till he took counsel with this great solitude --and the whisper had proved irresistibly fascinating. It echoed loudly within him because he was hollow at the core... Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, is a book that I've been meaning to get to for some time. The theme and underlying story has influenced many other pieces of fiction so returning to the source has intrigued me. Man versus himself, combating his own inner depravity, is an especial interest of mine, and this book is purported to be one of the pivotal pieces of fiction on the topic. This is an important book, no doubt, not because of the story it tells, but that it has powerful themes, and interesting metaphorical undertones. Our protagonist, Marlow, finds himself recalling the story of a trip he took up an African river to locate and assist a Mr. Kurtz, a man responsible for the largest ivory output for the area's trading company, because he was reported to be ill. Marlow covers the events that lead up to his appointment of his boat, the preparations necessary, the crew he takes with him, and the events that he faces in the fertile, dark, and primitive, African jungle. We could have fancied ourselves the first of men taking possession of an accursed inheritance, to be subdued at the cost of profound anguish and of excessive toil. I can't say that I enjoyed reading it, though it's growing on me. Not unlike the river we find ourselves traveling down in the story, I'd describe Conrad's writing as winding, choppy and ambiguous, and it was difficult to get through at times. Some scenes are very vivid, and nicely described while others are vague and practically abstract. Conrad does write the story from the perspective of the protagonist, Marlow, so it could just be his recollection of the events and methods of storytelling that he's using. Despite this, I find myself returning to the book, reading over passages, and pondering its themes and meanings. I certainly lean towards the allegorical and metaphorical in terms of my reading interests, and from that standpoint, it does not disappoint. Heart of Darkness is reportedly the most scrutinized and studied book in literature. I don't know if that's true, though, if so, I can understand why; yet, there's part of me that understands that when we, the reader, is left to consider large ambiguities, we provide our own context and subtext, providing meaning and value we bring ourselves. Interestingly, with such a work as this, the subliminal meaning is actually quite fascinating. As Kurtz is able to peer into himself and see the true darkness, depravity, and horror that he is capable of, that lies within him, perhaps Conrad is masterfully allowing us a glimpse of ourselves. Whether we agree or accept it, is completely up to us. It also touches on the supposed dichotomy between 'civilized' culture and 'primitive' culture, and that the dividing line isn't as certain as many hope. I'll likely read it again, if not in its entirety, then portions. The book has value, if for nothing else than as an inspirational piece to pay homage to in other, perhaps more readable, works. The central theme that man, when left to his own devices, unchecked, is corruptible, and when following that path to its deepest, darkest roots, there lies horror beyond description is sorrowful, sobering, and frightening; that the line between good and evil, light and dark, is the same in both 'primitive' and 'cultured' and it's the simple individual choices that can either spare us, or gradually expose us to the true darkness. "The horror! The horror!"

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mykelle Wilkerson

    It’s about Europeans coming to Africa and exploring the Congo to steal ivory from the locals (Africans) so basically it’s about imperialism.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Bethan

    I gathered from the introduction to my copy that there seems to be a debate about Conrad's treatment of colonial and racial issues in Heart of Darkness: whether Conrad is exposing and condemning it or just reconfirming white European rule. From what I could see, it seemed to be that Conrad appears to be reflecting what is probably the average person's position on it: predictably a mixture. Apathy, inertia because it does not adversely affect the white person, because it is what the majority goes I gathered from the introduction to my copy that there seems to be a debate about Conrad's treatment of colonial and racial issues in Heart of Darkness: whether Conrad is exposing and condemning it or just reconfirming white European rule. From what I could see, it seemed to be that Conrad appears to be reflecting what is probably the average person's position on it: predictably a mixture. Apathy, inertia because it does not adversely affect the white person, because it is what the majority goes along with, and is inexorably cultural. It is not an easy thing to walk against a crowd - many people think they aren't racist but do not realise just how much they are, in so many subtle and internalised ways. This isn't exclusively a white thing because I've encountered people of other ethnicities who are actually racist about their own ethnic group, and I've encountered people who experienced injustice being discriminatory towards other groups e.g. in the biographical Maus, the father who was a Jew that survived the Holocaust was racist about black people. Or how about a campaigner for black rights who is sexist and homophobic. You get the idea... people tend to have quite a narrow focus and many may not be able to see the bigger picture or can't care much about what does not affect them. Yet, on the other hand, many people have a conscience and a sense of what is right also, and so Conrad could also tap into that and thus discomfort with the treatment of the blacks and their country is expressed through the character of Marlow and the exposition of this cruel and genocidal action through his novella. So, that's what I think about that debate and where Conrad is: in-between it. Outside of being a fiction writer, it is documented that Conrad the man himself did not agree with the treatment of the blacks in the Congo that he encountered as a sailor but resisted getting involved in political activism about it, and it makes the most sense to me that he would be reflecting a similar position in his fiction. But don't discount it because it is a way of expressing and drawing attention to the problem and issue. People would not be talking so much about this particular area in colonial history and thinking about the issues it raises to this day if he had not written about it, which can only be a good thing. Primarily, the trickiness of Conrad aside, I see this novella as preternatural, exotic with a sea journey and the jungle as a setting, beautifully written, about the fascination and compelling mystery of the character of Kurtz and his black heart indeed, the aura and idea of which Marlow appears possessed with. Quite honestly, I don't find Conrad good at being clear and specific about sketching out his points and characters but more about vaguer ideas and expression about the souls of people and how they are in the world. 'The Secret Sharer' was another good example of this and is also a really good story included in my copy, about a sailor who conceals a fellow sailor who had killed a man and engineers his escape to land which, if not about deeper and spiritual commentary about the souls of people, may partly be about how you can theoretically have bigger ideas and principles but they are hard to put into practice when faced with real people and real situations where it can be hard to go against the tide.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Adan Garcia

    I only read the "Heart of Darkness" part of the book. The location of the story is very interesting to me, it is a gloomy jungle in the Congo. It kind of sets the tone for the story, it's just dark when you think about it. The story was alright and the message was OK. It's probably a better read if you understand where the author is coming from.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    This book's status in the Western canon - for those of us who still believe in the Western canon - has been hotly debated because of the book's implied racism. The book is a story within the story; a group of men sit awake throughout the night on a ship anchored on the Thames listening to a man named Marlowe recount his experiences as a steamboat captain on the Congo River. As night deepens, Marlowe's story becomes darker and darker. He tells how the Belgian Free State (modern Democratic Republi This book's status in the Western canon - for those of us who still believe in the Western canon - has been hotly debated because of the book's implied racism. The book is a story within the story; a group of men sit awake throughout the night on a ship anchored on the Thames listening to a man named Marlowe recount his experiences as a steamboat captain on the Congo River. As night deepens, Marlowe's story becomes darker and darker. He tells how the Belgian Free State (modern Democratic Republic of the Congo) - a personal holding of the notorious Belgian monarch Leopold II - hired him to go up the Congo River to find a man named Kurtz. Kurtz is praised as an idealist, one the very best men that Europe had ever produced. As the story progresses Marlowe becomes increasingly obsessed with meeting Kurtz who is stationed deep in the African interior and is ostensibly trading for ivory. Marlowe finds that the inhumanity of the Belgians increases the further his company penetrates the dark jungles of Africa's interior. The Belgians, despite all of their talk about civilizing the Africans, are motivated by sheer avarice and cruelty. To Marlwoe's horror he discovers that the epitome of inhumanity, avarice, and cruelty is none other than the idealist Kurtz himself. There is little action in the external world of this story. Instead, the plot is driven by the psychological experiences of Marlowe as he travels up the Congo river. He is increasingly aware that man has a heart of darkness. The racial controversies that surround the book are centered on Conrad's depiction of Africa and Africans. According to Conrad's anthropology, man is a savage at heart; civilization is a thin veneer. This savage heart of darkness is revealed when the Europeans enter the primeval jungles of Africa and literally devolve back to a primitive state. Hence, Conrad's depictions of Africa and African's is racist. Though Conrad's Marlowe feels sympathy towards the brutalized Africans, he views them with condescension. They are "half devil, half child" (to borrow a phrase from Kipling) in his eyes. Moreover, Africa and the Africans are merely the backdrop for Marlowe's existential epiphany concerning the human condition (or, at least the European condition). I defend the book as a good read for several reason. 1) We cannot simply block out and forget the failures of Western civilization. Good literature not only reveals the goodness and creativity of humanity, but it's depravity as well. 2) It is historically significant since it reveals something about European mentalities at the time (it captures the disconcerted Freudian suspicion that humanity is a dark, lustful core wrapped with a thin veneer of civility that coexisted with the late 19th century belief in progress). 3) I am a Calvinist and I am naturally interested in anything that explores the total depravity of the human soul.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Bailey

    Heart of Darkness. favourite book. Although the last time I read this was three years ago, it stills resonates so strongly that I feel the urge to write a review. Which is something that I almost never do. [And please ignore any grammatical errors] Some people are hindered by Conrad's extensive imagery and skim through it in search of an obvious plot that easily moves from point A to B and end up sorely disappointed. This book was not meant to have a thrilling plot that keeps you perched on the e Heart of Darkness. favourite book. Although the last time I read this was three years ago, it stills resonates so strongly that I feel the urge to write a review. Which is something that I almost never do. [And please ignore any grammatical errors] Some people are hindered by Conrad's extensive imagery and skim through it in search of an obvious plot that easily moves from point A to B and end up sorely disappointed. This book was not meant to have a thrilling plot that keeps you perched on the end of your seat. This book is an exploration of the roots of human nature in their most primitive state. I know you are thinking "Oh great. Another one of 'those' books..." But this isn't just another one of 'those' books. By personifying the landscape, Conrad creates such a poignant picture that you can smell the odor of the enslaved natives as they work and feel the oppressive heat of the air in your lungs. Conrad also somehow seamlessly ties the landscape into an interpretation of human nature, but not in the way that a dark tree represents a dark spirit, but through the idea that in nature the true essence of man is revealed. Now that I am writing this is seems a very Romantic idea. Flairs of Romanticism aside, let me just directly quote some of this fantastic imagery (and I'm not spoiling anything because this is on the first or second page of the book) : "In and out of rivers, streams of death in life, whose banks were rotting into mud, whose waters, thickened into slime, invaded the contorted mangroves, that seemed to writhe at us in the extremity of an impotent despair. Nowhere did we stop long enough to get a particularized impression, but the general sense of vague and oppressive wonder grew upon me. It was like a weary pilgrimage amongst hints for nightmares." (page 60) My imagination is ignited. The brilliance continues and the image of the old woman knitting in the waiting room and the oppressive dark green wall pressing in on either side of that tortuous river forever seared into my mind's eye is a testament to it. And at last, once Marlow has finished his story, the last sentence offers one last piercing image of "a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed sombre under an overcast sky- seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness."

  20. 5 out of 5

    ElRojoCapucha

    Heart of Darkness is essentially the story of how society not only keeps the wicked disguised, but also keeps them in check from going completely psychotic. The story can basically be summarized as “Man recounts the horrifying journey he took back when he was young (though ironically when said Man was young he saw it as an adventure...in the beginning anyway) and teaches us that society keeps the beasts within us in check.” For those who read a certain other book about society keeping us in che Heart of Darkness is essentially the story of how society not only keeps the wicked disguised, but also keeps them in check from going completely psychotic. The story can basically be summarized as “Man recounts the horrifying journey he took back when he was young (though ironically when said Man was young he saw it as an adventure...in the beginning anyway) and teaches us that society keeps the beasts within us in check.” For those who read a certain other book about society keeping us in check, this all sound familiar? How about a wild and jungle infested setting, full of native tribes, swamp environments, and the slow loss of sanity and human morality? “The horror! The horror!”, the book goes, and indeed, what horror society has produced both directly and indirectly. To finish a point I made a couple of sentences ago, this is essentially the romantic (not love romantic. Romantic style writing.) version of ‘The Lord of the Flies.’ Are the two books duplicates? No, but the certainly are similar. Both stories have a British cast of characters, both stories have a crash of sort (plane or shipwreck), but what sets ‘Heart of Darkness’ apart from books like ‘Lord of the Flies’, is that it takes place during the age of imperialism. This helps amplify the idea that society not only cloaks the wicked, but also gives birth to the wicked once separated from them, what with all the trading, conquest, mad rushes for power, wealth, fame, women, heirs, etcetera. Also, I’d like to point out that, again, ‘Heart of Darkness’ is a romantic. In simpler terms, it’s written the same way as ‘A Tale of Two Cities’.For those that have read my review on that book, you’ll know I was rather livid about it. This book did not present as much of a reason for new infuriation, but it certainly got close. Books like these need to be further researched after they have been read. Because I did just that, and I can say from experience that once research had been done, I had a bit of a “A-Ha” or a “Oooooohhhhhh, I get it now” moment. The pieces were there, I had read the book. It just takes a bit more time and effort to get said pieces together.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Shiloh

    This book was the Heart of Darkness story, plus Youth, Amy Foster, and the Secret Sharer short stories by Joseph Conrad. I read the Heart of Darkness first because I was most curious about the narrative as it was loosely based on his own travels in the Congo during the 1800's during the Belgian colonialization. As the introduction attests, the broad strokes with wich the story is painted made it a bit difficult for first time readers to follow the plot. It often changes time or setting without l This book was the Heart of Darkness story, plus Youth, Amy Foster, and the Secret Sharer short stories by Joseph Conrad. I read the Heart of Darkness first because I was most curious about the narrative as it was loosely based on his own travels in the Congo during the 1800's during the Belgian colonialization. As the introduction attests, the broad strokes with wich the story is painted made it a bit difficult for first time readers to follow the plot. It often changes time or setting without letting you know, and leaves a lot of things unsaid. Still,it was an interesting story documenting the savagery (mostly on the part of the colonists)during that time. I think I enjoyed the short stories a bit more as they were each unique tales and told more fluidly.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    Loads of boring details, not quite enough story. While it was interesting to read Conrad's take on the exploitation of the African subcontinent and the treatment of the native peoples during the colonial era, this book failed to live up to its legendary reputation as a literary classic. The story moved ploddingly slow at times, getting mired down in mundane details and unimportant tangents, while at other times it would fast forward through events. I actually found Conrad's short story "Youth" ( Loads of boring details, not quite enough story. While it was interesting to read Conrad's take on the exploitation of the African subcontinent and the treatment of the native peoples during the colonial era, this book failed to live up to its legendary reputation as a literary classic. The story moved ploddingly slow at times, getting mired down in mundane details and unimportant tangents, while at other times it would fast forward through events. I actually found Conrad's short story "Youth" (which was included in this volume) much more interesting. People will tell you that everyone should read Heart of Darkness at least once. I suppose they're right. But you may want to just get the gist of the story and skim ahead to "the horror! the horror!"

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sharon T

    I've read this novella three times in my life -- once in college, once for a book group, and once for my work as a writing coach and tutor. Each time, I've discovered something different in the work (the joys of re-reading!). Upon this last effort -- and it is an effort -- I found I especially appreciated its character development, pacing (especially the seemingly interminable Chapter One), and fevered, oblique, imprecise language. A book I love? No. A book I'm glad I've had the occasion to re-r I've read this novella three times in my life -- once in college, once for a book group, and once for my work as a writing coach and tutor. Each time, I've discovered something different in the work (the joys of re-reading!). Upon this last effort -- and it is an effort -- I found I especially appreciated its character development, pacing (especially the seemingly interminable Chapter One), and fevered, oblique, imprecise language. A book I love? No. A book I'm glad I've had the occasion to re-read, struggle through, and spend time with? Yes.

  24. 4 out of 5

    John Molina

    I really enjoyed this book a lot. I thought the prose in it was some of the best I have ever read and the psychological aspects of the novel were done extremely well. I don't want to write much more for fear of giving anything away, but I have to say that this is definitely one of the best books I've ever read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kyle Garner

    Second time I've tried to read Conrad. Will be the last!

  26. 5 out of 5

    marie

    The writing was amazing, esp if you think that English was not his first language. I felt that I was in Africa. But I felt the character devt of Kurtz was insufficient.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    I read this book in college whilst working out on an exercise bike and sweating buckets... how's that for an atmospheric reading experience?

  28. 4 out of 5

    Josh

    I can't really recommend Joseph Conrad to anyone. Not that there's any issues with his writing, just…it's really hard to read quickly. Conrad's a smart writer, I think his humor is underappreciated, and his characters are always keenly aware of the psychology behind everything that's going on, and Heart of Darkness is just a classic…I just don't feel like reading his works gave any extra insight that reading about them doesn't give. But at the same time, I don't regret reading it. I guess I just I can't really recommend Joseph Conrad to anyone. Not that there's any issues with his writing, just…it's really hard to read quickly. Conrad's a smart writer, I think his humor is underappreciated, and his characters are always keenly aware of the psychology behind everything that's going on, and Heart of Darkness is just a classic…I just don't feel like reading his works gave any extra insight that reading about them doesn't give. But at the same time, I don't regret reading it. I guess I just don't feel too strongly about him at all—sometimes reading books a century old, I feel a little "disconnected," and that's definitely happening here. The format of the short story is a good amount of Conrad, and each story doesn't really overstay its welcome. I might read The Secret Agent, but the page lengths of Lord Jim and Nostromo look masochistic. As for each short story: Youth— A comparatively light-hearted and funny account of Marlow's early days of adventure. I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would. Heart of Darkness— The immortal classic. It's fun to study and analyze, since Marlow himself invites you to, as he himself analyzes aspects to the story as he tells it. At the suggestion of my English teacher, I wrote an essay connecting this story to Joseph Campbell's monomyth, which I'll put in spoiler tags if anyone's interested in the monomyth, or the depths of overanalysis you can bring to this book. (And it does have spoilers, so bewarned): (view spoiler)[ The Horror, The Hero As Charles Marlow takes his first steps onto the Nellie of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, he departs on the symbolic journey thousands of heroes from thousands of cultures throughout history have made. Although Heart of Darkness was written fifty years before the theory of the “monomyth” was first described in Joseph Campbell’s work The Hero with a Thousand Faces, it is nonetheless the epitome of the universal story Campbell describes. Heart of Darkness could actually be seen as having a double monomyth, with Marlow’s journey following at the heels of Kurtz’ journey made just before him. Both characters follow through many of the same steps of the journey, but take different turns at the crucial “Return” path of Campbell’s monomyth. By placing these two variations of the monomyth together in one narrative, Joseph Conrad contrasts the fundamental truth that can be discovered through the Hero’s Journey, and the failures and corruptions that can enter the cycle as well. All myth starts with the “Departure,” or as Campbell named it, “The Call to Adventure.” Campbell wasn’t breaking any new grounds here—all adventures must start with an incident that calls for the adventure. Yet, it is important for Marlow’s and Kurtz’ sakes, as they share nearly the same exact starting incident. Both were young promising employees of the Belgian shipping company of the Congo. And what brought them there? The quest for money. Kurtz and Marlow start at the same pure initiation, both in-universe, and in the universe of all myth and literature. Conrad shows (using modern Campbellian terms here) that even with the same Call To Adventure, the Hero’s path can twist and change over its course of action. The Congo River that both characters travel down is representative of Campbell’s “Road of Trials.” He speaks of this stage as “a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survive a succession of trials.” (Campbell 81) The image of the great Congo River is reminiscent of a literal road, but it fits the abstract description Campbell gives as well. Marlow and Kurtz are tested mentally and physically as they go down the river to the Central Station—Kurtz fights for (and loses) his sanity, and Marlow and the crew of the Nellie must survive hunger, fog, and even spears and arrow fire from unruly natives. (In a metatextual way, this section of the book is too a Road of Trials for many first-time Conrad readers to overcome.) Marlow’s narration concurs with Campbell’s description of a “dream landscape,” as he repeatedly compares the surreal qualities of the Congo to that of dreams, or more accurately, nightmares. “…It came in the shape of an unrestful and noisy dream, remembered with wonder amongst the overwhelming realities of this strange world of plants, and water, and silence.” (Conrad 74) Marlow is of similar age and background to Kurtz, but symbolically, Kurtz fills the roll of the father in the monomyth stage, “Atonement with the Father.” Campbell says that when the hero (in this case, Marlow) meets the all-powerful father (in this case, Kurtz), “the problem of the hero … is to open his soul beyond terror to such a degree that he will be ripe to understand how the sickening and insane tragedies of this vast and ruthless cosmos are completely validated in the majesty of Being. The hero transcends life with its peculiar blind spot and for a moment rises to a glimpse of the source. He beholds the face of the father, understands—and the two are atoned.” (Campbell 110) Campbell writes of the atonement with optimism—that the atonement is a positive realization, whereas Conrad’s atonement is more deeply cynical of human nature. Marlow glimpses the source through Kurtz, seeing all of the sickness and corruption of the world and the great façade of the “civilized” European man. While the narrative doesn’t show the exact steps to how Kurtz became the crazed god of the Congo, it is implied through his final days that he went through the stages of “Apotheosis” and the “Refusal of the Return.” Campbell defines Apotheosis as a period of rest, introspection, and disconnection from the physical world, in which the hero finds spiritual truth and ultimate knowledge, which Marlow describes happening in Kurtz perfectly: “[Kurtz’] soul was mad. Being alone in the wilderness, it had looked within itself, and by heavens! I tell you, it had gone mad.” (Conrad 112) Campbell cites the three days of Jesus Christ in the tomb and the Buddha meditating under a tree as famous examples of Apotheosis. Likewise, as Kurtz is disconnected from society, he becomes a literal god to the local tribesmen. Echoing Campbell’s words, Marlow even compares Kurtz’ stance while dying to that of the Buddha: “Marlow ceased, and sat apart, indistinct and silent, in the pose of a meditating Buddha.” (Conrad 124) Kurtz had found his “Ultimate Boon,” but Conrad had made another cynical twist on the monomyth: his “boon” was madness. Kurtz’ only attempt to share his boon with the rest of the world was through his cryptic message “Exterminate all the brutes!” (Conrad 92). By staying in the Congo and not returning to the world with his message, Kurtz enacted what Campbell called the Refusal of the Return—staying put, and deciding not to share his spoils and knowledge with the unenlightened common folk of the world. Marlow’s boon was the discovery of Kurtz’ boon—the discovery of the underlying darkness that all mankind was guilty of being capable of having. Marlow was able to make his “Crossing of the Return Threshold,” but like Kurtz, he was almost trapped to never be able to share his boon with the world. And initially, he was trapped—outright lying to Kurtz’ Intended at an opportune moment he could have shared with the real world what he had learned on his Hero’s Journey into the unknown. He finally does communicate his findings in the end as he narrates his journey to his friends on the boat and in turn, to the reader. It is not only through the aspects of the plot elements that Heart of Darkness connects with the historical and universal human story. The fact that Heart of Darkness is told through a frame narrative is significant to connecting it with tales of old with their heroes and their gods. The archetypal hero stories that Campbell derives his monomyth from come from ancient societies where stories were told verbally and through song—tales of Greek war heroes and Chinese prophets would not be sat down and read, they would be lived: acted out at social gatherings, passed down to children, and maybe, shared with friends while taking a boat trip. While the frame narrative of Heart of Darkness seems initially redundant and unnecessary, it creates an atmosphere men and women across all millenia are inherently familiar with. Despite Heart of Darkness’ loquacious writing style, Conrad is telling a simple story. The similarities his plot shares with Campbell’s monomyth shouldn’t be seen as examples of Conrad’s laziness or use of cliché, but instead, his ability to write universal and timeless truth that thousands of other writers wrote into their stories throughout all of civilization. Campbell never claims that the stories that contain elements of his monomyth are cliché; he says the opposite, that by containing these universal elements, stories are able to educate and speak to the entire range of humanity across place and time. The aspects of the Hero’s Journey (or Journeys) in Conrad’s plot are a major factor to why it has become so canonical. The reason Heart of Darkness is so successful is precisely because it speaks in the same language all myth and adventure has been spoken in since the most early and majestic dawns of human civilization. By using such simple universal archetypes, Heart of Darkness speaks straight to the heart of humanity. (hide spoiler)] Amy Foster— Not one of Conrad's most popular short stories, but nonetheless one of my favorites from this collection. It's sad, dark, and maybe darkly comic…it reminded me of Kafka's The Metamorphosis, having similar themes of a stranger misinterpreted, comic amounts of insensitive cruelty, a caring helping female figure (who later gives up on him), and eventual sickness. Granted, the character's just Polish, not a giant bug, but to xenophobic Victorian era Britain, I doubt much distinction would have been drawn between the two… The Secret Sharer— This is the only short story in the collection that isn't told in a frame narrative. The protagonist, like Marlow, is keenly aware of his own psychology, and does a lot of the story's analysis for you. However, it was one of the least exciting in the collection, and I was more eager to finish it than anything else. Again, as I've said in my review of Metamorphoses, I'm iffy about Barnes & Noble's Classics series. I love the introduction, footnotes, and other critical analysis stuff they throw in there and appreciated it all (although I wish there was a map or diagram of all of the parts of a ship: that would have helped visualize Youth and The Secret Sharer better). But the typefaces, small margins, economical line-spacing…it makes an already slow-reading book a lot harder to read quickly. It's a tradeoff: great price and extra critical material, at the expense of ease and speed of actually reading it.

  29. 4 out of 5

    precaf

    I re-read "Heart of Darkness" after many years to see how it has stood up. And it does – exceptionally well. The story is recounted, as fin de siècle stories sometimes were, as the recollections of a narrator once-removed. The narrator recounts a tale told by a mariner named Marlow, who as a young man had been out of work for some time and had obtained work as a river pilot for a Belgian colonial enterprise. In Part I of the story, even before Marlow enters the Congo, his first ominous brushes a I re-read "Heart of Darkness" after many years to see how it has stood up. And it does – exceptionally well. The story is recounted, as fin de siècle stories sometimes were, as the recollections of a narrator once-removed. The narrator recounts a tale told by a mariner named Marlow, who as a young man had been out of work for some time and had obtained work as a river pilot for a Belgian colonial enterprise. In Part I of the story, even before Marlow enters the Congo, his first ominous brushes are with the corporation to which King Leopold had given the charter to pillage a massive part of the Dark Continent (an area 75 times as large as Belgium itself). The company Marlow visits when signing on is quartered on a street with grass growing up through the cobblestones – a spent Europe. As if a heroic journey were beginning, in Conrad's story the building is "guarded" by two old crones who usher Marlow into a perfunctory interview, then a medical examination in which his supposed "English cranium" is measured every which way (phrenology was in vogue and it had eugenic overtones). He next visits the aunt who has secured his position for him, who gives him a lecture on how he is benefitting the savages of the Congo, doing the Lord's work. Then Marlow begins his month-long trip up the river, on a French steamer captained by a morose Swede who tells him the story of another Swede who has committed suicide, all along which various European colonial military forces are shooting their cannons into the brush – for no purpose other than to demonstrate colonial power – or building insane projects with slave labor, whose weak and used-up laborers are literally cast upon heaps to die. It's not a pretty picture of European colonialism. Conrad often describes the natives as "brutes" and "cannibals" and "savages" and his use of the word "nigger" describes the collared and chained people of Africa in the 19th and early 20th centuries: still slaves, though only a legalism alters the true status of people "brought from all the recesses of the coast in all the legality of time contracts." In contrast, the Europeans are described as "pilgrims" – presumably on a quest supposed to be holy. When Marlow arrives in Leopoldville, he discovers that the vessel he was hired to captain has been sunk, its bottom ripped out on a sand bar, and that he is to proceed to find Mr. Kurtz, an agent many miles inland whose franchise accounts for more than half of all the colonial spoils. Kurtz is legendary and expected to go great places on his return to Europe. And we learn what it is these colonists are up to. "The word 'ivory' rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it." Marlow, in speaking to the station master, sees a portrait of a blindfolded woman holding a torch (very likely Astraea), but it appears sinister to him. It turns out to have been painted by Kurtz, who is believed to be quite the Renaissance man. It seems to at least this reader to be a warning that the practice of foisting Western ways on non-Western people is not going to end well. Conrad briefly pulls us out of the dark midnight of Marlow's tale described as a dream. "It had become so pitch dark that we listeners could hardly see one another. For a long time already he, sitting apart, had been no more to us than a voice. There was not a word from anybody. The others might have been asleep, but I was awake." Marlow resumes his tale, remarking that the minor colonial functionaries ensured uninterrupted trade in worthless glass beads, yet the rivets that could have repaired his boat never managed to find their way to him. Marlow resolves to get them in three weeks, but all that arrives is another colonial expedition looking for more spoils. "Their talk, however, was the talk of sordid buccaneers: it was reckless without hardihood, greedy without audacity, and cruel without courage; there was not an atom of foresight or of serious intention in the whole batch of them, and they did not seem aware these things are wanted for the work of the world. To tear treasure out of the bowels of the land was their desire, with no more moral purpose at the back of it than there is in burglars breaking into a safe." Take that, Dick Cheney. Take that, United Fruit. In Part II, Marlow runs upriver into the "heart of darkness." It is as if he is moving back into the time of pterodactyls, into pre-history. He considers the thin veneer of civilization that Western man has accreted and the common humanity with the "cannibals" and "savages." He ponders the ease with which a "cannibal" with a bone through his nose can be trained to watch the pressure gauges on a steamer. On the eve of arriving at Kurtz's station, they stop at a deserted settlement and find a sign warning them to "approach cautiously." They stop for the night, resolved to proceed cautiously by light of day. In the morning there is a thick fog and to all the "pilgrims" their steamer is the only object left in the world, everything else "gone, disappeared; swept off without leaving a whisper or a shadow behind." Marlow asks why the steamer's native crew ("thirty to five" Europeans) did not eat them. And all the passengers wonder at the unseen natives on the riverbanks: "Will they attack, do you think?" The question is answered the moment the arrows start flying at the vessel and a crewman is killed. The main narrator then interjects in a sort of flash-forward, to point out that Marlow has lied to Kurtz's wife – women need to be shielded from the truth – the truth, Marlow believes, is that Kurtz's bleached skull will be found with a mountain of ivory he has collected. Marlow speculates on the identity of the half-British, half-French Kurtz – mentioning a report Kurtz has written for the Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs. "All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz." It is a magnificent opus, Marlow believes. It suggests that savages can be elevated by the white man. Yet, at the end of the report, in unsteady handwriting, Kurtz has scrawled: "Exterminate all the brutes!" Marlow is faced with the decision to convey the report to its intended readers – or to "lose" it. Mainly he wants to preserve Kurtz's memory, but he is undecided about the report. The fast-forward ends and finally Marlow's steamer arrives at its destination and there he meets a young Russian who knows Kurtz. In Part III, the Russian fills in Marlow on Kurtz and, through his binoculars, he sees Kurtz's compound walls, surrounded by heads. Now we know the truth about the man. We meet a fierce, beautiful black woman who may have been Kurtz's consort, and we learn that Kurtz ordered the attack on the steamer. But Kurtz is in bad shape and the natives return him to Marlow, whereupon he is loaded onto the boat and conveyed back out of the heart of darkness. On board he dies after many days, his last uttered words being “the horror, the horror.” Marlow returns to Belgium with Kurtz's papers and the report (from which he as ripped the final scrawled page) and protectively guards Kurtz's memory, even lying to Kurtz's fiancee about his last words. The story returns to the prime narrator, who returns us to the story's present – an old group of seafarers on a tranquil waterway flowing “into the heart of an immense darkness.” I love this story because it so beautifully combines the political, the psychological, the cultural, and is written in Conrad's beautiful language. His descriptions are always rich and thoughtful and – though European (and American) colonialism are officially gone – they linger about, continuing to wreak their horrors on the rest of the world. This volume also contains three other stories. "Amy Foster" – a beautifully-written tale of a Slavic shipwreck victim who marries Amy Foster. "The Secret Sharer" – the tale of a ship's captain who risks everything to help a murderer who steals aboard his ship. "Youth" – a wonderful story, with surprisingly modern and very poetic language, about a young officer on board an old ship hauling coal to Bangkok.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jerry Smith

    I've been meaning to read this, along with some other Conrad works for a while and it seemed sensible to start with what is commonly regarded as his seminal work. In my ignorance I hadn't even realized that "Heart of Darkness" is the inspiration for the movie "Apocalypse Now" even down to character names. Obviously the latter is transposed from the heart of Africa to the jungle of Vietnam and there is no smelling of napalm in the morning as far as Conrad is concerned but still. I enjoyed it altho I've been meaning to read this, along with some other Conrad works for a while and it seemed sensible to start with what is commonly regarded as his seminal work. In my ignorance I hadn't even realized that "Heart of Darkness" is the inspiration for the movie "Apocalypse Now" even down to character names. Obviously the latter is transposed from the heart of Africa to the jungle of Vietnam and there is no smelling of napalm in the morning as far as Conrad is concerned but still. I enjoyed it although the raptures into which it sends many other readers somehow escapes me. The structure is interesting; the narrator introducing a narrator who tells the story but I didn't find the characterization of Kurtz to be particularly compelling. I understand that he, like his celluloid creation, has somehow gone rogue in the back of beyond and established himself as a lord of his people. There are intimations of his despotic character, as well as signs that those in his orbit hold him in great reverence but I never really felt this was developed and I didn't feel a particular liking for, or abhorrence of him. In the end therefore, his fate was something about which I didn't really seem to care. The descriptions of the Congo and the journey up river are magnificent and evocative. The overall theme of savagery that one can find equally in the African jungle and the city of London are certainly there, but somewhat understated in my opinion. Again, the novella format allows for a quick read and fast story development, but reduces the opportunity to delve deeper into the character of the main players. I think I will read it again after I have taken in some of his other works, including the introduction of Marlow to the reader. I suspect this will broaden out the story and the characterizations.

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