Conrad’s Concern with the Question of Good and Evil with Reference to Heart of Darkness
The story of Heart of Darkness is essentially the story of two men – Marlow and Kurtz. Of course, it is also the story of the collision between barbarian and civilization, the story of the savages of a dark country and the invasion of that country by a white man. But Marlow and Kurtz are the two men through whom the prevailing state of affairs in the Belgian Congo is conveyed to us. Almost everything centers around one or the other of these two men, though they are subsidiary important figures in the story. What the most remarkable in the novel is that the malignant character of the outward universe suggests the inner darkness of men or the potential evil in men. The darkness of the jungle symbolizes the darkness in the heart of men. Both have a menacing, evil look. From a thorough study of the novel, we find Conrad’s concern with the concept of good and evil, a moral conflict in man.
The white men represent imperial exploitation of the backward countries which the white men had conquered by force of ammo. Heart of Darkness conveys to us in a nutshell the deceit, fraud, robberies, arson, murder, slave trading, and general policy of the Belgian rule in the Congo. In the novel, we find all the characters of the white people concerned with evil. The manager of the central station is a despicable fellow who can inspire neither fear, nor love, nor respect and who can inspire only uneasiness. The white agents of the company are seen loitering about the central station, carrying staves in their hands, but doing nothing. What all these men do is evil.
Apparently, the white men go to Africa on a civilizing mission. Their mission is to take the light of religion and civilization onto the natives of Africa who are barbarians with no ideals, religion or human values. Obviously, the white men are in Africa as saviors but they are in reality exploiters and colonizers, more brutal savage that the savages whom they pretend to civilize. Thus in the story, the civilizing mission of the white men receives an ironic treatment and their callousness, savagery, brutality, and lust for worldly gain are fully exposed and condemned.
Kurtz is the embodiment of the whites. Coming to civilize the uncivilized he has many things which are fully evil. Marlow expresses the view that Mr. Kurtz was a remarkable man, and that he had something solid to say before he died. What he had to say was “the horror!” These words were indicative or some truth which Mr. Kurtz had glimpsed while dying. Mr. Kurtz last words had been an affirmation and a moral victory over all his innumerable defeats in life and overall the abominable terrors which he had experienced and also over all his abominable satisfactions.
Thus there are two sides to Kurtz’s personality. There is the evil side which Mr. Kurtz himself recognizes when he utters the words, “The horror!” The evil certainly predominates in Mr. Kurtz whose stay in the Congo has not only furthered increased his passion for ivory but awakened his primitive instincts and brought them to the surface so that he becomes a complete slave to those instincts and begins to share the life of the savages. But there is a good side to his personality which is recognized by the Russian and then by Marlow. To the Russian, he seems to be an “immortal” who had profoundly influenced Russian’s outlook upon life and who had enabled the Russian even to see into the essence of things, the good side is partly represented by Mr. Kurtz’s eloquence and his command of the language in which speaks. The good side also finds an outlet in his last words which shows his realization of the evil, which had been raging within him and which had been controlling most of his actions. It is this good side which makes Marlow also an admirer of Mr. Kurtz. Finally, this good side of the man is seen in his fiancée’s continuing love for him and her continuing and deathless devotion to his memory.
Thus there are good and evil in the and finally good triumphs over evil. Actually, as an artist, Conrad has shown his concept of good and evil in man through some characters, especially through Kurtz in his novel Heart of Darkness.