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Samenvatting

Title of book: Heart of Darkness

Author: Joseph Conrad Nationality: English / Polish

Published by: Penguin books 1973 First editon: Published in 1902



I have chosen this book, because I know someone who has studied English and he can never stop talking about Joseph Conrad. He thinks it's the best writer ever, so I wanted to know if he's true and that's why I choose this book.



While reading



Summary Part I:



A ship called the Nellie is cruising down the Thames. The narrator is an unidentified guest aboard the ship. First the people who are aboard the ship are described. The Director of Companies doubles as Captain and host. They all regard him with affection, trust and respect. The Lawyer is advanced in years and possesses many virtues. The Accountant wants to begin a game of dominoes. Between them already is the "bond of the sea". They are tolerant of another. Then there is Marlow. He looks not very healthy, he has sunken cheeks and a yellow complexion. Then Marlow is telling a story of his life. He tells about his childhood, when he had a passion for maps and finally he is able to travel himself on a ship. He is asked to take the place of Fresleven, a captain who has been killed in a fight with the natives.

There is a uniformly somber atmosphere. After a month, Marlow arrives at the mouth of the big river, and takes his passage on a little steamer. Once aboard he learns that a man picked up the other day hanged himself recently. He is taken to his Company's station. Marlow hastily makes his way towards the station. He meets a white man dressed elegantly and in perfect fashion. After learning that he is the chief accountant of the Company, Marlow respects him. Marlow frequently visits the accountant, who tells him that he will meet Mr. Kurtz, a remarkable man in charge of the trading-post in the ivory-country.

Marlow want to speak to the General Manager. This person only inspires uneasiness. Marlow begins working in the station. Whispers of "ivory" punctuate the air throughout the days. One evening a shed almost burns down. A black man is beaten for this. The manager's main spy, a first-class agent, befriends the new skipper and begins to question him extensively about Europe and the people he knows there. Marlow is confused about what this man hopes to learn.

Marlow wants rivets to stop the hole and get on with the work on his ship. The ship is the one thing that truly excites him. Instead of rivets, however, they receive an "invasion" of "sulky niggers" with their white expedition leader, who is the Manager's uncle. Marlow meditates for a bit on Kurtz, wondering if he will be promoted to the General Manger position and how he will set about his work when there.



Summary Part II



While lying on the deck of his steamboat one evening, Marlow overhears a conversation between the Manager and his uncle, leader of the Expedition group that has arrived. The two are conferring about Kurtz. The two men are wondering how all this ivory has arrived, and why Kurtz did not return to the main station as he should have.

Marlow believes this fact allows him to see Kurtz for the first time. The Manager and his uncle say that either Kurtz or his assistant must be hanged as an example, so that they can get rid of unfair competition. Realizing that Marlow is nearby, they stop talking.

In the next few days, the Expedition goes into the wilderness and loses all their donkeys. As they arrive at the bank below Kurtz's station, Marlow is excited at the prospect of meeting him soon. There is a stillness that does not resemble peace. He is concerned about scraping the bottom of his steamship on the river floor. The Manager and some pilgrims are also onboard.

Eight miles from Kurtz's station, the Manager decides they will stay put for the evening. No sounds are heard. The sun rises, and "complaining clamor" with "savage discord" fills the air. Everyone fears an attack. The Manager insincerely worries that something might have happened to Kurtz. Some men go and investigate the shore. A pattering sound is audible: flying arrows! A black man is shot and lays at Marlow's feet. He tries to talk and dies before he can get any words out.

Marlow supposes that Kurtz has perished in this attack. He is exceedingly upset: talking to the mythical man has become a major point of interest. Kurtz has taken position of "devil of the land." Originally he was well-educated, but he has become entirely native in Africa, participating in rituals and rites. Kurtz is anything but common. Back in the battle, the helmsman is killed. Marlow throws the body overboard. Miraculously they spy Kurtz's station, which they had assumed to be lost. They see the figure of a man who resembles a harlequin. This man says that Kurtz is present, and assures them that they need not fear the natives, who are simple people. He speaks with Marlow, introducing himself as a Russian. The Russian says the ship was attacked because the natives do not want Kurtz to leave with the crew.



Summary Part III:



Marlow is astonished at the Russian's words. He is gathering a clearer picture of Kurtz. The Russian says that he has gone so far that he doesn't know if he will ever get back.

Kurtz has raided the country by getting the cooperation of the nearby tribe, who all adore him. The Russian disagrees that Kurtz is mad. Presently, Kurtz lies in a hut surrounded by heads on stakes.

In a raspy voice Kurtz says he is glad to meet Marlow. The Manager comes in to talk privately with Kurtz. Waiting on the boat with the Russian, Marlow spies the "apparition" of a gorgeous woman. The harlequin man fears her.

They overhear Kurtz telling the Manager that he is interfering with plans. The Manager emerges. Taking Marlow aside, he says they have done all they can for Kurtz, and that he did more harm than good to the Company. His actions were too "vigorous" for the moment. But to Marlow, Kurtz is a remarkable man, and a friend in some way. Marlow warns the Russian to escape before he can be hanged; he states that he will keep Kurtz's reputation safe.

While Marlow dozes, drumbeats and incantations fill the air, he looks into the cabin that holds Kurtz, and discovers he is missing. Marlow sees his trail, and goes after him. The two men face one another. Kurtz pleads that he has plans. Marlow realizes that this man's soul has gone mad. He is able to bring Kurtz back to the cabin. The ship departs the next day amongst a crowd of natives. Kurtz is brought into the pilot-house of the ship. The "tide of brown" runs swiftly out of the "heart of darkness." The life of Kurtz is ebbing.

The Manager is now content. Marlow listens endlessly to Kurtz's bedside talk. He accepts a packet of papers and a photograph that his friend gives him, in order to keep them out of the Manager's hands. A few evenings later, Kurtz dies, with one phrase on his lips: "The horror!"

Marlow returns to Europe, but is plagued by the memory of his friend. The Manager demands the papers that Kurtz entrusted to Marlow. Marlow relinquishes the technical papers, but not the private letters and photograph. All that remains of Kurtz is his memory and that picture of his Intended. Kurtz is very much a living figure to Marlow.

He goes and visits the woman in the picture. She embraces and welcomes him. She has silently mourned for the past year, and needs to profess her love and how she knew him better than anyone. Marlow perceives the room to darken when she says this. She speaks of Kurtz's amazing ability to draw people through incredibly eloquent speech. The woman says she will be unhappy for life. Marlow states that they can always remember him. She expresses a desperate need to keep his memory alive, and guilt that she was not with him when he died. When the woman asks Marlow what Kurtz's final words were, he lies and says it was her name. The woman weeps in triumph. Marlow states that to tell the truth would be too dark. Back on the Thames River ship, a tranquil waterway leads into the heart of darkness.



a. short, simple sentences few

b. description much

c. action little

d. difficult words many

e. dialogue much

f. characterization much



Here I have copied the most special page in my opinion. This is the page where Kurtz dies, what has a lot of influence on everybody. Marlow regarded Kurtz as a friend, a very special person and actually whole the book is about this. There fore I have chosen this piece of the book.



After reading



Character List:



Marlow: the protagonist and main narrator of the story, who stumbles into Africa looking to sail a steamboat and finds much more. He possesses a strong sense of the past and a good work ethic: working hard is a means of achieving sanity. In many respects, the world view of Marlow is that of a typical European. Still, he is intended to be a versatile character, one of the few who does not belong to a distinct class, and can thus relate to different kinds of people with more ease than his peers in the story.



Kurtz: he is in charge of the most productive ivory station in the Congo. Hailed universally for his genius and eloquence, Kurtz becomes the focus of Marlow's journey into Africa. He is the unique victim of colonization; the wilderness captures him and he turns his back on all people and customs that were a part of him.

Manager: Marlow's direct supervisor, he is a hard, greedy man who values power and money above everything else. Yet he masks this behind a civilized demeanor. He seems to have an ability to outlive those around him. The Manager would like nothing more than to surpass Kurtz in the ivory trade and see him dead, that he would not interfere anymore with the competitive trade. He makes people uneasy, and the only explanation Marlow offers is that he is "hollow."

Brickmaker: the so-called first agent, who is the Manager's pet and spy. He never actually makes bricks; supposedly he is waiting for the delivery of an essential ingredient. The Brickmaker is an unlikable character, cunning and very contemptible. He goes against Marlow's work ethic, and is thought to also be hollow inside.

Russian: Kurtz's devoted companion, he is an idealistic explorer who has wandered to the Congo on a Dutch ship and has been taken into the web of Kurtz's obsessive ivory hunt. He is worthy of both pity and praise‹he is so young that it is uncertain whether or not he fully understands what he is doing in the Africa. He is more or less attracted to the glamour of adventure. Yet his unwavering support of Kurtz marks him as humble and admirable.

Natives: they are a collective presence throughout the story. It is notable that the black people exist both in subordination and in contrast to all the white men, and that they are never described in terms beyond the level of animals.

Chief Accountant: he is a top official in the main Station, who befriends Marlow when he first arrives in Africa. He is a cruel man, but ironically also the picture of the perfectly "civilized European." Marlow admires his work habits, but this admiration is terribly misguided towards his stunning, flawless appearance instead of personality.

Kurtz's fiancee: an unnamed woman who only appears in the last few pages, she is the symbol of a life that Kurtz completely leaves behind when he arrives in the Congo. She is pure and lives in a dream world built around who she believes Kurtz is. Her impressions of him are so disparate from what the reader observes that we marvel at the change that comes about in Kurtz.

Narrator: an unnamed passenger aboard the Thames ship, he provides a structure for Marlow's story, and is a stand-in for audience perspective and participation. He was once a sailor, and he seems to be very affected by Kurtz's tale, due to a somewhat romantic nature.



The main character does not appeal to me, because he like a wanderer. He is always looking for the adventure, while I would choose for a safe settlement.



There is a connection between this book and others I read. This book is about colonization in the Congo. There are many books about this subject. An other very famous book about colonization is Max Havelaar (Of de koffieveilingen der Nederlandse Handelmaatschappij) by Multatuli. That book is in Dutch, but it is also from the 19th century.



The link between the title and the story is not very hard to explain. You can say that Africa is the darkness, but you can also say the wilderness in the man's heart is the darkness. The heart of darkness. Reading the book is actually the exploration of the self. The voyage of Marlow shows people what they have done wrong and what they are still doing wrong.



The theme of the story is colonization. On the Internet I have found a very old issue of Elseviers magazine, which criticized Conrad for the use of racism, but I don't think that is true. I think he wants to criticize the colonization in a way full of irony, with making everything look very strange and bad. I think it is a very good book.

I would like to say, that I think it is a really hard book. I have read the book with the dictionary in my hand and I have used the Internet for trying to understand the story better. There I found some very good summaries, which really helped me while reading the book.



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