Literature

Summary of “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad

Heart of Darkness is a novella by Joseph Conrad written in 1899. The book talks about a voyage by Charles Marlow up the Congo river as a captain of a steamer. The inspiration of the story was taken from the author’s own life story. He worked on a boat steamer for a Belgian ivory trading company, just like the depiction of Charles Marlow.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF “HEART OF DARKNESS”

  • Outer Station
  • Central Station
  • Inner Station
  • Journey Home
  • Epilogue
  • Writing Assistance

The story begins with three men aboard a ship, Nellie that is drifting on the river Themes. One of the men is Charles Marlow. He begins to reminisce and tells the story of his journey to Africa, and in contrast calls London and Europe one of the darkest places on earth because of the atrocities that colonization had brought with it.

Charles Marlow is the main character of the story. He is an ambitious and knowledgeable young man portrayed as philosophical, sympathetic, and a kind human being. As a seaman, he is very passionate about traveling, discovering and meeting new people. His philosophical nature is mostly seen through his inner dialogue, with him disputing about whether the people he meets, commonly known as “calorizators”, can be seen as civilized, or have a name that is justified. Charles is also very skeptical and curious about the events and people he is surrounded by.

Summary and Analysis: Outer Station

Charles gets hired at an ivory trading company in Brussels, which is simply known as “the Company”. They end up sending him to Congo as the captain of a steam river boat.

When he arrives to the first station, called Outer Station, he sees all of the horrors behind the ivory trade business. He witnesses Africans in thick chains, with exhausted faces, and tired bodies. He also sees that they are treated like objects and not humans. They are servants to the white people in charge, against their will. He is astonished by all the things he witnesses.

Summary and Analysis: Central Station

After getting acquainted with the state of things at the Outer Station, he moves up the Congo river to the Central Station where his team boat awaits him. At the Central Station he meets the General Manager, who is a cold and calculating man. The General Manager treats his servants even worse than they are being treated at the Outer Station. He is indifferent to their sufferings. He fails to feed them, works them to exhaustion and even death, and always keeps them chained up.

The General Manager tells Marlow that his boat is broken, and he cannot use it. Marlow is devastated. He is supposed to bring supplies to Kurtz — the manager of the Inner Station who is known for his intelligence and great business skills. He exports the most ivory out of all the Stations. Marlow hears some rumors about Kurtz’s insanity, due to living so close to the natives and for his methods of work being quite barbaric. Although he is skeptical about the natives, and does not pay much attention to them.

Marlow fixes his boat tirelessly because he realizes that Kurtz and his people have no means of survival without his help. Marlow overhears a very unpleasant conversation between the General Manager and his uncle, who comes to the Central Station with another expedition. The General Manager says that he wishes to hang Kurtz and his assistant to get rid of his biggest competitor in the ivory trade business. After that conversation, Marlow realizes that his ship was not simply broken, but was tampered with in an action of sabotage. Since the General Manager wants Kurtz dead, he wants to deprive him of necessary resources and leave him to die. Marlow realizes what a terrible human being the General Manager is.

While at the Central Station, Marlow meets the Brickmaker. He is the most loyal agent of the General Manager. He only cares about his own career, wealth and wishes to achieve his goals in any way possible. He also sees Kurtz as a threat and, same as the General Manager, wants him dead and out of his way. Marlow notices his rotten soul and says this about him:

“I let him run on, this papier-mache Mephistopheles, and it seemed to me that if I tried I could poke my fore-finger through him, and would find nothing inside but a little loose dirt, maybe.” (p.68)

In comparing the Brickmaker’s innards to some loose dirt, this very degrading perception of his character portrays him as a person of a very low character.

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