Apocalypse Now In The Heart Of Darkness


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     As I read “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad, I kept feeling the illusion of déjà vu. It was as though I had been here before. I wasn’t sure how since I have not read 98% percent of the assignments for this class before. As the story progressed, the name of Kurtz kept signaling me. Click. Brando. Apocalypse Now. Francis Ford Coppela’s masterpiece about killing the evil that can reside in a human form. (Probably the best work that Martin Sheen has ever done in his career.)      
     The main character of the story is a man named Marlow. Marlow is relating an experience he had while he was a steamboat captain, hired to bring back Ivory from Africa. “’ I don’t want to bother you much with what happened to me personally,’ he began, showing in his remark the weakness of many tellers of tales who seem so often unaware of what their audience would best like to hear…” He starts by explaining his childhood desire to go to Africa and, when he accepts a job with a trading company, is given his opportunity. The start of his journey finds him in an unorganized mess of a group. He is shown that his fellow employees have little concern for the lives of the natives employed to assist them in their search for ivory. “A nigger was being beaten near by. They said he had caused the fire in some way; be that as it may, he was screeching most horribly. I saw him later, for several days, sitting in a bit of shade looking very sick and trying to recover himself: afterwards he arose and went out – and the wilderness without a sound took him into its bosom again.” This lack of concern for human life is a theme throughout the rest of the story.
During the first part of the story, Marlow is given insight to the inner station manager known as Kurtz. Kurtz appears to be everything to everyone. He is respected, feared, loved and hated. Marlow becomes intrigued by his perception of the man and begins to imagine what he is like. After Marlow hears of what occurred the last time anyone from the company had seen Kurtz, his vision of the man becomes pristine. “As for me, I seemed to see Kurtz for the first time. It was a distinct glimpse: the dugout, the four paddling savages, and the lone white man turning his back suddenly on the headquarters, on relief, on thoughts of home – perhaps; setting his face toward the depths of the wilderness, towards his empty and desolate station.

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I do not know his motive.” I do. A long time ago, I heard someone say that it was better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven. I will not share my personal thoughts on the matter, but I can say that I understand such sentiment.
By the time Marlow (and the reader) actually get to meet Kurtz in the flesh, he is a pale shadow of his former self. He is dying from a jungle sickness that cannot be cured. We are given insight into Kurtz’s plunge into madness by a Russian tagalong that had nursed Kurtz through two previous bouts of illness. “He declared he would shoot me unless I gave him the ivory and then cleared out of the country, because he could do so, and had a fancy for it, and there was nothing on earth to prevent him from killing whom he jolly well pleased. And it was true too.” The message is driven home when Marlow realizes his mistake about observing the carved, round tops of the fence posts by the Russian’s hut. “You remember I told you I had been struck at the distance by certain attempts at ornamentation … these round knobs not ornamental but symbolic; they were expressive and puzzling, striking and disturbing … they would have been more impressive, those heads on the stakes, if their faces had not been turned to the house.” The Russian explains that those are the heads of rebels.
The story ends with Kurtz dying an anticlimactic death and various individuals attempt to gain insight into Kurtz through Marlow. I considered the end weak; a disappointment. Marlow goes to Kurtz’s beloved and tells her that his last word was her name.
The stories: Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now are both tales of how power can corrupt even the best of minds. In both stories Kurtz is a genius to be admired. His vision can make those who have yet to meet him, respect his being. Unfortunately, when left with no supervision, genius can become madness. Anyone who is capable of greatness is capable of believing they are above the rest of the inhabitants of this planet and likely to abuse what power their position grants them when they are isolated from the controls set by society. I see Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now as a warning to all. Do not fool yourself with your elevated belief of grandeur or you might find yourself consumed by it. Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.


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