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An Brief Look at Conrad·s Life and

Works, Themes and Motifs in | 

, and  

 Born Josef Teodore Konrad Nalecz
Korzeniowski, in Podolia, Ukraine, in 1857.
 Conrad's father had studied law and
languages at St Petersburg University and
wrote radical poems and plays.
 His father and mother, Apollo and Ewa, were
political activists. They were imprisoned 7
months and eventually deported to Vologda
 Conrad·s mother died of pneumonia in 1865.
 Apollo tried to educate his son himself, he introduced
him to the work of Dickens, Fenimore Cooper and
Captain Marryat in either Polish or French translations.
 His father died of tuberculosis and his funeral was
attended by a thousand admirers
 Conrad was raised by his uncle; attended school (he was
 In 1874, Conrad went to Marseilles France and joined
the Merchant Navy
 Gun running for the Spanish and a love affair led to a
suicide attempt.
 Conrad eventually became a British
merchant sailor and eventually a
master mariner and citizen in 1886.
 He traveled widely in the east.
 He took on a stint as a steamer
captain (1890) in the Congo, but
became ill within three months and
had to leave.
 In 1896, he married Jessie George a
typist from Peckham.
 Conrad retired from sailing and
took up writing full time.
 Writing took a physical and
emotional toll on Conrad. The
experience was draining
 2 (1900)



 `  (1914)


 After a long stint in the east had come to an end,

he was having trouble finding a new position.
 With the help of a relative in Brussels he got the
position as captain of a steamer for a Belgian
trading company.
 Conrad had always dreamed of sailing the
 Had to leave early for the job, the previous
captain was killed in a trivial quarrel


 While traveling from Boma (at the mouth) to the company

station at Matadi he met Roger Casement who told Conrad
stories of the harsh treatment of Africans
 Conrad saw some of the most shocking and depraved
examples of human corruption he·d ever witnessed. He was
disgusted by the ill treatment of the natives, the scrabble for
loot, the terrible heat and the lack of water.
 He saw human skeletons of bodies left to rot - many were
bodies of men from the chain gangs building the railroads.
 He found his ship was damaged.
 Dysentary was rampant as was malaria; Conrad had to
terminate his contract due to illness and never fully recovered

 Framed Narrative
 Narrator begins
 Marlow takes over
 Narrator breaks in occasionally
 Marlow is Conrad·s alter-
alter-ego, he shows up in some of
Conrad·s other works including ´Youth: A Narrativeµ
and 2
 Marlow recounts his tale while he is on a small vessel
on the Thames with some drinking buddies who are ex- ex-
merchant seamen. As he recounts his story the group
sits in an all-
all-encompassing darkness and pass around
the bottle.
 Many different interpretations have been put on this book:
 Some see it as an attack on colonialism and a criticism of racial
 Some see Kurtz as the embodiment of all the evil and horror of
the capitalist society.
 Others view it as a portrayal of one man·s journey into the
primitive unconscious where the only means of escaping the
blandness of everyday life is by self degradation.

 Primitive Impulses (Kurtz, previous captain, etc.)
 Cruelty of Man (Kurtz and Company)
 Immorality/Amorality (Kurtz)
 Lies/Hypocrisy (Marlow chooses Kurtz evil versus Company·s
hypocritical evil)
 Imperialization/Colonization (Belgian Company)
 Cruelty of Man
 Exploitation of People

 Role of Women
 Civilization exploitive of women
 Civilization as a binding and self-
perpetuating force
 Physical connected to
 Barriers (fog, thick forest, etc.)
 Rivers (connection to past,
parallels time and journey)
 Paul O·Prey: "It is an irony that the 'failures' of Marlow
and Kurtz are paralleled by a corresponding failure of
Conrad's technique--
brilliant though it is--
as the vast
abstract darkness he imagines exceeds his capacity to
analyze and dramatize it, and the very inability to
portray the story's central subject, the 'unimaginable',
the 'impenetratable' (evil, emptiness, mystery or
whatever) becomes a central theme."
 James Guetti complains that Marlow "never gets below
the surface," and is "denied the final self-
that Kurtz had."
 Conrad, writing in 1922, responds to similar criticism: "Explicitness,
my dear fellow, is fatal to the glamour of all artistic work, robbing it of
all suggestiveness, destroying all illusion. You seem to believe in
literalness and explicitness, in facts and in expression. Yet nothing is
more clear than the utter insignificance of explicit statement and also
its power to call attention away from things that matter in the region of
 Marlowe, the narrator, describes how difficult conveying a story is:
"Do you see the story? Do you see anything? It seems to me I am
trying to tell you a dream--
making a vain attempt, because no relation
of a dream can convey the dream-
dream-sensation, that commingling of
absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt,
that notion of being captured by the incredible, which is the very
essence of dream . . .No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the
life--sensation of any given epoch of one's existence--
life existence--that
that which makes
its truth, its meaning--
meaning-- its subtle and penetrating essence. It is
impossible. We live, as we dream--
alone . . ."
 Marxist: You can see | 

as a depiction of,
and an attack upon, colonialism in general, and, more
specifically, the particularly brutal form colonialism
took in the Belgian Congo.
 the mistreatment of the Africans
 the greed of the so-
so-called "pilgrims"
 the broken idealism of Kurtz
 the French man-
of-war lobbing shells into the jungle
 the grove of death which Marlow stumbles upon
 the little note that Kurtz appends to his noble-
noble-minded essay
on The Suppression of Savage Customs
 the importance of ivory to the economics of the system.
 Sociological/Cultural: Conrad was also apparently
interested in a more general sociological investigation of
those who conquer and those who are conquered, and
the complicated interplay between them.
 Marlow's invocation of the Roman conquest of Britain
 cultural ambiguity of those Africans who have taken on some
of the ways of their Europeans
 the ways in which the wilderness tends to strip away the
civility of the Europeans and brutalize them
 Conrad is not impartial and scientifically detached from these
things, and he even has a bit of fun with such impartiality in
his depiction the doctor who tells Marlow that people who go
out to Africa become "scientifically interesting."
 Psychological/Psychoanalytical: Conrad goes out of his way to
suggest that in some sense Marlow's journey is like a dream or a
return to our primitive past--
an exploration of the dark recesses of
the human mind.
 Apparent similarities to the psychological theories of Sigmund
Freud in its suggestion that dreams are a clue to hidden areas of
the mind
 we are all primitive brutes and savages, capable of the most
appalling wishes and the most horrifying impulses (the Id)
 we can make sense of the urge Marlow feels to leave his boat
and join the natives for a savage whoop and holler
 notice that Marlow keeps insisting that Kurtz is a voice--
voice--aa voice
who seems to speak to him out of the heart of the immense
 Religious: | 

as an examination of
various aspects of religion and religious
 examine the way Conrad plays with the concept of
pilgrims and pilgrimages
 the role of Christian missionary concepts in the
justifications of the colonialists
 the dark way in which Kurtz fulfills his own
messianic ambitions by setting himself up as one of
the local gods
 Moral-Philosophical: | 

is preoccupied with general questions
about the nature of good and evil, or
civilization and savagery
 What saves Marlow from becoming
 Is Kurtz more or less evil than the
 Why does Marlow associate lies
with mortality?
 Threes: There are three parts to the story, three breaks
in the story (1 in pt. 1 and 2 in pt. 2), and three central
characters: the outside narrator, Marlow and Kurtz
 Contrasting images (dark and light, open and closed)
 Center to periphery: Kurtz-
Narrator-->the reader
 Are the answers to be found in the center or on the


was published in the Late Victorian-

Victorian-Early Modern
Era but exhibits mostly modern traits:
 a distrust of abstractions as a way of delineating truth
 an interest in an exploration of the psychological
 a belief in art as a separate and somewhat privileged kind of human
 a desire for transcendence mingled with a feeling that transcendence
cannot be achieved
 an awareness of primitiveness and savagery as the condition upon
which civilization is built, and therefore an interest in the experience
and expressions of non-
non-European peoples
 a skepticism that emerges from the notion that human ideas about the
world seldom fit the complexity of the world itself, and thus a sense
that multiplicity, ambiguity, and irony--
in life and in art--
are the
necessary responses of the intelligent mind to the human condition.

 is a film that was
directed by Francis Ford
Coppola starring Martin Sheen,
Robert Duvall and Marlon
 This film was based on Conrad·s
Heart of Darkness.
 Coppola takes the story to
Vietnam. Captain Willard
(Marlow) is sent on a mission to
kill Colonel Kurtz who has gone