In ‘Heart of Darkness’ by Joseph Conrad the cultural, physical and occasionally geographical surroundings have psychological impacts on the protagonist, Marlow. Culturally, the imperialistic era of industrializing England allows Marlow to be intrigued in joining the Company in the first place. As Marlow describes his journey, there are a few significant physical surroundings that had a large impact on Marlow; most prominently were the Thames River, the Congo River and the Outer station. These three physical surroundings are interconnected through the theme of darkness, due to the negative psychological impact they have on Marlow. The darkness relates to the injustice and gross treatment of natives that imperialism in the Congo causes and the cruelty of the profit-seeking, selfish imperialists of the era.
The Thames River is the setting of the introduction to Marlow’s story of his journey through the Congo. At first, the river is praised by the third person narrator by elaborating on its greatness and how its course served the men who brought wealth to the country through imperialistic affairs. Contrasting to this view of the river is that the setting is constantly described as dark, to emphasize the darkness and therefore immorality of imperialism. Psychologically, the significance of the river Thames urges Marlow to tell his story. Because Marlow has experienced the darkness that the river is said to lead to, he feels calm being surrounded by it, and in effect, is in an undisturbed mental state. The narrator suggests his calm state by comparing Marlow to Buddha as he prepares to tell his story.
The outer station, where Marlow first experiences the direct scenery of imperialism, is a shocking display of the darkness. The slaves, who are treated awfully, are described as boney knots and cuffed together. When Marlow is exposed to this, psychologically, he is again, made uneasy by the methods of imperialism. Marlow recognizes the immense difference between the white men and the black men, being used as slaves. At one point, he offers a biscuit to one of the starving slaves, and a bit of white European yarn tied around his neck intrigues Marlow as he wonders if this small piece of yarn had a meaning. Contrasting to this, when Marlow is acquainted with the Company’s chief accountant, he notices that he is dressed in total white, which triggered the thought he had from the piece of yarn. This psychological confusion that Marlow feels reflects the injustice of imperialism.
As Marlow continues from the outer station, along the Congo River, it is evident that the events along the Congo River reflect Marlow’s psychological state as he wonders and worries about his future meeting with Kurtz. While he travels upstream, towards Kurtz, Marlow’s psychological state is influenced by the certain obstacles he has to overcome, with natives firing at ships as they travel along the river, and more news of Kurtz’s sickness. After this, however, Marlow’s psychological state of calmness and even enlightenment is a reflection of his experience through the darkness and his choice of avoiding Kurtz’s method of ivory collection.
The physical surroundings of Marlow’s journey through the Congo influence his psychological state, mostly in a negative way. This reflects the darkness, and therefore the immorality of the imperialist era. In particular, are areas in which Marlow is in direct contact with the cruelty of imperialism; the outer station and the Congo River.
This essay is a little repetitive at times when it talks about the ‘negative’ psychological effect on Marlow. However, different physical areas are analysed and the question is answered appropriately. A little more analysis would be needed to score higher.
I wrote this essay also under a timed situation, the process of writing started with my thesis and I was able to see connections to the Thames river, Congo river and the outer station clearly. However, once I got to analyzing them I found that there wasn’t as much to talk about than I had hoped for.