The Heart of Darkness
In the critically acclaimed novelette, The Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad offers us a unique perspective into the nature of evil that is present in the hearts and minds of men. Throughout the novel, the narrator struggles to maintain his sense of morality and justice as he continues to unearth the dark secrets of the enigmatic Mr. Kurtz and the conspiracies of the trading company. As the narrator’s perceptions of good and evil begin to blur, resulting in only futile efforts to try to do good. The narrator discovers first-hand that there are places in the world where no absolute good exists, and the only options are a wide array of lesser evils. As he voyages into the savage “heart of darkness” in Africa continues, the narrator finds it increasingly difficult to differentiate between benevolence
and wickedness. Contrasting some of the other characters, however, the narrator successfully escapes from the malevolence that tries to consume the hearts and minds of men. The narrator is able to conclude that Kurtz’s plunge down the path of darkness is directly associated with his unjustifiable brutality. More distressing, however, is the
narrator’s realization that light does not necessarily symbolize good in men and that light can often give way to darkness.
Near the beginning of his harrowing journey, the narrator comes to the assumption that evil stems from the atrocities that men are capable of. The narrator describes some of
the other Europeans by saying “I’ve seen the devil of violence, the devil of greed, and the
devil of hot desire; but by all the stars! These men were strong, lusty, red-eyed devils, that swayed and drove men – men, I tell you.” In this statement, the narrator describes the men who had enslaved the African-Americans as devils, which is the ultimate manifestation of evil. This statement also supports that the perceptions of good and evil began to blur, the very same men that the narrator called devils believe that they are doing nothing but good for the African-Americans. Besides the slave-drivers, we also come to learn the accountant shows no compassion for the slaves when he and the narrator are speaking and the accountant says “When one has got to make correct entries, one comes to hate those savages – hate them to death.” When the accountant says “savages”, he is referring to the African-Americans and we learn that he does not try to show any bit of compassion towards them. Even as they are dying, he finds their moans of agony as an annoyance because they distract him from his work. Quite frankly, if one can’t show compassion towards a dying human being, then their hearts are surely tainted with evil.
The most important insight into the narrator’s perspective about the nature of evil is when Conrad says “sunlight can be made to lie, too.” The narrator comes to believe that light does not necessarily mean something is good and pure, but is merely a tool that helps pave the way to the path of darkness. The narrator observes that while the sun may be the epitome of light and good, the sun eventually sets and plunges the world into darkness. The narrator compares the white men to the African-Americans, with the white men being the earthly manifestation of good and light, while the African-Americans were characterized as the manifestation of evil. After much thought, the narrator finally concludes that white men and African-Americans are essentially the same. Seeing how people during this era believed that white men were good and African Americans were evil, if the narrator’s interpretation was is true, then there is no distinction between good and evil. Essentially, we come to learn that the narrator believes that good and evil are the same thing, good is evil and evil is good.