Published in 1902 by Polish-born English novelist Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness has long been considered a classic. The story itself is ordinary enough; a sailor travels into the midst of the Congo jungle to engage in the ivory trade. There is no romance, little action, but a few moments of violence. Conrad uses only words to hold his audience’s attention, but my how he uses words. Few writers, past or present, can rival this man in his use of descriptive language. Perhaps this is why virtually every college literature course seems to require the reading of this little novel, often to the dismay of the students.
Conrad’s greatness lies in the fact that he is not really spinning a story about a journey into the heart of the Congo, but a journey into the blackness of the heart and soul of man. When a man, a good man, attempts to penetrate and change that darkness, he cannot, and so he is doomed to be swallowed by the very evil that he had hoped to penetrate. Thus, Heart of Darkness is a “dark” novel, offering little hope for man’s condition. Fortunately, for the believer we know of One who has conquered the darkness and offers hope.
Here are a couple samples of Conrad’s writing:
“I have wrestled with death. It is the most unexciting contest you can imagine. It takes place in an impalpable greyness, with nothing underfoot, with nothing around, without spectators, without clamour, without glory, without the great desire of victory, without the great fear of defeat.”
“The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it.”