Discuss the theme of isolation in Heart of Darkness.
Ans. Isolation and its influence on man’s life constitute one of
themes of Heart of Darkness. There are two dominating figures in
the novel, Marlow and Mr. Kurtz who illustrate this theme. At the
beginning of the novel, we find Marlow talking to a group of friends
on board the Nellie. Although he is a member of the group, he is, in
one respect, isolated.
This sense of isolation in Marlow begins the moment he departs
from Europe. Time passes slowly on the steamer and he has Chance
of contact with the men on board the French steamer. This feeling of
isolation deepens as he leaves the sea. He is a man who knows the
water, but is a stranger to the land and finds it dark, grim, and
forbidding. For Marlow, the trip to Africa and the trip up the river are
“like a weary pilgrimage.”
Marlow’s sense of isolation becomes very intense when the
steamer reaches Kurtz’s station. The pilgrims look positively
unwholesome to him and, in his hope that the cannibals will not
consider him one of the pilgrims, he creates a further barrier between
himself and the others. Marlow’s isolation reaches the point of no
return at the inner station. The pilgrims look upon Marlow with
disfavor and after Kurtz dies Marlow is completely cut Off from the
party aboard the steamer. This isolation has a far-reaching influence
on Marlow who falls an easy prey to the influence of Mr. Kurtz whom
he describes as an embodiment of devil.
The other major character in Heart of Darkness, Mr. Kurtz is
absolutely a solitary figure throughout his career in Congo. After his
prolonged stay in Congo, he never expresses his inclination to mix up
with anybody. His isolation is broken when he identifies himself fully
with the savages and becomes a part and parcel of their life. He is
isolated in the context of his western education and European
upbringing. Even moving among the savages he stands far above
them. He is treated as a demi-god by the savages and worshipped as
their idol. Hence he is a solitary figure among them. Kurtz is isolated
from the world where he was brought up, and he is under a
tremendous influence of savagery, which turns him into a devil Of
darkness. Thus Kurtz’s isolation is destructive.
Thus isolation occurs for lack of communication or for lack of
fellow feeling. Marlow’s Congo experience has given him such a
tremendous insight that he cannot communicate with the majority of
mankind. He cannot properly explain what isolation is.