To what extent does Conrad appear as a pessimist and
cynical in Heart of Darkness?
Ans. The world of Conrad’s novels is dark and gloomy, and it is
for this reason that he has been charged with pessimism, but he
denied this charge. His approach to life and its problems is not
nihilistic, it is constructive. He suggests ways and means by which
human suffering can be mitigated. The novel, Heart of Darkness,
however, well-represents Conrad’s pessimistic outlook on life.
At the beginning of the novel Marlow comments on the Roman
conquest. While he gives his opinion about the Roman quest his tone
is tinged with sadness, because “robbery with violence” and the
violence means here “aggravated murder on a great scale”. In history,
we find that powerful rulers, nations, and communities always strive
to seize upon whatever they get, and by attacking the weaker men and
nations, they rule over them and exploit them for their selfish gains.
Marlow is here indicating the imperialism of modern western
nations. Through Marlow, the mouthpiece of Conrad, he is censuring
the Belgian, the Spanish, and the British conquerors.
There is a tinge of sadness in Marlow’s comments upon the two
knitting women at the company headquarter in Brussels. They
appear to Marlow as fates who are busy spinning the yarn of the
destiny of the human beings living on earth.
Marlow is mentally depressed to see the miserable sights Of the
natives during his sailing towards the Congo region by a French
Steamer. On reaching the Company’s Station, he sees a very horrible
and depressing sight in utter sadness. This is the sight of six black
men tied together with a chain as they walk and each has an iron
collar around his neck.
The most pessimistic view of life is projected through the
portrayal of Mr. Kurtz, who becomes a savage in course of civilizing
the backward natives of Congo. He begins to participate in the
ceremonies, mid-night dances, sex orgies, and unspeakable rites of
the barbarians. He becomes their deity and the tribal chiefs come
crawling to pay their homage to him. He indulges most of the times
into the abominable satisfaction of his various lusts without any
restraint. Even human sacrifices are made under his orders. Thus,
the transformation of a civilized man into a devil is most depressing
to Marlow. Even Marlow begins to feel that if he had stayed there for
a long time, he too would have degenerated and become like Mre
Kurtz, a devil incarnate.
To sum up, Conrad’s view of life as depicted in Heart
Darkness is highly pessimistic. But we must not regard him as an
utter pessimistic writer. Conrad does not mean to say that man
is defeated in his struggle against the hostile forces.
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