Heart Of Darkness: Tension in Marlow\'s Mind


Joseph Conrad1s novel Heart of Darkness is about a seaman named
Charlie Marlow and an experience he had as a younger man. Early
in the novel it becomes apparent that there is a great deal of
tension in Marlow1s mind about whether he should profit from the
immoral actions of the company he works for which is involved in
the ivory trade in Africa. Marlow believes that the company is
ignorant of the tension between moral enlightenment and capitalism
. The dehumanization of its laborers which is so early apparent to
Marlow seems to be unknown to other members of the Company1s
management.

In this story Marlow1s aunt represents capitalism. Her efforts to
get him a job are significant because of the morally compromising
nature of the work of which she seems totally ignorant. When
Marlow expresses doubts about the nature of the work, she replies,
3You forget, dear Charlie, that the labourer is worthy of his
hireý (12). It is clear that Marlow has mixed feelings about the
whole idea. At one point, trying to justify his actions to
himself, he says, 3You understand it was a continental concern,
that Trading Society; but I have a lot of relations on the living
continent, because it1s cheap and not so nasty as it looks they
sayý (12). Marlow finally takes the job, however, and tells
himself that the pain and unusually harsh treatment the workers
are subjected to is minimal.

During the tests and the requirements that he has to undergo
before entering the jungle Marlow feels that he is being treated
like a freak. The doctor measures his head and asks him questions
such as, 3Ever any madness in your family?ý (15). In this part of
the story Marlow is made to feel small and unimportant. Any
feelings or concerns that he has are not important to the company,
and as a result, he feels alone. It is only logical that Marlow
would have been second guessing his decision and feeling some
kinship with the other (black) workers who are exploited, but he
does not reveal any such understanding.

Upon reaching his destination in Africa, Marlow finds that things
are just the same. At the point when he is denied rest after
traveling twenty miles on foot he sees things are not going to
change. Marlow then tells of how disease and death are running
wild through out the area, and the company does nothing in the way
of prevention other than to promote those who stay alive. Marlow1s
theory on why the manager was in that position was that 3...he was
never illý (25). This is a bad situation for Marlow because he
sees his boss as a simple man with little else to offer the
company other than to be a mindless foreman over the operation.
This is an example of the company stripping self worth from its
workers in the sense that it does not encourage or expect input
from them. This is all significant because Marlow finds himself in
a position where he is giving up a big piece of himself and his
beliefs to make money.

The tension between capitalism and moral enlightenment in the
first twenty pages of this story is evident. Conrad uses Marlow to
depict a seemingly good-hearted person caught in the middle of the
common dilemma of moral ethics and desire for monetary success.
Marlow knows that there is a great deal of repugnance in what he
is doing, yet he finds himself forced to deal with it in his own
personal way, which is justify it or ignore it. It is clear that
the company also is forced to deal with this same issue, but it
does it simply by pretending that it is not dehumanizing its
entire work force. This blindness allows the Company to profit and
prosper, but only at the expense of the lives of the workers in
the jungle who have no way to protest or escape and the 3white
collarý workers like Marlow who have to live with their hypocrisy.