Heart Of Darkness Essay

Heart Of Darkness Essay

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Compare and Contrast: Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now Inherent inside every human soul is a savage evil side that remains repressed by society. Often this evil side breaks out during times of isolation from our culture, and whenever one culture confronts another. History is loaded with examples of atrocities that have occurred when one culture comes into contact with another. Whenever fundamentally different cultures meet, there is often a fear of contamination and loss of self that leads us to discover more about our true selves, often causing perceived madness by those who have yet to discover. Joseph Conrad's book, The Heart of Darkness and Francis Coppola's movie, Apocalypse Now are both stories about man's journey into his self, and the discoveries to be made there. They are also about man confronting his fears of failure, insanity, death, and cultural contamination. During Marlow's mission to find Kurtz, he is also trying to find himself. He, like Kurtz had good intentions upon entering the Congo. Conrad tries to show us that Marlow is what Kurtz had been, and Kurtz is what Marlow could become. Every human has a little of Marlow and Kurtz in them. Marlow says about himself, "I was getting savage,"1 meaning that he was becoming more like Kurtz. Along the trip into the wilderness, they discover their true selves through contact with savage natives. As Marlow ventures further up the Congo, he feels like he is traveling back through time. He sees the unsettled wilderness and can feel the darkness of it's solitude. Marlow comes across simpler cannibalistic cultures along the banks. The deeper into the jungle he goes, the more regressive the inhabitants seem. Kurtz had lived in the Congo, and was separated from his own culture for quite some time. He had once been considered an honorable man, but the jungle changed him greatly. Here, secluded from the rest of his own society, he discovered his evil side and became corrupted by his power and solitude. Marlow tells us about the Ivory that Kurtz kept as his own, and that he had no restraint, and was "a tree swayed by the wind."2 Marlow mentions the human heads displayed on posts that "showed that Mr. Kurtz lacked restraint in the gratification of his various lusts."3 Conrad also tells us "his... nerves went wrong, and caused him to preside at certain midnight dances ending with unspeakable rights, which... were offered up to him,"4 meaning that Kurtz went insane and allowed himself to be worshipped as a god. It appears that while Kurtz had been isolated from his culture, he had become corrupted by this violent native culture, and allowed his evil side to control him. Marlow realizes that only very near the time of death, does a person grasp the big picture. He describes Kurtz's last moments "as though a veil had been rent."5 Kurtz's last "supreme moment of complete knowledge,"6 showed him how horrible the human soul really can be. Marlow can only speculate as to what Kurtz saw that caused him to exclaim "The horror! The horror,"6 but later adds that "Since I peeped over the edge myself, I understand better the meaning of his stare... it was wide enough to embrace the whole universe, piercing enough to penetrate all the hearts that beat in the darkness... he had summed up, he had judged."7 Marlow guesses that Kurtz suddenly knew everything and discovered how horrible the duplicity of man can be. Marlow learned through Kurtz's death, and he now knows that inside every human is this horrible, evil side. Francis Coppola's movie, Apocalypse Now, is based loosely upon Conrad's book. Captain Willard is a Marlow who is on a mission into Cambodia during the Vietnam war to find and kill an insane Colonel Kurtz. Coppola's Kurtz, as he experienced his epiphany of horror, was an officer and a sane, successful, brilliant leader. Like Conrad's Kurtz, Coppola shows us a man who was once very well respected, but was corrupted by the horror of war and the cultures he met. Coppola tells us in Hearts of Darkness that Kurtz's major fear is "being white in a non white jungle."8 The story Kurtz tells Willard about the Special Forces going into a village, inoculating the children for polio and going away, and the communists coming into the village and cutting off all the children's inoculated arms, is the main evidence for this implication in that film. This is when Kurtz begins to go mad, he "wept like some grandmother"9 when, called back by a villager, he saw the pile of little arms, a sophisticated version of the "escalating horrors." What Kurtz meant by "escalating horrors"9 is the Vietnamese army's senseless decapitation, torture, and the like. Kurtz is facing a new culture and has a terrible time dealing with it. This was the beginning of his insanity. Both The Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now examine the good and evil in humans. In The Heart of Darkness, Marlow speaks of Fresleven who was killed in a fight with some natives. The argument between Fresleven and the natives was over some chickens, and Fresleven felt he had been ripped off in the deal. Marlow describes Fresleven as "…the gentlest, quietest creature that ever walked on two legs."10 However, later in the same paragraph Marlow says,"…he probably felt the need at last of asserting his self-respect in some way. Therefore he whacked the old nigger mercilessly."10 Soldiers in combat are forced to bring the evil within themselves out every time they go into battle. The scene in Apocalypse Now where Captain Willard first meets Lt. Colonel Kilgore exhibits the power combat has in bringing out the dark side in humans. The attitude the soldiers have towards their enemy in the scene shows how evil humans can be. Kilgore demonstrates his dark side when he tosses the "death cards"11 on to the bodies of the dead Vietcong without showing any remorse over the death of fellow humans. Granted the Vietcong were his enemies, but they were no less human. Traditional interpretations of lightness and darkness tend to correlate lightness with goodness and purity, and darkness with evil and corruption. However, in Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now, the definitions of lightness and darkness can be reversed. Darkness can be interpreted to stand for the purity and innocence of the natives lifestyle, while lightness can be seen as the corruption, greed, and exploitative ways of the white men. The natives lived by the code of nature in a sort of "darkness," in that they had not been exposed to the corruption of the civilized world. Some of the natives were "enlightened" to conform to live by the rules of the white men. One such native is
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