Since the Iliad and the Ramayana, the forest remains a trope as a refuge for primeval savagery and barbarism that mankind evolved out of when we shed most of our Neanderthal-ish ways – when we left the forest and began thinking, planting, and politicking. The Heart of Darkness is about the pitiful way that we humans hold up demagogues in order to feel privileged. The book tells the story of Marlow a white man venturing into the primeval forest in search of local demagogue Manager Kurtz. Kurtz is a colonial bureaucrat turned white messiah in the Congo.
The forest is depicted like a land before civilization. After a series of shocking events, Marlow finds Kurtz running a cult in the forest and becomes enthused by Kurtz omnipotent mansplaining. Marlow hears Kurtz’ last words and mistakes them for a prophetic summation of the horror of human nature. Brain washed by Kurtz philosophy, Marlow feels as though he has seen beyond the “matrix” and can no longer live in modern Europe. The book ends with Marlow returning to the forest, unable to shake the trauma and mistaking the forest as a place to seek a deeper and more violent enlightenment
If the heart of darkness is about the savage id at the center of society. I feel Joseph Conrad is pointing to extremism, violence, and cult-fanaticism as the darkest throne to sit on. I wonder if the book is a satire of the “enlightening” mission of colonialism or if it is the lament of a man who sees that demagoguery and fanaticism are driving the Europeans to their own holy than thou savagery.
The story touched me when you hear that Marlow is going back. It hit my sensitive heart that there are some experiences in life that alter you forever and in that trauma you imagine some profound meaning and stand on your little boat seeking the same suffering you just survived.
Through the irony of Hollywoodized, Heart of Darkness is the name of a popular micro-brewery in Saigon. I find their name unpleasant because the movie Apocalypse Now tells the story of the Heart of Darkness as though it were set in Vietnam ( se preview below). The audiobook of the Heart of Darkness is available on YouTube for free.