For the most part, reading introductions to literary works is tedious. Since this edition of Heart of Darkness was brief enough, and the introduction wasn’t as long as the novel, I decided to follow through. I’m glad I did. I’ve read Joseph Conrad’s classic before, but it was helpful to have pointed out before this reading just how much darkness is in the story. Drawn in by Kurtz’s famous last words, I suspect, many readers make the heart of the darkness the life lived by this contradiction of a man. An individual who’d set himself up as a deity, and who pillaged the region for his own gain. A man who wasn’t above using terror to acquire his ends. An enigma.
But in actual fact, the story is about as full of darkness as an early Bruce Springsteen album. The story begins at sunset and ends at night. There is darkness to the Europeans’ dealing with the Africans throughout. Even Marlow participates in that interior darkness that seems present in all people. Delivering the deceased Kurtz’s letters to his still grieving fiancée, he meets her as darkness is setting. He lies about her beloved’s last words, preferring to preserve her feelings than to reveal the truth uttered upon the deathbed. There are layers of interlaced darkness here and Conrad never gives a definitive statement about what it really is.
We live in dark times. I suspect that, for someone somewhere, that will always be the case. The corruption of our government is so blatant and obvious that we seem to have fallen under the shadow that must’ve driven Conrad to pen his novel. When living in darkness it helps to have a guide who’s been there before. No matter what evil Kurtz has perpetrated, he’s treated as a god by those he oppresses. He knows their suggestibility and preys upon it. Although slavery was no longer (officially) a reality when Conrad wrote, the attitudes—embarrassing in the extreme today—lingered. Even more embarrassing is the reality that they linger even today. Not just linger, but assert themselves and then deny that they exist. This is the heart of darkness, I believe. We cannot allow others to live in systems that don’t kick money back into our own. Trade on our terms, with our worldview being the only legitimate one. Like so many writers, Conrad has been made a prophet by history. And we all know the horror.