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The novel Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad is an exercise in reductio ad absurdum; it is riddled with the ideas of hypocrisy and moral ambiguity culminating in the absurdity of evil. Throughout the novel, the protagonist is confronted with multifarious hypocritical situations, which can be summed up to the idiocy of imperialism or the comparable idiocy of near anarchy.
The novel is riddled and pock-marked with everyday situations that, to the outsider, are the physical manifestation of dumb and the hallmark of stupidity- both from the well-oiled machine of imperialism and the age-old world of nature and anarchy. The reader is first confronted with a well-paid and traveled doctor taking head measurements to determine the effects of the jungle on a persons' mind. Not only is the concept ridiculous in itself, there simply is no before and after, no follow-through on the action or experiment, rendering it an experiment in patient patience and bureaucratic ignorance. In a nutshell, this synecdochic scene explains the hypocrisy of the entire imperialistic organization. Marlow is aware of the absurdity of the situation, whereas the Meal Ticket Company is less concerned with its application of its finances than its acquisition.
Marlow's time on the mainland is spent in pensive observation and quiet acceptance of the actions and appellations of the supposed 'light-bringing' company. The idiocy of the company nearly seems purposeful, and in that intent, evil as a result. The high death rates within the company are referred to colloquially as "the merry dance of death", and the explanation of suicide is summed up to, "Who knows? The sun too much for him, or the country perhaps (Conrad, 79)". Turning a blind eye to the high mortality rates while simultaneously referring to the company as the 'Emissary of light' for the poor country is the very model of hypocrisy, and its forced application, in the very nature of humanity, is 'evil' (76). Â Very near all of the actions of the company, that are carried out by 'sane' men, make little to no sense, and are purely exercises in stupidity, expenditure, hypocrisy, and ignorance, from the 'intelligent' and 'light' company, whose chief concern is preservation of property and acquisition of money.
The benevolent company that brings wealth and intelligence to this continent has a 'grove of death'. The designation of the chained slaves as enemies, though they know nothing of their crime, is hypocritical. The pipes that are necessary and also stored in crevice wherein they break are again, examples of futility, of stupidity, and of expenditure. The need of rivets, when they are abundant, but rather, not present, is a malicious act to postpone the survival of both their rebel employee and best agent. There is a "vast artificial hole somebody had been digging on the slope, the purpose of which [is] impossible to divine" and is another sign of the increasing absurdity and incomprehensibility of the purpose of the company, and while in this act, this superfluous hole seems less than malicious, it still is dangerous in its very nature and presence (81). Their malicious intent, however, is present, even in the face of non-enemies! "In the empty immensity of earth, sky, and water, there [the French man-of-war] was, incomprehensible, firing into a continent" attempting to combat the very shadows of an imagined evil (78). Here, on this ship "men were dying three a day", in their futile battle against the trees, and the only thing Marlow and his troop brought them were letters. The company's orders are silly and short-sighted- as are their attempts to 'help'. Not only do they kill those they are to aid, there, at one point, was a fire, which a company member attempted to extinguish with a bucket of water- with a hole in it. All of these actions, or non-actions, can be summarized by either stupidity or evil, making the two mutually synonymous. The idea that such a level of ignorance is evil removes all meaning and purpose from the word.
Nature, the jungle, and anarchy are all likewise so evil, or so stupid. Kurtz is the company's best agent, best "trader" (for they consider the oppression of the natives a part of their trade) and yet, he is also their target. The manager allots Marlow three months to fix his ship, which he assumes is enough "to do the affair" (89). The question this brings up is, is the affair fixing the boat, or rather, enough time for Kurtz to be beyond saving, if not already dead. Kurtz is the rebel agent, who, instead of titling his actions as "trade" and the company's project ultimately bringing "civilization", is completely open about his use of suppression and extermination when it comes to the natives and his acquisition of ivory. This offsets the delicate balance of ignorance in which the company has so long and so blissfully thrived, and is, in itself, the complete opposite but likewise correct type of 'evil'.
Kurtz and Marlow's visit to Kurtz, is similarly an exercise in hypocrisy. Kurtz is a self-proclaimed 'God' and in that, everyone else views him as one as well. However, the reader's entire knowledge of Kurtz is in his mortality- he is dying, he is a god, but he is dying. The reader is also led to believe that all Kurtz says is beautiful and nothing pours from his lips but wisdom- when it is made obvious to the reader he rarely speaks at all. Kurtz promotes himself the most after he has lost his title of sane, he speaks of love though he is a known adulterer. A blissfully innocent and bewildering young man managed to survive by himself in the jungle for a large amount of time, though "It was inconceivable how he had existed" with such privation, except that it was his need to exist that managed to get him thus far. The absurdity of the various situations encountered and the collective insanity of each and every character is astounding and telling to absurdity and insanity of both the interpretation of imperialism and of nature. The jungle can only encompass those too stupid to fight it off, but it cannot taint those too stupid to comprehend its power. The jungle is a parallel hypocrisy to the company.
Madness and imperialism are as connected as madness and nature. His initial venture into the wilderness tempers on his sanity and likewise would tamper on those around him- the idea to bring hippo meat on the boat seems to be a good idea, but "you can't breathe dead hippo waking, sleeping, and eating, and ... at the same time keep your precarious grip on existence", complains Marlow, in an attempt to make light of the ridiculous ways short-sighted pre-thought end up. Kurtz, however, is the byproduct of such short-sighted planning. He is the product of the madness of society, thrust into the madness of the wilderness. The fact that "all Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz" and the subsequent fact that Kurtz went mad suggests that society's creation of man leaves them susceptible to insanity- either something is wrong with the way society conditions its children, or man has the seed of madness within him inherently.