The heart is the most complex and intriguing of all human organs. Never stopping from birth to death, it pumps and incredible amount of blood, sustaining life. In the past, it was believed that the heart contained all human emotions. Therefore, a weak heart would generate a feeble character and personality. Likewise, an imbalance in emotions could create a catastrophic creature. Heart of Darkness explores deep into the many chasms of the range of human passions, and the reasons and triggers that may cause one to psychologically collapse. Three themes that are prominent within this novella are restraint, blindness, and duality.
Restraint is defined as the ability for one to control one's self, both physically and mentally. There is a delicate balance needed for one to successfully live. Too much restraint can cause emotions to be bottled up, and likely released as some form of violence. Very little restraint can make one too loose, and lose his or her own sanity. "We are accustomed to look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster" (Conrad 97). Marlow never ceases to investigate, always desiring to fulfill his need for exploration. Blank spots on maps are his call to adventure, and he is far from ordinary. "But Marlow was not typical (if his propensity to spin yarns be expected), and to him the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze" (56). Marlow's lack of restraint eventually leads him to Africa. In the Outer Station, Marlow hears of a man called Kurtz. Kurtz becomes Marlow's second call to adventure, and his second reason to venture further within the heart of darkness. The thirty cannibals that accompanied the five crewmen was a real source of pure restraint. For them to resist consuming Marlow and the pilgrims would require and extreme amount of concentration and self-control . "Restraint! What possible restraint? Was it superstition, disgust, patience, fear - or some kind of primitive honour? No fear can stand up to hunger, no patience can wear it out, disgust simply does not exist where hunger is" (106). The very idea to hire cannibals as crewmen on such a boat is an Epimethean concept, one that seemed rather satisfactory at the time, yet foolish in hindsight. It is never clearly revealed as to why the cannibals had not devoured the crew, whom they outnumbered, thirty to five, but their consistent self-control led to the survival of Marlow, the Manager, and a few other pilgrims. Kurtz' lack of restraint causes major problems for him. His greed and desire for ivory becomes the foundation for his evil shadowed form to take control of his body. "He struggled with himself too. I saw it - I heard it. I saw the inconceivable mystery of a soul that knew no restraint, no faith, and no fear, yet struggling blindly with itself" (140). Kurtz is obsessed with ivory to the point that he nearly escaped the rescue team to crawl back to his tribe followers. His obsession with the white gold deteriorates his own health, to the point where he nearly becomes a mere skeleton. Kurtz had become unseeing to his own near demise, dazed by his quest for riches.
Blindness affects a multitude of individuals within Heart of Darkness, both physically and mentally. The entire crew onboard the steamer, dashing down the coiled Congo River, is suddenly stopped and blinded by a thick, blanketing fog. This mist severely hinders the helmsman's ability to steer the boat properly, thus extending his voyage time. "When the sun rose there was a white fog, very warm and clammy, and more blinding than the night. It did not shift or drive; it was just there, standing all round you like something solid" (102). This fog stalls the crew greatly, all to the liking of the hypocritical Manager. Marlow mentions how women are mentally blind to the truth. Being a misogynist, Marlow sees womankind as the lesser portion of humanity, as well as Negroes. "It's queer how out of touch with truth women are. They live in a world of their own, and there has never been anything like it, and never can be." This belief in the stupidity of women carries on even after his great journey within the heart of Africa, when he encounters his late friend's Intended fiancée. Instead of being truthful and proclaiming to her his final, ghastly words "The horror! The horror!" (144), he fabricates a falsehood to con her into believing the little devil's final words were her name, a lie that would at least bring up her spirits. "But when you think no one knew him so well as I! I had all his noble confidence. I knew him best" (151). The perplexing portion of this statement is that in fact, Marlow and the Harlequin knew Kurtz best. She saw him as a wonderful, adventurous explorer, when in actuality he was a rather diabolical, vicious human being. His final moments summed up his entire life's work: as a horrible, sickening intent. Conrad implicitly proposed that although what occurs after death is, and never will be known, the concluding instants of our lives are some sort of revelation, and we are blind to such a disclosure until we have both feet past the threshold. "Only in the very last moment, as though in response to some sign we could not see, or some whisper we could not hear, he frowned heavily, and that frown gave to his black death-mask an inconceivably sombre, brooding, and menacing expression" (112). All human beings are blind to the truth behind life, until we reach the very moment that it is early enough that we can realize the truth, yet too late for us to reveal it to others. Marlow realizes this, as he is truly the only individual that can see the light clearly, about the Manager's shrewdness, about the Company's true objective, and about Kurtz' great plans.
All people are made up of two personas: their generous, moral identity; and their malevolent, evil image. The balance of emotions and sentiment within one's heart will determine which form will become the prominent figure. This form of duality is what varies humans from one another. For Kurtz, his immoral values had presided over his ethical standards. Thus, Kurtz' shadow had overruled his entire soul. "I was anxious to deal with this shadow by myself alone - and to this day I don't know why I was so jealous of sharing with any one the peculiar blackness of that experience" (137). Even Marlow, his new acquaintance, notices that Kurtz has slipped into a chasm of cruelty and malice. The only notion he has of his light side is how he was described as by his Intended. Not only can individuals have two shades, but also places and events. The grove of death is a seemingly peaceful and calm area, perhaps a little plot of heaven. However, upon reaching the shade within, its true ambience was revealed. "My purpose was to stroll into the shade for a moment; but no sooner within than it seemed to me I had stepped into the gloomy circle of some Inferno" (71). The grove has dual masks: the flank of beauty and peacefulness, and the dark, morbid aspect. The very name itself is an oxymoron. The Manager also displays a two-faced complexion. He wants to ensure the safety of the steamer while still making good time, yet secretly; his utmost desire is to also guarantee that Kurtz does not make it back to Europe, whereupon he will have a sure spot within the Administration. "I looked at him, and had not the slightest doubt he was sincere. He was just the kind of man who would wish to preserve appearances" (106). His hypocritical façade had been broken through by Marlow, whereupon in the Inner Station, he called his bluff, sealing his fate against the Manager. Duality is also represented via decisions resolved by individuals. Every decision bears consequences, but it is up to the person to determine the outcome. Marlow's final decision in the novella is upon facing the despaired fiancée of Kurtz. She inquires about his final, morbid words. To tell the truth would be catastrophic for her heart. Marlow opts to lie to her face, deceiving the Intended. "Hadn't he said he wanted only justice? But I couldn't. I could not tell her. It would have been too dark - too dark altogetherâ€¦" (154-5). His choice in informing Kurtz' fiancée falsely was a wise decision, one that would leave her rather content knowing that his final words was her name. The duality behind many characters, places, and decisions greatly alters the storyline and plot, one that changed Marlow's life forever.
Marlow's retelling of the dreadful era in the Congo elicits many separate themes, all of which significantly change the due course of Kurtz' survival. Not only can these topics apply to overseas areas where civilization is scarce, but we must always maintain restraint in common society, recognize the real truth, and appreciate that for every choice, there are repercussions. A good, healthy strong character will strengthen the heart. Such a rough emotional membrane is necessary to endure life's difficulties and hardships, and maintain that crucial sanity level.