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Heart of Darkness Summary

Heart of Darkness Summary

Heart of Darkness Summary

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad


Heart of darkness takes place in the Belgian-controlled Congo Free State.

Main characters

Marlow- is the main character in the novel. Marlow joins a company in Brussels to work in Congo, the heart of Africa Through a relative.

Kurtz- he is in charge of the main station in the Congo River and mixes up with the local tribes and becomes their leader, playing havoc with their lives through rituals.

General manager- he is the head of the company’s central station in Brussels and has two exceptional merits which helped him reach this popular position.

The Russian- he provides first-hand information to Marlow about Kurtz and his appearance.

The Brickmaker- he works as the General Manager’s secretary and pet agent and is power-hungry but lazy.

The chief accountant- Provides valuable information to Marlow at the beginning of the novel.

Marlow’s aunt- is a loving person who secures Marlow a good position in the Company.

Kurtz’s intended- she appears in the final pages of the novel and represents women who dream of building fantasies.

The helmsman- he steers the boat that carries Marlow.

Plot Summary

The story begins at dusk on the deck of a cruising yawl, the Nellie, moored in the Thames estuary. An unnamed narrator sits with four friends, one of whom, Marlow, begins to tell the clearly traumatic story of his journey on another river. After a number of false starts, Marlow describes how he goes to Brussels where a trading company recommended by his aunt appoints him as a riverboat captain in the Congo. He travels by ship to take up his post. He is disgusted by what he sees of the greed of the ivory traders and the brutal way in which they exploit the natives upon his arrival.

Marlow hears about the most remarkable and successful ivory trader of all, Mr. Kurtz, who is stationed in the heart of the country, at the company’s Outer Station. Marlow goes out to find him, first making a tough cross-country trek to the company’s Central Station. While there, he finds that the steamboat he is to command on the journey upriver to find Kurtz has been destroyed mysteriously. He hears about Kurtz being seriously ill and believes that the manager and others at the Central Station are planning to deny him supplies and medicine in the hope that he will die.

Marlow thinks of Kurtz as an idealist with higher and nobler motives than his fellow traders and cannot wait to meet him. He is also convinced that his departure from the Central Station is being deliberately delayed.

He finally sets off on the eight-week journey upriver to find Kurtz after frustrating months of repairs to the steamboat. As the boat draws near to the Inner Station it is attacked by tribesmen and the helmsman is killed. Marlow meets a half-mad young Russian when he arrives who tells him of Kurtz’s brilliance and the semi-divine power he wields over the natives. However, Marlow soon realizes that Kurtz has achieved his status by indulging in barbaric rites. He is now dying.

Kurtz tries to justify his actions as Marlow attempts to move him back downriver. Before dying, he utters his famous and cryptic last words: “The horror! The horror!” Marlow has a breakdown and remembers little of his journey home After Kurtz’s death. He visits Kurtz’s fiancée in Brussels a year later.  Faced with her grief he cannot bring himself to tell her the truth. Instead, he tells her that the last words spoken by Kurtz were “your name”.


  1. Imperialism. Marlow accepts that taking African land from the people is not right. Kurtz is in Congo pretending to civilize the people and was engaged in the ivory trade and involved in horrific ancient rituals of sacrificing humans to appease the native Africans.
  2. Dishonesty. All the European powers engaged in Africa are occupying their land and plundering resources while publicizing it as a civilizing mission.
  3. Colonization. Marlow indicates that the Europeans think they are of a higher rate. They destroy their land by colonization and eventually steal Africa’s resources.
  4. Alienation and Isolation. Marlow’s departure hints at social alienation and isolation which tries to rob him of his humanity. Kurtz is the prime example of this alienation in that he mixes up with the locals and tries to become one of them.
  5. Corruption. Kurtz goes to Congo to civilize the locals. However, he becomes a top agent of the company in robbing the locals of their treasure and exporting ivory.

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