Levels of Madness

"Heart of Darkness" by Joseph Conrad

“Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad

Like the heart that beats in a human’s body, or the very Earth we walk on, the African wilderness has great layers, depths, and volumes. Clearly demonstrating this in his novel Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad uses the names of the company’s stations throughout the congo to describe the levels of the wilderness and relate to the development of the story. Outer, Central, and Inner describe the surrounding areas of the heart of darkness, along with the heart itself. As the main character, Marlow, ventures from station to station, the story progresses along with his surroundings.

First arriving in Africa, Marlow arrives at the Outer station, a place on the outskirts of the true African wilderness. Still demonstrating the suffering the Natives have been forced to experience, and still showing the imperialism occurring, the madness that lies within the Inner Station is hinted at. Natives and manufactured goods arrive and depart, and chaos quietly stirs. The station, itself, is not nearly as muddled as further into the jungles, but was not comfortable enough for Marlow to wish to stay long.

Leaving the station with a caravan of 60 men, Marlow was relieved, yet he only found himself entering deeper into the darkness. Coming upon the Central Station, he was met with a run-down building with a neglected gap as a gate. It was obvious that a flabby devil was running the show as the manager, himself, was unable to manage. Living in a clay hut, he was surrounded with ghetto and poverty. In this contradiction, Marlow found himself growing nearer to the heart of Africa, the heart of darkness.

Finally following the river to the Inner Station, Marlow and his crew are met with a Native ambush. People are killed and blood is spewed as chaos and confusion spreads over the steamer. The fight drawing to an end, Marlow realizes where they have arrived, and enters the station. Mystery and confusion shrouds the place and hides its dark secret. Like the inner core of the Earth or the inner workings of a corrupted heart, the station is dark, resting in the heart of darkness. Surrounded by layers of turmoil and improper imperialism, it has become the center of a great evil.

As the novel progresses, Joseph Conrad uses the names of the stations to describe Marlow’s surroundings and journey through the darkness of the congo. As he draws nearer to the heart of darkness and nearer to the Inner Station, Marlow finds himself more and more surrounded by corruption and despair. Slowly progressing from each station to the next, the troubles developing as he continues, the story follows along with him. From the Outer Station to the Central Station to the Inner Station, the heart of darkness is revealed and exposed in stages.