Heart of Darkness

by: Joseph Conrad

Protagonist

Main ideas Protagonist

Marlow serves as the protagonist of Heart of Darkness, and most of the novella features him telling his own story from his own perspective. Marlow’s experience involves him traveling deep into the heart of colonial Africa and witnessing horrors that force him to reevaluate his faith in European imperialism and its civilizing mission. As Marlow explains to the crew of the Nellie, prior to traveling in the Congo he believed that “the devotion to efficiency” could redeem colonialism, preventing it from becoming mere “robbery with violence.” However, as he journeys down the Congo River and encounters the on-the-ground reality at various company stations along the way, he is physically and mentally antagonized by gross incompetence paired with inhumane treatment of Africans. Marlow’s physical and psychological journey therefore stages the novella’s central theme of the moral bankruptcy of Europe and its imperialist activities. Following Kurtz’s death, Marlow experiences the full effects of his crisis of faith when he must choose what to reveal and what to conceal about Kurtz to Kurtz’s fiancée. With this choice, Marlow wrestles with the proper response to immorality, and ultimately chooses to protect her from the darkness that has consumed his own mind.