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Madness is closely linked to imperialism in this book.
It explodes the idea of the proverbial choice between the lesser of two evils.
As the idealistic Marlow is forced to align himself with either the hypocritical and malicious colonial bureaucracy or the openly malevolent, rule-defying Kurtz, it becomes increasingly clear that to try to judge either alternative is an act of folly: how can moral standards or social values be relevant in judging evil?
Is there such thing as insanity in a world that has already gone insane?
The number of ridiculous situations Marlow witnesses act as reflections of the larger issue: at one station, for instance, he sees a man trying to carry water in a bucket with a large hole in it.
Madness is thus linked not only to absolute power and a kind of moral genius but to man’s fundamental fallibility: Kurtz has no authority to whom he answers but himself, and this is more than any one man can bear.
This novella is, above all, an exploration of hypocrisy, ambiguity, and moral confusion.At the Outer Station, he watches native laborers blast away at a hillside with no particular goal in mind.The absurd involves both insignificant silliness and life-or-death issues, often simultaneously.Although social mores and explanatory justifications are shown throughout Heart of Darkness to be utterly false and even leading to evil, they are nevertheless necessary for both group harmony and individual security.Madness, in Heart of Darkness, is the result of being removed from one’s social context and allowed to be the sole arbiter of one’s own actions.Heart of Darkness explores the issues surrounding imperialism in complicated ways.As Marlow travels from the Outer Station to the Central Station and finally up the river to the Inner Station, he encounters scenes of torture, cruelty, and near-slavery.This kind of dehumanization is harder to identify than colonial violence or open racism.While Heart of Darkness offers a powerful condemnation of the hypocritical operations of imperialism, it also presents a set of issues surrounding race that is ultimately troubling.European imperial missions sought to civilize “savage” peoples and hence appeared pure in their intentions, but all too often they inflicted terrible violence instead.The accountant Marlow meets at the Company Station provides another important example of contradiction.