Autobiographical Element in Heart of Darkness

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Autobiographical Element in Heart of Darkness

Post by Archer on Fri Jan 14, 2011 1:59 pm

Heart of Darkness is based upon Conrad’s own experiences in life. This novel is a record of Conrad’s own experiences in the course of his visit to the Congo in 1890.

As a boy, Conrad dreamed of travel and adventure. He was only nine years old when, looking at a map of Africa’ of the time, he said to himself:

“When I grow up, I shall go there.”

In Heart of Darkness, the fictitious character, Marlow also tells his friends on the deck of a steamboat that, in his boyhood, he had been greatly attracted by the African country known as the Congo, and that the river Congo flowing through that country had exercised a particular fascination upon him.

In order to go to the Congo, Conrad had to take the help of an aunt who was by vocation a writer of novels. Through her influence, Conrad obtained a job with a trading company as the captain of a steamboat which was to take an exploring expedition led by Alexandre Delcommune to a place called Katanga in the Congo. Conrad felt very pleased with the prospect of being able to visit the region of his boyhood dreams. However, Conrad’s pleasure was greatly shattered by a quarrel which he had with Alexandre Delcommune’s brother who was functioning as a manager under the same trading company at a trading station on the way.In Heart of Darkness, Alexendre Delcommune’s brother becomes the manager of the Central Station. Marlow makes very unfavourable comments on the manager of the Central Station because Conrad had formed an adverse view of Alexendre Delcommune’s brother with whom Conrad had quarreled. Marlow also gets job of captain on a steamboat through her aunt’s influence.

Conrad’s main duty, after getting job on a steamship, was to bring one of the Company’s agents whose health had been failing. The name of this agent was Klein. He subsequently died aboard Conrad’s steamship by which he was being brought. It was this agent, by the name of Klein, who is transformed into Mr. Kurtz in Heart of Darkness.

Conrad had many unpleasant experiences in the course of his visit to Congo, which he recorded in a diary to which he gave the name of the Congo Diary. Marlow also records the disastrous effects of the climate of the Congo upon the white traders and agents who were sent by the Belgian Companies to this region.
Furthermore, Marlow experiences the same sense of enlightenment and the same process of maturing through disillusion and defeat which Conrad himself underwent during his travels in the Congo.

It has therefore to be recognized that Heart of Darkness is, to a large extent, an autobiographical book because, in most of the essentials, Marlow’s experiences and feelings are very much the same as Conrad’s own had been. There is a lot of resemblance between Conrad’s Congo Diary and the contents of the novel Heart of Darkness to justify such an assumption.

Conrad’s experiences in the Congo have been described by a critic as exasperating, frustrating, and humiliating; and Marlow’s experiences in his contact with most of the white men in the Congo are of the same kind. Marlow undergoes an extreme personal crisis; and this crisis is very much the same through which Conrad himself underwent in the Congo.

In conclusion, we may add that Marlow’s outlook upon life of his philosophy of life is very much the same as Conrad’s own was. Marlow appears as a pessimist in the novel; and Conrad himself was a pessimist too. Marlow recognizes the existence of certain virtues in human beings just as Conrad himself did. But, on the whole, Conrad had formed certain depressing ideas about life in general, and Marlow too expresses similar ideas about life. Marlow’s reaction to most people, whom he meets in the course of his travels, is unfavourable and disappointing; and so were Conrad’s own reactions to the people whom he met in the course of his voyage. Marlow is more or less a lonely, isolated figure despite the presence before him of four of his associates to whom he tells his story; and Conrad was a lonely figure too.

Thus both in externals and in terms of the inward mental life, Marlow meet the same fate which Conrad had met.
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