The Evil Within Human Nature in the heart of Darkness, Lord of the Flies, and The Great Gatsby

The Evil Within Human Nature in the heart of Darkness, Lord of the Flies, and The Great Gatsby

Although they represent three very different periods, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of

Darkness, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby all address
the same fundamental issue: what truly lies in the hearts of men? Heart of Darkness examines
this question through the disintegration of the individual mind in the wilds of the Congo, while
Lord of the Flies shows the breakdown of social norms among school children stranded on an
island. In The Great Gatsby, no one is sent out into the wilderness. In fact, the main
characters live a seemingly charmed, upper-class life, but nonetheless the main characters prove
themselves to be just as vicious as the men who lose themselves in the jungle. All three novels
present the human creature as vicious and self-absorbed and warn the reader that violence,
insanity, and man’s true animal nature are ever-present just below the surface in our supposed

The Evil Within: Human Nature in Heart of Darkness, Lord of the Flies, and The Great Gatsby

In Conrad’s work, nature quickly strips away the illusion of civilization and safety
that the explorer Marlow brings with him to the jungle. In the wilderness of his company’s field
station, Marlow interprets the Manager’s gesture toward “the forest, the creek, the mud, the
river” by saying that it offers “a treacherous appeal to the lurking death, to the hidden evil, to the
profound darkness of its heart.” (35) The evil that haunts Marlow and his story comes from
death, the most fundamental fact of nature. What is hidden by the trappings of London life is laid
bare by the forest, the mud, and the river. It is a truth that cannot be escaped. Marlow feels this
keenly when he finally lands at Kurtz’s camp, as far from civilization as he will ever be. He
declares that “ never, never before, did this land, this river, this jungle, the very arch of this
blazing sky, appear to me so hopeless and so dark, so impenetrable to human thought, so pitiless
to human weakness.” (55) Stripped down to its essence, the wilderness Marlow finds in Africa
cares not one bit about human morals, ideas, or existence. Exposing “the human ego, unshielded
by civilization and its self-contents, to a world of savagery presumed to be far beneath it […] is to
come up against the innate” (Stewart, 319), and in Conrad’s story, the innate is truly horrifying.
Surrounded by an indifference to which the they are wholly unaccustomed, the Europeans in the
story lose the morals and ideals that they feel make them human.

It is this loss that Marlow fears. He finds the smell of the damp earth to be “an intolerable
weight oppressing [his] breast,” intimating “the unseen presence of victorious corruption, the
darkness of an impenetrable night.” (62) The wilderness is not passive its quest to undo mankind,
and Marlow can feel this animosity as a weight. He has seen this corruption in Kurtz and is afraid
that he, too, will be brought face-to-face with whatever it is that lurks just out of his sight, and so
lose something of himself. He declares Kurtz’s final words to be “a moment of triumph for the
wilderness, an invading and vengeful rush.” (72) Kurtz let the unspeakable in nature take hold of
him, and when the wilderness rushed in, all civilized human thought was gone. And something
worse than savagery had taken its place. Of the severed heads Kurtz has spiked in front of his
house, Marlow says they are “only a savage sight, while I seemed at one bound to have been
transported into some lightless region of subtle horrors, where pure, uncomplicated savagery was
a positive.” (58)  Any animal in nature, he is saying, can kill. It is a special horror for a

formerly civilized man to lose himself to blood, power, and hidden evils.
            The children of Golding’s Lord of the Flies are similarly stripped of their “civilized” selves when they are marooned on an island with no supervision and no way off. At first they are able to maintain a semblance of order: they elect leaders and organize themselves around the conch shell that represents their ersatz civilization. In their minds, the boys still cling to their old ways:

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“Roger gathered a handful of stones and began to throw them. Yet there was a space round

Henry […] into which he dare not throw. Here, invisible yet strong, was the taboo of the old life.
Round the squatting child was the protection of parents and school and policemen and the law”

(16). Very quickly, though, the boys descend into chaos and violence. The images of parents and
policeman fade from their minds and are replaced by shadowy island beasts and bloodlust. In a
short time they go from being afraid to throw rocks to brutally murdering their classmates.

Simon, the most thoughtful of the boys, wants to blame the wilds of the island for their
savagery, but eventually realizes that “the beast” they’ve been hunting is
actually their own human nature. The Lord of the Flies, a severed pig’s head, says to him “fancy
thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill! . . . You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of
you? Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go? Why things are the way they are?” (113).
There was no way the boys would be able to escape the suffering they created, because they
carry that animal nature within themselves. For Golding, “evil is innate in man […] and those,
therefore, who look to political and social systems detached from this real nature of man are the
victims of a terrible, self-destructive illusion” (Spitz, 29). Their ad-hoc system of government
stood no chance of surviving the overwhelming need for violence and control that was hiding
inside each boy.

In contrast to these men and boys who find their true nature in the wilderness, the

characters in The Great Gatsby let their selfishness, violence, and greed run free right in the

middle of the most civilized of settings. The characters hide behind their money, dancing at

lavish, champagne-filled parties that mean nothing and that serve only to distract them from

their sorrows. The civilized world leaves them unfulfilled: a guest tells Nick “you see I usually find
myself among strangers because I drift here and there trying to forget the sad things that
happened to me” (36). Despite the wealth and beauty around him, Nick himself feels “oppressed
and uneasy” at Gatsby’s parties because he can see they provide only the illusion of real human
interaction (Harvey, 16). Everyone is pretending to be civilized and carefree when really they are
anything but.

Later in the novel, this ennui and forced ease leads to death, when Daisy Buchanan, a rich
New Yorker who should represent the virtues of society, runs down a woman with her car. Nick
says of Daisy and her husband Tom “They were careless people […] they smashed up things and
creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was
that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made” (156). For
Fitzgerald, civilization does little to hide man’s true nature, and while the book’s narrator
struggles to overcome his failings, the other characters float along unaware of their hideousness,
insulated by the belief that their money and their possessions make them good people. But,
ultimately, even the trappings of civilized society can’t mask man’s true, horrible nature.
            The main characters of Heart of Darkness, Lord of the Flies, and The Great Gatsby all start their stories believing themselves to be safe in a world of civilized rules and learned men. But as the novels progress, Marlow, Piggy, and Nick are horrified as they watch the world around them go mad with violence and greed. Each witnesses men turning to evil, but it’s not just the murder and selfishness that they find so terrible—it’s also the fact that this behavior comes so easily. Each novel shows its characters slipping of the mask of civility quickly and completely, revealing just how close to the surface we all hide our savagery.

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Works Cited

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. 3rd ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1988. Print. Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. 1925. New York: Scribner, 2004. Print.
Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. New York: Perigee, 1959. Print.

Harvey, WJ. “Theme and Texture in The Great Gatsby.” English Studies 38.1 (1957): 12-20. Web.

11 Oct. 2012

Spitz, David. “An Interpretation of Golding’s Lord of the Flies.” The Antioch Review 30.1 (1970): 21-

33. Web. 11 Oct. 2012

Stewart, Garrett. “Lying as Dying in The Heart of Darkness.” PMLA 95.3 (1980): 319-331. Web. 11
Oct. 2012

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The Themes of Heart of Darkness Essay

The Themes of Heart of Darkness Essay.

“The Heart of Darkness” by Conrad is one of the great novels of English literature. This novel exposes the greed, malice and selfishness of the European men. They exploit the wealth of Africa in the name of civilizing the natives. They take away their ivory and in return gave them hunger, destitution, poverty, degradation and death. The English men of this novel lack morals and conscience. Conrad observed the hypocrisy of his country men and exposed it in a marvelous way in this short piece of art.

Feder (1955) is of the view that Heart of Darkness is an allegory that takes into account the soul’s journey through purgatory and hell to salvation, and that expedition is analogous to the pursuit for the Holy Grail or is equivalent to expedition of Dante’s Inferno. (p. 290) Conrad major objective in writing a sea-voyage is best expressed in one of his letter that manifests that his major concern was that the “public mind fastens on externals, on mere facts, such for instance as ships and voyages, without paying attention to any deeper significance they might have.

” (Jean-Aubry, 1927, pp.320-321)

The theme of Imperialism:

“The Heart of Darkness” is another expose of imperialism like Conrad’s “An Outpost of Progress”. In “Heart of Darkness” Conrad vehemently denunciated imperialism and racialism without damning all men who through the accident of their birth in England were committed to these public policies. According to Eloise Knapp Hay (1963), “ to a man for whom” “race” meant “nation” more than “pigmentation”, and for whom “nation” was a sacred image, the nineteenth century civilization of racialism as a means of commercial profit through tyranny was history’s most agonizing chapter.

In conveying the effect upon his mind, he could only imagine the worst torments of hell invoke Virgil and Dante who had seen as if hell with their own eyes…..and add to their testimony what he had seen with his eyes in the Congo. Yet, like Virgil and Dante, Conrad lived in  a historical moment …everything that was good in England had been thrown, along with the bad, into the “ competition in the acquisition of territory and the struggle for influence and control”, which, according to William Langer, “was the most important factor in the international relations of Europe” between 1890 and 1910.

It seemed that when Conrad actually began the writing of “heart of darkness”, he was deeply absorbed in two questions: his loyalty, both as man and as writer, to England, and his acute mistrust of the way the “civilizing work” was being accomplished by the European powers in south-east Asia and in Africa.

In this novel he brings before us the nature of “western superiority” in primitive lands. Reading this story repeatedly, we know that the dark English coast before him recalls for Marlow the darkness of modern Africa, which is the natural darkness of the jungle but more than that the darkness of moral vacancy, leading to the atrocities he has beheld in Africa. This moral darkness of Africa, we learn later, is not the darkness of the ignorance of the natives, but of the Whiteman who blinded themselves and corrupted the natives by their claim to be light-bearers.

Talking of the roman conquest of England, Conrad says, it was “just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a grand scale, and men going at it blind-as is very proper for those who tackle darkness”. What Romans had done in England, the English did in South Africa.

Marlow admits that English conquests, like all others, “means the taking away it from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves,” though Kurtz went to the African jungle with an idea to civilize the natives; he saw his mission in Africa as that of torch bearer for white civilization. But very soon he starts extracting from the natives human sacrifices to himself as god. Finally, his hatred for the natives plunged to the depth out of which came his prescription of the only method for dealing with primitive people: “Exterminate the brutes!”

Marlow will establish in his more lucid moments that what is black in Africa is what has a right to be there. If whiteness finally emerges as moral vacuity, blackness finally appears as reality, humanity and truth. The matter is more complex still, for along with the physical blackness of men and the metaphoric blackness of unchartered regions of the earth; the darkness Conrad has been suggesting all along is the forced expulsion of whatever is displaced by “light,” whatever is displaced by civilization-the expulsion of Africa’s native virtues by Europe’s self-righteousness.

The European Whiteman in Africa is parasites; they are hollow; they have no personal moral vision of their inhumanity and folly. They are also collapsible, because their society’s institutions are incapable to hold them up. Ivory has become the idol of the foolish run of European pilgrims; and Kurtz is no exception.” all Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz.”

Criminality of inefficiency and pure selfishness:

Walter Allen (1955) believes that, “The Heart of Darkness of the title is at once the heart of Africa, the heart of evil- everything that is nihilistic corrupt and malign – and perhaps the heart of man”. (p. 122) According to Conrad (1958) himself, the story of “heart of darkness” is about the “criminality of inefficiency and pure selfishness when tackling the civilizing working Africa”. (p. 37) In the story Marlow makes much of the inefficiency and selfishness he sees everywhere along his journey in Africa. But it is the criminality of the civilizing work itself that receives the heaviest emphasis in the novel as a whole.

J.W.Beach (1932) believes that Kurtz is the representative and dramatization of all that Conrad felt of futility and horror in what the Europeans in the Congo called “progress”, which meant the exploitation of the natives by the white men. Kurtz was to Marlow, penetrating this country, a name, constantly recurring in people’s talk, for cleverness and enterprise. But there were slight intimations, growing stronger as Marlow drew near to the heart of darkness, of traits and practices so abhorrent to all our notions of decency, honor and humanity that the enterprising trader gradually takes on the proportion of a ghastly and almost supernatural monster symbol for Marlow of the general spirit of this European undertaking.

On his journey up the Congo, Marlow comes across the forsaken railway truck, looking as dead as the carcass of some animal; the brick maker idling for a year with no bricks and no hope of materials for making them; the “wanton  smashup” of drainage pipes abandoned in a ravine ; burst, piled up cases of rivets at the outer station and no way of getting them to the damaged steam boat at the Central Station; the vast artificial hole somebody had been digging on the slope- all these and many more are the examples of the criminality of the inefficiency.

Wilson Follet believed that in this novel, “the European is shown drained, diseased, a prey to madness and unutterable horror and death…”   This proves that the white men over there, except the company’s accountant, are inefficient and selfish. They themselves do nothing, whereas on the other hand they exploit the natives to the maximum, they extract the maximum workout of them and pay them three nine –inch long brass-wire pieces a week, which are insufficient to buy them anything. As such most of the natives are starving and dying. This novel is a very faithful accord of the cruelties and atrocities perpetrated on the natives of Africa by their European masters.

The Historical theme:

In Elizabethan times the Drakes and Franklins sailed from the light of England into the darkness of unknown seas, returning with the “round flanks” of their ships bulging with treasure. Nineteen centuries ago the incoming tide brought the Romans from the light of Rome into the darkness of England: the roman conquest of England was an aggravated murder on a large scale.

Modern imperialism-represented by Conrad in “heart of darkness”- is not different from the ancient; the civilized white men of Europe have entered the blackness of Africa, and have united the natives. The white men come as imperialist traders but in reality for the sake of ivory they loot and plunder. For the sake of ivory the whites robed the natives of their very identity and existence. Their lives and their culture were destroyed to the maximum extent possible by the so called civilized men of the world who declared their task as “white man’s burden”.

Works Cited

Allen, Walter. 1955. The English novel; a short critical history. New York: Dutton.

Beach, J. W. 1932. The Twentieth Century Novel; A study in Technique. New York:

            Century Co.

Conrad, Joseph. 1958. Letters to William Blackwood; ed. W. Blackburn. Durham N.C.;

            Duke University Press.

Feder. 1955. Marlow’s Descent into Hell. 19 Nineteenth-Century Fiction. 289-292

Hay, E. K. 1963. “The Political Novels of Joseph Conrad”. Chicago: University of

            Chicago Press.

Jean-Aubry, G. 1927. Joseph Conrad: Life and Letters; Letter to Richard Curle, July 17,


The Themes of Heart of Darkness Essay

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Critical Analysis Of Heart Of Darkness English Literature Essay

Critical Analysis Of Heart Of Darkness English Literature Essay.

Considered one of the greatest novelists in English, Joseph Conrad (born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski), Conrad was actually of Polish descent. Although he did not fluently speak English until his twenties, Conrad nonetheless excelled at prose and the written English language, with many of his works having been adapted into film. English was in fact his third language, Polish and French being the first two languages he learned. Conrad led a harsh life as a child (Conover), and when he was only three, his father was imprisoned Warsaw for his supposed revolutionary political affiliations (Conover) until the family was exile to northern Russia in 1861 (Liukkonen).

In 1869, both of Conrad’s parents passed away due to tuberculosis, and he was sent to live with his uncle Tadeusz in Switzerland. While living with his uncle, Conrad persuaded his uncle to let him go to sea (Liukkonen), where his many adventures and journeys laid the foundation for most of his works, which are mostly sea-faring stories.

In 1890 he sailed up the Congo River, a journey that provided much of the material for his most notable and highly regarded work Heart of Darkness.

During his time in the Congo, Conrad experienced extreme physical and mental stresses, which eventually affected his health for the rest of his life. Resettling in London, Conrad went into exile for various reasons including political (Conover). Ending his mariner career that spanned more than twenty years of sea-faring experiences, Conrad was able to draw from there intricate characters and stories which spoke of the human condition, and the complexities of the inner psyche. One such important literary work titled Lord Jim, in which Jim, a young British seaman accompanies his captain and other crew members in abandoning the passengers of their ship. Later hounded by his misdeed, Jim settles at a remote island where the natives title him “Tuan” or “Lord”. While there he protects the villagers from bandits and a local corrupt chief. Lord Jim speaks of the rise and fall of the human spirit, and the honor and redemption inherent in noble deeds.

These themes are present throughout Conrad’s stories, and in the Heart of Darkness he also makes heavy use of colors, primarily white and black, and references to light and dark, often intermingling the socially accepted view of each one respectively. Conrad also deals with the issues surrounding imperialism in the Heart of Darkness (Sparknotes), yet there is also a larger underlying issue of race and equality, or lack thereof, within the overall story.

The story revolves mainly around Marlow, and his journey through the Congo River to meet Kurtz, purported to be a man of great abilities. In his job as a riverboat captain with a Belgian Company organized for trade within Africa, Marlow encounters much brutality against the natives within in the Company’s settlements. The inhabitants of the region have been pushed into forced labor, and they suffer terribly from overwork and ill treatment in the hands of the Company’s agents. The cruelty of the imperial enterprise contrasts sharply with majestic and massive Congo jungle that surrounds the white men’s stations, causing them to appear like small islands amongst the vast darkness of Africa. Amidst problems with the oppressed natives, Marlow manages to survive his time in the Congo, but because of the extreme conditions and harsh living in the area at the time, he returns home with ill health.

The events depicted in Heart of Darkness truly could have occurred anywhere, but Conrad chose the Congo for the feeling and impact of the climate, the individuals involved, and the very way of life there. The title itself reflects the “heart of darkness” within men, who can sometimes use others for their own benefit and profit, casting away human life as if it had no value. The title may also refer to the Congo itself, due to the darkness and uncharted territory and mysteries that lurked within at that time. Conrad creates a build-up of tension and mysteriousness to the plot, which causes one to wonder what may happen next, and even though nothing overly climactic occurs, each individual event adds to the foreboding of the story. Deaths and other “dark” happenings are spoken of, and Conrad’s technique in describing these events conveys the darkness and hopelessness of the entire situation.

The story portrays darkness as emanating from the depths of the jungle; it fills men with evil and allows them to act upon it. The main example of this darkness is within the station manager Kurtz, who performs such debauchery in the jungles that he eventually becomes ill and dies. The character of Kurtz could be considered a catalyst for change, and the symbol for the Europeans’ failure in the Congo. Unaware of his own evil, Kurtz is unable to fight the darkness within. There is a question of good and evil that is addressed within Heart of Darkness; the motifs of “light” and “dark” in which the darkness in Africa is separate from its “blackness”, and the “whiteness” in Europe being far removed from the goodness of light.

In a sense, light and dark are polarized; Light represents the falsehoods and corruption in the world symbolized by the white man, whereas dark is a symbol for truth, while the dark natives show the pureness and innocence of humanity. Though there is some ambiguity of whether the title “Heart of Darkness” refers directly to Kurtz’ dark heart, or to the darkness of the jungle’s interior, the latter is more likely, due to the extent of abusive and evil actions portrayed by all the white men, which only grows in intensity with their close proximity to the center of the jungle. These settings and symbols help to portray the theme of universal darkness that Conrad alludes to. Conrad’s descriptive passages about the “interminable waterways” of the Congo and the Thames River show the connection between humanity and darkness. Each river flows into each other, and “lead into a heart of immense darkness”. This shows that all of humanity is connected through the heart of darkness and the truth.

Ultimately Heart of Darkness is a story of the pitfalls and perils of greed, lust, and the corruption of ideals and values by the darkness that dwells within all of mankind. It tells of the madness that the greed for riches or power can create within the heart and mind, and that even the best of intentions can become twisted into something evil and oppressive.

Works Consulted

Conover, Matt. HEART OF DARKNESS: The Hypertext Annotation. The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, 23 Nov. 2003. Web. 19 Nov. 2010. .

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Planet EBook. Web. 19 Nov. 2010. .

Crowther, John, ed. “No Fear Heart of Darkness.” SparkNotes LLC. 2010. Web. 1 Dec. 2010.

“Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Search EText, Read Online, Study, Discuss.” The Literature Network: Online Classic Literature, Poems, and Quotes. Essays & Summaries. The Literature Network. Web. 15 Dec. 2010. .

Liukkonen, Petri. “Joseph Conrad.” Web. 15 Dec. 2010. .

Roberts, Andrew Michael. Joseph Conrad. London: Longman, 1998. Print.

SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on Heart of Darkness.” SparkNotes LLC. 2002. Web. 1 Dec. 2010.

Critical Analysis Of Heart Of Darkness English Literature Essay

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