In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Marlow’s apathetic voice is Conrad’s gift to readers. Through this apathy readers have a defibrillator to use on their hearts, which have slowed to a stop after contemplating the full meaning of the tale. Without this literary device, countless souls would be unable to return to their pleasant state of existence.
Conrad introduces Marlow as the novella opens. Within two pages we discover Marlow has decided to tell an unrequested tale containing an uncommon bleakness that offers no immediate value to the audience. By the end, we are left feeling despondent, depressed, and largely in a state of wonder. We ask ourselves, “If this horror happened to a man such as Kurtz, it surely would happen to little ol’ me. And that being the case, what’s the point of even trying?”
Add to these feelings the fact that the story is only 70-pages, and we find ourselves returning to page one with a singular goal. We long to discover that we overlooked the hope. Returning to page one with this new sense of purpose, we begin to notice that Marlow’s story is preempted by the notion that “the bond of sea…had the effect of making us tolerant of each other’s yarns—and even convictions.” Likewise, Conrad demonstrates his value by creating this tolerance in those of us without this bond.
Marlow’s apathy is palpable throughout the tale—evidenced by his ability to remain a detached observer. During this re-read we notice that this apathy, then, is Conrad’s gift to us. This apathy lights the path which will lead us out of darkness. Conrad doesn’t intend for us to remain in darkness. He wants us to take Marlow’s journey; not believe that we’re Marlow. The key to coming out whole is to remember this–remember that, unlike Marlow, we still care.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York: Dover, 1990. Print.