Essay on Nihilism in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness

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Nihilism in Heart of Darkness

Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1899) challenges readers to question not only society's framework but more importantly the existence of being. Through the events involving Marlow and Kurtz, Conrad communicates a theme of the destruction of Being, "including that way of being which we call 'human' and consider to be our own" (Levin, 3). This theme is more clearly defined as nihilism, which involves the negation of all religious and moral values. The philosophy behind nihilism is extensive and in its completeness connotes humanity's inescapable fate of meaninglessness. The extent to which various ideologists regard nihilism varies according to their own philosophies. Nietzsche represents the
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In contrast, Kurtz's self-realization comes too late, after his unconscious narcissistic change resulting directly from nihilism as Nietzsche postulates. Conrad furthermore addresses the desperation of society to assign meaning and value to overpowering forces through the natives' acceptance of Kurtz as a God-like figure despite the terror and grotesque acts he inflicts upon their society. The element of nihilism in Heart of Darkness is also strongly evident through Conrad's own nihilistic views and which are clearly portrayed not only in his novella but also in personal letters to R.B. Cunninghame Graham written even prior to the writing of Heart of Darkness. Through a thorough analysis of the above points, I will examine the incorporation of similar nihilistic philosophies according to Nietzsche and Heideggar in Heart of Darkness portrayed through the self-realization of Marlow and Kurtz, the worship and obsession of Kurtz as a god and idol, and Conrad's moderation of nihilistic views which addresses the implications of void on the human existence.

Imperialism exposed Marlow and Kurtz to isolation in the Congo where Western values and framework were no longer applicable. In a new society where the European principles of materialism and civilization held no meaning or substance, Marlow and Kurtz, direct products of society's structure, experienced a self-realization according to nihilistic philosophy.

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