From the deck of a yacht anchored on the Thames, while waiting for the tide to turn, Marlow relates a tale from his varied past. After hiring on as the skipper of a steamer bound for the interior of darkest Africa, ostensibly in pursuit of the ivory trade, Marlow finds that he is enmeshed in the drama surrounding an enigmatic officer of the Company, Kurtz. Everyone on the river is in awe of Kurtz who has created a sort of fiefdom among the indigenous tribes. In addition to the profit motive, the Company’s subtext is dragging the savage into the bosom of civilization at any cost to the poor brute. The crew, which is comprised solely of cannibals, vastly outnumbers the white men who are in charge of the dilapidated vessel, and they are, inexplicably, left to find their own food while the masters dine on tinned European delicacies. Word then spreads that Kurtz has fallen victim to the ubiquitous fever, and Marlow is forced to race against the treacherous current to reach him before it is too late.
The Heart of Darkness is, of course, a classic. It is brief, barely more than a novella, and it is told in the voice of Marlow whose narration gives the story a personal feel. Scenes that on their surface appear mundane resonate with subtle mystery. The role of Europeans in Africa is probed and prodded from many angles. It may have been required reading for many of you at an early date in your academic career, and many of you might have slogged through it under protest. The suggestion of this somewhat seasoned reader is: revisit it. It’s a journey worth repeating.