Heart of Darkness Analysis

Heart of Darkness Analysis
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Over the years many nations and societies have gone into war among themselves or against their perceived enemies, most of whom are their neighbors. However such kinds of wars have resulted in both physical and psychological casualties that should act as eye-openers to today’s societies. With the knowledge of such consequences of wars, today’s societies should seek safer methods of solving such conflicts. Through media and literary works, several artists and authors have strived to sensitize society by highlighting the awful casualties resulting from such wars. In the novel Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, the physical and psychological casualties of war are evident in the lives of the soldiers, similarly to the effect of war on soldiers today.


The casualty of war is generally defined as both physically injured and the dead. However, the more accurate and appropriate definition for this term should also encompass the psychological aspects. Most societies tend to measure the effects of war just in terms of the physical outcomes, such as the volume of production destructions and the number of people killed or wounded (Killology).

In trying to explore the psychological aspects of war casualty, Killology describes a psychiatric casualty as combat who is no longer able to participate in combat due to mental debilitation. As such, the psychological casualty is as serious as the physical casualty, and therefore should never be ignored when addressing the issues of war in the society. According to Wallis soldiers face horrifying events in a war that lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders that might eventually rock the entire society. Such soldiers experience a lot of loss and separation from the family that leads to utter depression.

Conrad (19) starts by highlighting the physical casualty of war in a scene where one of the steamer captains had been killed in a scuffle with the African natives (Conrad 19). Apart from just highlight the enmity between the African natives and the foreigners, Conrad illuminates the dangerous and fatal consequences of wars in society. Marlow became the psychological victim of the war when he was given the task of recovering the remains of Fresleven. Fresleven perished in the quarrel he picked with one of the chiefs in Congo over two black hens which led to him being stabbed by the chief’s son.

The theme of casualty of war continues to flow in the novel as Conrad (21) cites Fresleven’s killing resulting in the migration of the natives who were living around. Enotes.com attributes this migration to the superstitious nature of Africans. the African natives could not live in the place of murder. To emphasize the depth of psychological casualty of inter-race wars, Conrad once more records the pilgrims’ attack on Marlow’s steamer in the assumption that they are strangers. One of the pilgrims was then held by grieve after realizing that they had killed just one of them, Marlow’s helmsman (World history of arts).

In the current society, the same instances of war have resulted in both physical and psychological casualties. In the largely covered American fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan and the fights in Iraq, several soldiers have undergone a lot of psychological torture when ordered to collect remains of their perished soldiers. Seal (940) records that a number of Iraq and Afghanistan soldiers have survived war injuries and but still continue to experience pain and mental health problems. Most of these problems are Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Apart from the obvious deaths of several soldiers in both Iraq and Afghanistan many families are psychological casualties of such wars (Wallis). These wars also have led to both forceful and voluntary displacement of people from their original dwelling places. So many Iraqis have migrated from their original homeland to be refugees in the neighboring nations.

As has been appropriately described by the novel’s title, society today has become the “heart of darkness” where little attention is paid to the fatal and inhuman consequences of wars. Society has exposed its members to a hostile environment just like in the pre-colonial and uncivilized Africa presented in Conrad’s novel, Heart of Darkness. Every society is only concerned with being superior to the other and determined to propagate this notion of superiority by all means, including international wars. The result has been fighting over natural resources such as oil, just in the same depicted by the fight between Africans in Congo over the control over Ivory (Goonetilleke).


Right from the title of the novel, Heart of Darkness, Conrad alludes to the theme of casualty of war. The shaky relationship between Africans and Belgian foreigners such as Kurtz and Marlow comes out as the major cause of the wars that are witnessed in the novel. Unfortunately, the fatal outcomes of such conflicts are felt on both sides. The novel is a mirror reflection of today’s society where wars have become the order of the day. Many societies have embraced international wars as a way of expressing discontent and revenge.

Works cited Conrad, Joseph. Heart of darkness. England: Penguin Books, 1994. Notes. Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad. Web. 16 May 2012. Retrieved from < http://www.enotes.com/heart-of-darkness-criticism/heart-darkness-joseph-conrad> Goonetilleke, D.C.R.A. Heart of Darkness: Overview. Web. 16 May 2012. Retrieved from <http://homepage.usask.ca/~ljm158/ENGL110/Term_Two/Novels/Heart_of_Darkness/Goonetilleke%20–%20Heart%20of%20Darkness%20Overview.pdf > Killology Research Group. “Psychological effects of combat”: psychiatric casualties in war. Web 16 May 2012. Retrieved from < http://www.killology.com/art_psych_casualties.htm> Seal, Karen, et al…. Association of Mental Health Disorders with Prescription Opioids and High-Risk Opioid Use in US Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Journal of the American Medical Association. 307 (2012) pp. 940-947. Web. 16 May 2012 Wallis, Claudia. The Casualty of war: mental health. Web. 16 May 2012 World history of art. Masterpieces of world literature: Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad. Web. 16 May 2012. Retrieved from < http://www.all-art.org/world_literature/conrad1.htm >