Marlow – the speaker of the frame narrative starts to question his beliefs and attitudes when in Africa
The Manager – a corrupted Imperialist, for him only economical gain is important, no matter the cost
Mr. Kurtz – chief of the station, imposed himself as a god to the natives, a spiritually degenerated man
The Setting of Conrad’s novella is Congo in the late 19th century, which was then a colony of Belgium, but Heart of Darkness can be observed as a criticism of all European Imperialist countries, especially Britain. Under the excuse that they are going to bring the light of civilization to the degenerated African brutes, the Imperialists exploited the country for a long time. They gained maximum profit at minimum cost – slaves, ivory and rubber in large amounts.
The Thames is described as ”one of the dark places on Earth (as it is a point of departure for Imperialist ships). Conrad portrays British Imperialism in the naive character of Marlow, who is glad to see the “vast amount of red” on the Company’s map; signifying the British territory. He is glad that “real work is done there”; meaning salvation, religion, culture and commerce.
The reality of Colonialism is portrayed by Conrad in the form of the District Manager; a real Imperialist, taking full advantage of his position and that of the colony. Marlow’s opinion of Imperialism is denied time and again by his witnessing the lengths, the Imperialists would go for profit.
This opinion is destroyed, totally; when Marlow actually meets Kurtz, and realizes that; far from conquering the darkness, Kurtz himself has been conquered by the darkness. The European’s pure faith in Kurtz’s good nature contrasts with Marlow’s knowledge of his corruption. The roles of Kurtz’s ‘Intended’ and the African woman who appeared to be his mistress are often noted to be of great importance. Conrad sets the Intended up to symbolize the remoteness of the British from the events in Africa.
She is grief-stricken and full of dreams of what might have been, had Kurtz not died. Kurtz’s ‘mistress’ shows not grief at Kurtz’s departure, but definite defiance; she is the only native still standing after Marlow sounded the steamer’s whistle. The Intended’s knowledge of Kurtz, whilst she claimed to have known ‘him best’ was
incomplete, even illusory. The memory she is left with is itself a lie; provided by Marlow. The African woman may symbolize the fact that Africa did not need Britain’s ‘salvation’, contrary to the British belief, based upon a lie, propaganda symbolized by the Intended’s faith.