Credit: ShmoopIn Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad presents us with two men who are, more or less, polar opposites. Charlie Marlow is a compassionate, humane man with a stockpile of integrity, and he is a lover and pursuer of truth and justice. Mr. Kurtz, on the other hand, is a bit of a &$%!@#.
Both men are compared to gods within the text, and each is viewed as one - Marlow by the men on his boat and - Conrad hopes - by his readers as well, and Kurtz by the native Africans, who look at him as almost some sort of Zeus-like figure. Throughout the book, we are exposed to both the ‘angry and vengeful god’ type as well as the ‘peace-loving god of enlightenment’ type. There are many religions in the world that propose the existence of one or the other; here we can see the two sides of the coin and perhaps gain a little insight into why different cultures worship such drastically different divine spirits.
Christianity, with which you are likely most familiar, is structured around a god - or a son of one -Credit: Shmoop who is all of the things that Marlow is. Kind, considerate of his fellow man, compassionate toward the destitute, and disapproving of the abuse of power. Most religions around the world are similar in that they feature a god or gods who embody what we ourselves aspire to become - good, caring people who are not bound by such vices as greed or irrational anger.
On the other hand, there are certain cultures that worship a much more volatile set of gods. The type of gods who will be unforgiving of your sins. They type of gods who will require that you make extreme sacrifices or suffer intense physical pain on their behalf. The type of gods who will smite you down for not putting in enough time on your ACT Prep.
As you may be aware, governments have had very much to do with their nation’s religion over the millennia. Often a government will create or rewrite religious doctrine so that it aligns more closely with its own agenda. The horror! The horror!
But it’s true. Many gods were originally created or designed to scare a culture’s population into submission or fear, so that its rulers might bend their subjects’ wills. What you end up with in that case is a god very much like the character of Kurtz - someone whose greed or thirst for power overcomes his basic sense of decency; someone who has developed violent tendencies and, as Conrad mentions repeatedly, has trouble showing restraint.
These two types clash in Heart of Darkness, and ‘good’ ultimately triumphs over ‘evil.’ An entertaining read, certainly, but if you ask us, it could have used a love triangle subplot.