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UNIVERSITY OF BIHAC

PEDAGOGICAL FACULTY
ENGLISH DEPARTMENT
UNIVERZITET U BIHAĆU
PEDAGOŠKI FAKULTET
ODSJEK ZA ENGLESKI JEZIK I KNJIŽEVNOST

METAPHYSICAL EVIL, DIABOLISM AND PARADOX


IN WORKS OF JOSEPH CONRAD
Diploma Paper
METAFIZIČKO ZLO, DIJABOLIZAM I PARADOKS
U DJELIMA JOSEPHA CONRADA
Diplomski rad

Kandidat:
Edin Kadić

Mentor:
Prof. dr. Đorđe Slavnić

Bihać, septembra 2010. godine

CONTENTS
1.
INTRODUCTION …………………………………………………………………………..……
1
2. METAPHYSICAL EVIL, DIABOLISM AND PARADOX IN JOSEPH CONRAD'S WO
RKS ………………………………………………….……
2. 1. Introductory Speculations about Origin of Life; Evolutionism and
Creationism in Conrad's Ego – Paradox of His Vision ………………….…
..…………
2. 2.
Types of Evil ………………………………………………………………………………….………
3. "HEART OF DARKNESS"…………………………………………………..……………..
3. 1. Sinister Vision: Visual Effects in Interplay of Ligh and Darknes
s –
Jungian “Shadow” and the Dualism of Man …………………………………..…
3. 2. Civilization as the “Cradle” of Darkness, (Paradox); Darkness as Evi
l; Pagan Symbol ………….……………………………………………………………………

3. 3. Biblical Parallels: Introduction into the World of Metaphysical


Evil
3. 4. Diabolism: Red Colour of “Progress”; Paradox -Whiteness and
Blackness Inextricably Bound (Whiteness also Stands for Evil) ……....
3. 5. Sinister Backcloth; Metaphysical Evil: Civilization’s Flaw –
Speculations about White Race ………….…………………………………………………
3. 6. Diabolism; Marlow’s Descent into Inferno; Physical and Moral Evil;
Reversed Colour Symbolism ………….…………………………………………..
3. 7. Imperfection and Finiteness as Features of Metaphysical Evil; Ma
n’s Choice; “Shadow” ………….……………………………………… ………………
3. 8. The Collective Unconscious as Potential for Good or Evil ………….……
3. 9. Mr. Kurtz – the “Shadow” ………….…………………………………………………………

1. INTRODUCTION

Throughout the history of a mankind, certain events took shape with striking sim
ilarity to previous events. These events, fraught with violence, bore marks of c
ruelty characteristic for the early stages of humankind. Meticulous observation
of the pattern of human relationships within every society reveals an underlying
driving force behind these events. It mirrored, at all times, the basic conflic
t between, what was usually termed, the forces of good and evil. This incessant
struggle, in which the whole history of a mankind is written, is indicative of a
continual process of how reality is made, including past, present and future ti
me. Therofore, it serves, on a grand scale, as a constant reminder of the parado
xical juxtuposition without which the known world would be unimaginable. This di
chotomy is present in almost all artistic master-pieces and is manifested since
the beginning of time, and further supported both in evolutionist and creationis
t views of a mankind. Overly simplistic view of evolutionists reduces the world
of contradictions to natural selection and random growth of cells of organisms o
f species, while the creationist view emphasizes the importance of opposite forc
es that come from two sources, but eventually, in some monotheistic faiths, from
one source. Hence, it is implied that there exists a seemingly unravellable con
nection between forces of good and evil. Strong interplay of good and evil is o
verly represented in world literature, ancient and modern, up to the present tim
e. “Janiform“ works of Joseph Conrad, one of the first modernist writers, provides a
glimpse into the contradictory nature of mankind and its facets, ranging in its
representation from goodness to evil.
Conrad s diffuse style strongly suggests the three literary, moral and philosopi
cal categories as themes that run indelibly throughout his works such as evil, d
iabolism and paradox. Therefore, evil or experience of evil is unavoidably omnip
resent motif in art and major driving force in the long pageant of world history
. It pervades almost every work of art ranging from painting, musical or theatri
cal performances, cinematography and finally, literature. According to some defi
nitions, evil is any force, being or activity that increases human suffering and
is negative force concerned with loss and deprivation. Traditionally, there are
three main categories of evil: physical, moral and metaphysical. Physical need
not be necessarily conscious or deliberate whereas moral evil is deliberate, whi
le metaphysical evil is that which exists due to the structure of the universe.
The Christian interpretation of this evil is the concept of original sin. The im
perfections of the world are result of Adam and Eve s original mistake in the Ga
rden of Eden. Cruelty and malevolence are examples of moral evil; earthquakes, d
roughts and tornadoes are examples of physical evil; blindness, deafness and lam
eness are examples of metaphysical evil. All moral evil is the direct or indirec
t result of moral agents free wills or ability to choose. Physical and metaphys
ical evil may or may not be the result of moral agents choices. Driving force f
or wrongdoing, according to Conrad, stems from the double nature of humans: thei
r capability for good and evil, i.e. great technical achievements and civilizing
influences juxtaposed with intrinsic sadistic nature and destructive drive that
is found in every man.
Metaphysical evil pervades most of the mature works of Joseph Conrad and his wor
ks anticipate tumultuous historic events in the twenty-first century. Besides th
e structure of universe, there is also an underlying force as an agent from whic
h evil emanates, that is, Diabolos, an evil personified in the Old and New Testa
ments. It implies diabolism, which means action aided or caused by the devil, th
e character or condition of a devil, doctrine concerning devil, a belief in or w
orship of devils or action befitting the devil. Joseph Conrad stages the deviltr
y, that is, diabolism as unavoidable subject in his works, as stage props withou
t which his scenes would not function. Furthermore, Conradian universe is envelo
ped in his works that are termed „janiform“, for the Roman deity Janus: the two-face
d god who looks in opposite direction at the same time. His works, at its height
, aspire to the condition of paradox as they exhibit apparently contradictory na
ture with opinions or statements contrary to commonly accepted opinions expressi
ng a possible truth. In this theme of paradox, in which forces of good and evil,
although antagonistic, are inextricably entwined in eternal struggle, the truth
is laid bare in countless instances of conflicting nature of universe. Undoubte
dly and unquestionably, metaphysical evil, diabolism and paradox run constantly
through much of Joseph Conrad s works.
2. METAPHYSICAL EVIL, DIABOLISM AND PARADOX IN JOSEPH
CONRAD S WORKS
2.1. Introductory Speculations about Origin of Life; Evolutionism and
Creationism in Conrad s Ego – Paradox of His Vision
In all-encompassing, comprehensive survey of all epoques of history, the questio
n of origin of life arises as a source of great perplexity. According to a numbe
r of evolution theorists, life on planet Earth originated four to seven billion
years ago in a primordial matter, after the event described as Big Bang. The
Big Bang theory is based on the mathematical equations, known as the field equa
tions, of the general theory of relativity set forth in 1915 by Albert Einstein
and later expounded by Stephen Hawking in his book A Brief History of Time. Furt
hermore, the proponents of evolution theory claim that the complex evolution tha
t is today, is one continual, uninterrupted chain of events that made the prolif
eration of organic world possible. However, in 1998, scientists found evidence o
f asterioid or comet impact 3.3 million years ago in what is now Argentina, an e
vent that could be connected to regional animal extinction and climate change at
that time. The findings were reported in the December 11, 1998, issue of the jo
urnal “Science.“ The size of the impact and the extent of the extinction that appar
ently resulted pale in comparison to the event 65 million years ago when a comet
or asteroid slammed into what is now Mexico s Yucatán Peninsula. Many scientists
believe that the enormous impact from this event altered the earth s climate and
doomed the dinosaurs to extinction. Consequently, the force of impact was too s
trong, and according to a number of geologists, it is less likely that complex o
rganisms could have survived disaster of such devastating magnitude. Furthermore
, according to a number of mathematicians, seven billion years is not enough tim
e for such complex evolution to occur, nor 65 or 3.3 million years, a relatively
recent time by standards of biogenesis. Moreover, the law of biogenesis challe
nges evolutionist claims that organic matter is produced from inorganic matter;
cells are produced only from living, organic matter. Fossil evidence, also, indi
cates that earliest fossils, found in Cambrian rocks are far complex than evolut
ion theorists thought; no fossils are found in pre-cambrian rocks. At the time J
oseph Conrad was pursuing his writer’s career, evolution theory emerged and was th
ought to undermine Christian creationist belief. However, due to the progress of
science in the twentieth and twenty-first century, the scientists are not unani
mous about approving the evolution theory as valid explanation of origin of life
; number of scientists, among them geologists, geneticists, paleonthologists, m
athematicians, physicists, astrophysicists, etc. strongly disapprove of evolutio
n theory today. Scientists today, still face the enigma of the origin of life, e
specially of the origin of human race. Conrad, in his atheist, evolutionist ass
umption wrote to his friend Cunninghame Graham :
“There is a – let us say – a machine. It evolved itself (I am severely scien
tific)
out of a chaos of scraps of iron and behold! – it knits. I am horrified a
t the
horrible work and stand appalled…And the most withering thought is that
the infamous thing has made itself: made itself without thought, withou
t
conscience, without foresight, without eyes, without heart. It is a tra
gic
accident – and it has happened…It knits us in it knits us out. It has knitt
ed
time, space, pain, death, corruption, despair, and all the illusions…and
nothing matters. I’ll admit however that to look at the remorseless proce
ss
is something interesting.”
Victorian world-view, which originated in all those developments in nineteenth-c
entury geology, astronomy, physics and chemistry which combined with industriali
sm, suggested to Conrad that the natural world was merely the accidental result
of purposeless physical processes. However, in author’s note to “Almayer’s Folly” in 189
5, Conrad said:
“…For their land (the land of the natives) – like ours – lies under the inscrut
able
eyes of the Most High…”
Unerringly, his reference to the Most High contradicts the previous statement ab
out the machine that evolved, and may be said that it posits the existence of so
me form of greater force or divine being that is usually called God. Already her
e, in atheistic assumption and supernatural implication, is the presence of para
dox that envelopes Conradian universe. Constant doubt about the nature and origi
n of universe and life runs throughout Conrad’s work and like his failing health (
fever, gout), disturbed his worried mind to the end of his life. Conrad attempts
to explain it by saying that no final accounting of human behaviour (or origin)
is possible; that the inexplicable enters into every explanation . He continues
to look in opposite directions at the same time, of the so-called Homo Duplex,
the double man, either evolutionist or creationist. Despite the fact that he sha
red with the Victorians their rejection of the religious, social and intellectua
l order of the past in his rational industrial metaphor , his mind was unable to
suppress the irrational side of psyche, which haunted him despite the adopted r
ational stance in regard to universe. The irrational side of psyche, in contrast
to accepted evolutionist attitude, is mirrored in regions, cultures and experie
nces that surrounded him for the most of his career as a seaman and writer. Whet
her that was the Malay Archipelago, terrifying sea, terrorist underworld in Engl
and, darkly metaphysical butcher’s Congo or diabolic province of Sulaco, one indel
ible feeling that permeates his work is feeling of fear. By analogy, reasons for
man’s fear lie in the unknown, which may be guessed at times, as something inhere
ntly evil. One single undeniable fact that Conrad poses in his literature is the
force of evil, which is not diminished by perpetual opposition of evolutionist
attitude to the larger view of the world which Conrad has absorbed from his nine
teenth-century experience. Therefore, evil works more within the reality of the
creationist universe.

2.2. Types of evil


Conrad, either as a seaman or a writer, compelled by his surroundings or experie
nces, unconsciously drifts into the creationist universe where he encounters th
ree types of evil5: physical, moral and metaphysical. These types of evil work i
n creationist universe either in Malay Archipelago, Atlantic ocean, London, Brux
elles or Congo. Physical evil is that which causes harm to the body or the mind6
. Moral evil is deliberate departure from an accepted moral code. This sort of e
vil can take two aspects. The first is when one does something that he or she kn
ows to be wrong – the will acting against the guidance of the conscience. In this
sense moral evil can exist even for the atheist, i.e. evolutionist. The second i
s acting against the precepts of religion – committing sin. Someone who departs un
knowing from such codes does not do evil. Metaphysical evil is that which exists
due to the structure of the universe. This category generates the most lively d
ebates. Some do not hold that it exists at all – that decay and death are a part o
f the order of life, and are thus not negative. Others hold that they cause suff
ering of others, and are thus evil. These latter must then find reasons to justi
fy this kind of evil in the universe of a benevolent God. The Christian solution
to this problem is the concept of Original sin. The imperfections of the world
are a result of Adam and Eve s original mistake in the Garden of Eden. In that w
ay, their sons, Abel and Cain, who embody the paradox that came from the Creator
(but not directly attributed to Him), perpetuate the metaphysical evil and inhe
rent paradox of mankind – presence of both good and evil in mankind and justificat
ion of the existence of evil in the universe.
To strengthen the paradox, Joseph Conrad rejected the social and intellectual or
der of the day by assuming that there is no greater force, the supreme being tha
t is called God and that everything is illusion:
"I am like a man who has lost his gods. My efforts seem unrelated to an
ything
in heaven and everything under heaven is impalpable to the touch like s
hapes
of mist. Do you see how easy writing must be under such conditions? Do
you
see? Even writing to a friend – to a person one has heard, touched, drank
with,
quarrelled with – does not give me a sense of reality. All is illusion – th
e words
written, the mind at which they are aimed, the truth they are intended
to express,
the hands that will hold the paper, the eyes that will glance at the li
nes. Every
image floats vaguely in a sea of doubt – and the doubt itself is lost in
an
unexplored universe of incertitudes.“

3. “HEART OF DARKNESS”
3.1. Sinister Vision: Visual Effects in Interplay of Ligh and
Darkness – Jungian “Shadow” and Dualism of Man
Timeless as it may seem, Heart of Darkness is a semi-fictionalised account of Co
nrad’s experience in Congo in 1889-1890 when he was an employee of a Belgian compa
ny Societe Anonyme Belge pour le Commerce du Haut-Congo. Conrad got an appointme
nt on board the steamer Roi des Belges through his influential aunt Marguerita P
oradowska in Brussels. The steamer was to reach company’s isolated outer station i
n the interior on Congo River and bring back Georges Antoine Klein, the inner st
ation agent now close to death. The trip, a considerable one of a thousand miles
, normally took well over a month because of obstacles in the river and the natu
re of the waterway itself. At that time, Congo was proclaimed the “Congo Free Stat
e” in ownership of Leopold II, the king of Belgium. Belgian imperialists were expl
oiting the rubber-bearing land and almost all exploitable land was divided among
concession companies. Forced labour, hostages, slave chains, starving porters,
burned villages, paramilitary company “sentries”, and the chicotte were the order o
f the day. In these circumstances Conrad went to Congo, saw the conditions in wh
ich the exploitation was going on, and retold it in his novella Heart of Darknes
s. The novella is staged on board of a cruising yawl Nellie sometime at the turn
of the twentieth century. The atmosphere on the docks of a Gravesend in London
suggests something intrinsically dark and foreboding as the sun sets:
“The air was dark above Gravesend, and farther back still seemed condense
d
into a mournful gloom, brooding over the biggest, and the greatest, tow
n on
Earth.” (Heart of Darkness, p. 5)
Before the ending of the day the atmosphere is that of ‘a serenity of still and ex
quisite brilliance’, the sky “a benign immensity of unstained light”, but there appear
s the gloom to the west, “brooding over the upper reaches”, which “became sombre every
minute”. The change in atmosphere, contrast of light and darkness, day and night,
seems to suggest that there exists an invisible force underlying the light of t
he day. Such force, represented through appearance of darkness, becomes dominant
feature from the start of the novella, and intensifies the mood in which the st
ory unfolds. The struggle of light is played against the background of approachi
ng darkness which moves menacingly toward it threatening to envelop the light in
its gloom. The chiaroscuro that Conrad applied here represents eternal ‘janiform’ d
ualism of never ceasing struggle between the light and darkness, but also the ex
istence of both at the same time. The inference is that the light cannot be seen
or perceived without darkness or vice versa, that is, the light cannot exist wi
thout darkness, and darkness cannot exist without light. In this juxtaposition,
there is a paradox in unity of opposites, which is frequently mentioned in Josep
h Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as well as in his other works. The men aboard the Nel
lie, besides the narrator, are the Director of Companies as captain, the Lawyer,
the Accountant and Charlie Marlow. The narrator states that “it was difficult to
realize” that captain’s work “was not out there in the luminous estuary, but behind hi
m, within the brooding gloom”. This reference, seems to serve the notion that, acc
ording to Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung, there exists that other side of o
urselves, which is to be found in the personal unconscioous, the “shadow”. The shado
w, according to Jung, is the inferior being in ourselves, the one who wants to d
o all the things that we do not allow ourselves to do, who is everything that we
are not, the Mr. Hyde to our Dr. Jekyll. It is as if the narrator, from the ope
ning page, intimates in this way, that the glossy surface of empire, whose typic
al representative is The Director of Companies, wears off to reveal hidden conte
nt, the meaning of which is not always palatable. The narrator pictures it as a
gloom in comparison to the luminous estuary and estuary is suggested as projecti
on of captain’s persona, and persona, according to Jung, is a necessity; through i
t the man relates to his world. Persona simplifies one’s contacts by indicating wh
at other people can expect from one, and on the whole makes one pleasanter. So i
n this contrast of light and darkness there is a juxtaposition of a persona and
shadow as paradoxical unity of every individual. There is, as Jung points out, n
o shadow without the sun, and no shadow (in the sense of the personal unconsciou
s) without the light of consciousness. It is, in fact, in the nature of things t
hat there should be light and dark, sun and shade. The shadow is unavoidable and
man is incomplete without it. Therefore, captain’s work is behind him, within the
brooding gloom, that is, it is a product of his ‘shadow’ which he casts and it is a
reflection of empire’s shadow, that is, its atrocities done in colonies. Soon, th
e sun sets and darkness covers the scene, giving completely different aspect to
the setting:
“And at last, in its curved and imperceptible fall, the sun sank low, and
from
glowing white changed to a dull red without rays and without heat, as i
f about
to go out suddenly, stricken to death by the touch of that gloom broodi
ng over
a crowd of men. Forthwith a change came over the waters…”
(Heart of Darkness, p. 6)
The “exquisite brilliance” and “unstained light” was soon stained with emerging gloom, t
hat “became sombre every minute, as if angered by the approach of the sun”. Presence
of physical darkness, shown here with dramatic effect, complements the brightne
ss of the day and the fall of the sun is, strangely enough, “imperceptible”. Outward
signs it gives after that, show an incredible change in its appearance, quality
, and, one may think, change in essence and physical structure. This ominous rep
resentation of a daytime and night-time following one another is traditionally a
ssociated with the notion that nature of every man is inextricably bound with pr
ocesses in the outer nature itself, which surround one. It is as if this motif i
n literature highlights the double nature of every man in which light follows th
e darkness or vice versa.

3.2. Civilization as the “Cradle” of Darkness, (Paradox);


Darkness as Evil, Pagan Symbol
The narrator brings back the spirit of the past that hangs over the Thames river
by calling into memory names of people to whom it served such as Sir Francis Dr
ake or Sir John Franklin: “…knights all, titled and untitled – the great knights erran
ts of the sea”,… “hunters for gold or pursuers of fame”, “the dark interlopers…” Even the n
s of the ships, Erebus and Terror evoke certain associations related to darknes
s. When the darkness finally descended on the stream, with ominous outlines of t
own, Charlie Marlow spoke:
“ ‘And this also‘, said Marlow suddenly, ‘has been one of the dark places of the
earth. ’ ” (Heart of Darkness, p. 7)
Marlow is not a typical seaman, as minds of typical seamen are of “the stay-at-hom
e order” and the meaning of their yarns “lies within the shell of a cracked nut”. But
to Marlow the meaning lies outside the kernel, enveloping the tale. Marlow start
s his story by evocation of Roman conquest of Britain, saying that light came ou
t of the Thames River some time ago, but the effect is that the darkness was the
re yesterday. Quite decidedly, in words of African scholar Chinua Achebe, the ri
ver Thames is River Emeritus. It has rendered centuries-long service and deserve
s old age pension. In other words, with conquest and civilizing influence of Rom
ans, the Thames River has conquered its darkness. In Marlow’s words, what early Ro
man conquerors encountered there was terrifying wilderness and utter savagery. M
arlow juxtaposes a decent young Roman citizen in toga (the colour of which is wh
ite) to savagery that closes round him inland and speaks of the fascination of t
he abomination that goes to work upon him because he, as a civilized man, “has to
live in the midst of the incomprehensible”. Western Europe was one of the dark pla
ces on Earth where the conquerors brought civilization. It was plunder with kill
ing on a grand scale without thinking “as is very proper for those who tackle dark
ness”. To outrageous killings and mindless violence conquerors have ascribed the i
dea of bearing the torch of “progress”, the “light of civilization”.
As he speaks, Marlow assumes shape of “Buddha preaching in European clothes and wi
thout a lotus-flower”. His outward appearance seems to mark his departure from the
known world, in which monotheistic faith is dominant, into the unknown, that is
, the world of “pagan” religions, so regarded from the monotheistic point of view. I
n this way, Marlow symbolises something resembling pagan idol or pagan symbol. H
is transition from the Western world into the Oriental is also followed with the
darkness replacing the light, the light that stands for the good and the darkne
ss that stands for evil. Darkness works within the reality of evil, or metaphysi
cal evil as it is inseparable part of nature, and with the end of light, it brin
gs the death of life. Marlow, without a lotus-flower, as European Buddha, only i
ndicates that the meaning of his yarn is hidden, or not very clear. In his monol
ogue, Marlow says:
” ‘It (journey) seemed somehow to throw a kind of light on everything about
me – and into my thoughts. It was sombre enough, too – and pitiful – not
extraordinary in any way – not very clear either. No, not very clear. And
yet
it seemed to throw a kind of light.’ ” (Heart of Darkness, p. 11)

3.3. Biblical Parallels: Introduction into


the World of Metaphysical Evil
As a boy, Charlie Marlow looked at blank spaces on maps where he wanted to go, b
ecause they did not look very clear and for that reason were particularly inviti
ng. First, he was attracted by the whiteness of the North Pole, but in truth, he
hankered after “the biggest, the most blank”, the Black continent. But Marlow says
that, since his boyhood, it ceased to be a blank space of delightful mystery – “it h
ad become a place of darkness”. (Heart of Darkness, p. 12) Paradoxically, in this
statement, it is obviously suggested that darkness had arrived with white coloni
alists, and that Congo River had not overcome its darkness like Thames did. Blan
k space, as a “white patch for a boy to dream gloriously over” was not white anymore
but was made dark by the “progress” of the white race. In this way, metaphysical da
rkness works within metaphor of whiteness and blackness, that follow one another
, complement one another. The white race is supposed to constitute the body, whi
le African land and rivers are supposed to be a reflection of that body, that is
, its Jungian shadow. Congo River serves to represent the pull of the unknown, o
r to portray the diabolism and ancient evil in imagery of a snake that lures Mar
low in the same way it tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. In the Old Te
stament, the Hebrew part of the Holy Bible, the serpent, viewed as an ancient ev
il upon which God had later put curse, tempted Adam and Eve into eating the forb
idden fruit:
”And the serpent was more crafty than any animal of the field which Jehov
ah
Elohim had made. And it is said to the woman, Is it even so, that God h
ad said,
Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said to the
serpent,
we may eat of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree tha
t is in the
midst of the garden, God had said; ye shall not eat of it, and ye shall
not touch
it, lest ye die. And the serpent said to the woman, Ye shall not certai
nly die; but
God knows that in the day ye eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and y
e will
be as God, knowing good and evil. And the woman saw that the tree was g
ood
for food, and that it was pleasure for the eyes, and the tree was to be
desired
to give intelligence; and she took of its fruit, and ate, and gave also
to her
husband with her, and he ate. And the eyes of them both were opened, an
d
they knew that they were naked.’ ” (Genesis 3)
The snake-like river tempted and hypnotized Marlow ”like a snake would a bird – a si
lly little bird…but could not shake off the idea. The snake had charmed me…fascinati
ng – deadly…” (Heart of Darkness, p. 12) Although in the Genesis of the Old Testament
woman is tempted by the snake, in Heart of Darkness Charlie Marlow is charmed by
the snake, but the female influence is obvious in character of Charlie’s aunt. Hi
s enthusiastic, influential aunt encouraged him to go, and her role that can be
paralleled with first biblical woman is present in her exhortation:
” ‘It will be delightful. I am ready to do anything, anything for you. It
is a glorious idea. I know the wife of a very high personage in the
administration, and also a man who has lots of influence with, ’ etc., et
c.
She was determined to make no end of fuss to get me appointed skipper
of a river steamboat, if such was my fancy. ” (Heart of Darkness, p. 12)
In similar way, Eve offers Adam fruit from a forbidden tree and makes him eat it
, so that their eyes will be opened, and they would be like God, knowing good an
d evil. Charlie’s aunt acts as a “mediator” between him and the physical embodiment of
a diabolical biblical snake, the Congo River. Her influence is of a biblical Ev
e who knows that the company’s business, that is, the tree, was good for food, and
it was pleasure for the eyes, and the tree was desired to give intelligence…There
fore, in Heart of Darkness, she introduced Marlow into a sinful world, world of
metaphysical evil and imperfections he was not aware of, where his eyes are open
ed to know both good and evil. In Dino de Laurentis’s film version of the Holy Bib
le, Eve tasted the forbidden fruit and offered it to Adam by saying that “our huma
n eyes will be opened and we will be like God”. Thereupon Adam feels terrible unea
siness by saying: “But…that is disobedience!” And after that, he tastes the fruit hesi
tatingly. Similarly, aunt tells Marlow about necessity of “weaning those ignorant
millions from their horrid ways” which made him most uncomfortable. Taking a view
of Marlow’s aunt from a biblical perspective is justified in Marlow’s statement:
“It’s queer how out of touch with truth women are. They live in a world of
their own, and there had never been anything like it, and never can be.
It is
too beautiful altogether, and if they were to set it up, it would go to
pieces
before the first sunset. Some confounded fact we men have been living
contentedly with ever since the day of creation would start up and knoc
k the
whole thing over.’ “
With import of this statement, Conrad suggests that men are aware of evil behind
noble intentions more than women are, as men, roughened by failures and bad exp
erience, live in a real world and see the true nature of things.
An act of biting the forbidden fruit is, metaphorically, shown in action of Marl
ow entering the company building, undergoing the medical examination, signing th
e contract and joining the company’s business. However, Marlow senses something om
inous, as eerie atmosphere pervades the place. First, he is met by the two women
knitting black wool which strongly suggests the initiation into the unknown, of
which he has no conception and is afraid of. The description of a building, its
surroundings and its interior has a strong association with Adam’s “cursed land” away
from the Garden of Eden. In Genesis, after tasting the fruit from the tree of k
nowledge, God cursed Adam and placed him in a land far away from the Garden of E
den:
“And to Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened to the voice of thy wif
e,
and eaten of the tree of which I commanded thee saying, Thou shalt not
eat
of it: cursed be the ground of thy account; with toil shalt thou eat [o
f] it all
the days of thy life; and thorns and thistles shall it yield thee; and
thou shalt
eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat brea
d, until
thou return to the ground: for out of it wast thou taken. For dust thou
art;
and unto dust shalt thou return.” (Genesis, 3:17)
Similarly, the company’s building, which is in a narrow and deserted street in the
deep shadow, the surrounding of it is that of “a dead silence, grass sprouting be
tween the stones,” staircase is swept and ungarnished, “as arid as a desert”, and may
be associated with the “cursed ground” of Adams’s account, as well as with Cain’s ground
, cursed by God, after Cain slew his brother:
“And now be thou cursed from the ground, which hath opened its mouth to
receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand. When thou tillest the ground,
it
shall not henceforth yield thee its strength; a wanderer and fugitive s
halt
thou be on the earth.” (Genesis, 4:11)
However, Marlow is not a fratricide, but is, instead, a wanderer, and unknowingl
y, committer or perpetrator of a transgression, as he seeks forbidden knowledge
from a tree of knowledge, which, in distorted metaphor, is company’s business. “Magn
ificent dependency”, that is, the Congo Free State and its river, are represented
as a “cursed ground”, or ground of Adam’s or Marlow’s “account”. The whole territory of Afr
ca in the 19th century was a stage of horrible scramble for loot that, in Conrad’s
words, disfigured the conscience of Europe like never before in history of a ma
nkind.
3.4. Diabolism: Red Colour of “Progress”; Paradox – Whiteness and
Blackness Inextricably Bound (Whiteness also Stands for Evil)
After being preceded into a waiting-room by the “knitter of black wool”, Marlow sees
shining map of “progress” in Africa, marked with all the colours of a rainbow. The
scene of the two women knitting black wool represents picture of a destiny and s
erves to predict the tragedy. In their room Marlow again comes in view of the sn
ake-like river. They are keepers of the door of darkness. They knit the wool fev
erishly, and in it they are likened to knitting machine that “created space, time,
love, hate, pain, despair”, as there are numbers of souls waiting for them to kni
t their destiny. Symbolic snake did not make Marlow to know both good and evil,
but will lead him, upstream, to become conscious of the ultimate evil, final and
unthinkable. Besides other colours on the map, there is a vast amount of red – wh
ich marks “real work” done there and purple patch where colonialists are, mentioned
as “jolly pioneers of progress”. In Africa, colours do not always have usual connota
tions like they have in Europe. In some parts of Africa such as Egypt, black col
our does not have evil connotations. Black colour in Egypt represents Egyptian g
od Horus , god of Lower Egypt, of its Northern part, and Egypt was one of the cu
ltures in which black colour does not signify evil, but is instead colour of bla
ck fertile land of the Nile delta which gives life. In contrast to black, red c
olour represents Seth , god of Upper Egypt, its Southern part, and is adversary
to Horus. Seth represents dry, barren desert; therefore, the colour of this evil
adversary or Diabolos was scorching red. Red colour on map of “progress” that Marl
ow looked at is in notable accord with number of traditions that represent Devil
or Diabolos. It coincides with this kind of evil which represents, and the sugg
estion is that such evil is brought with white imperialism. Throughout the novel
la, red colour is also prominent in places where torture, malevolence and cruelt
y take place.
After procedures to join company’s business are over, the feeling of uneasiness ca
me over Marlow, especially after signing the document wherein he obliged not to
disclose any trade secrets.
“I began to feel slightly uneasy. You know I am not used to such ceremoni
es,
and there was something ominous in the atmosphere. It was as though I h
ad
been let into some conspiracy – I don’t know – something not quite right; and
I was glad to get out.” (Heart of Darkness, p. 15)
With such an obligation Marlow may be said to have undertaken to finish the unho
ly work on the “cursed ground” without letting others know anything about his disagr
eeable job. Not disclosing any trade secrets should mean that Marlow is not goin
g to make others aware that they are involved in a world of metaphysical evil. T
he relation of Belgians and other Europeans to evil and wickedness stems from th
e corruption of nation to oppress others for profit and earthly gain, as is illu
strated in Marlow’s perception of imperial capital Brussels as “white sepulchre”. The “w
hite sepulchre”, that is, the white architecture of Brussels serves as a mental pi
cture of a mass murder of over ten millions of Congolese in one of the greatest
acts of genocide up to that time. Metaphorically, whiteness of the “sepulchre” shoul
d represent the heaps of bones, the mortal remains of the Congolese, as well as
vast amounts of ivory collected in imperialist conquest and exploitation. The no
tion of evil works both in application of white and black colour, light and dark
ness, as these are usually considered to be antithetical, but are in fact, inext
ricably bound. In order to appear distinctly, light usually looms up in darkness
as it stands in sharp contrast to it. Similarly, darkness intensifies the effec
t of blackness when it is contrasted to lighter background or whiteness. However
, one cannot appear without the presence of another, which suggests, by analogy,
that one cannot exist without the other. Conrad’s paradoxical juxtuposition of li
ght and darkness is another reminder of “janiform” nature of his works.
The first intimations of Marlow’s descent into Inferno or “cursed ground” is a baleful
presence of two “knitters of black wool” in their plain black clothes. The younger
one was “introducing continuously to the unknown” while the elderly woman with her u
nconcerned glance intimated that she knew everything about Marlow and others:
‘The swift and indifferent placidity of that look troubled me. Two youths
with
foolish and cheery countenances were being piloted over, and she threw
at them
the same quick glance of unconcerned wisdom. She seemed to know all abo
ut
them and all about me, too. An eerie feeling came over me. She seemed u
ncanny
and fateful. Often far away there I thought of these two, guarding the
door of
Darkness, knitting black wool as for a warm pall, one introducing, intr
oducing
continuously to the unknown, the other scrutinizing the cheery and fool
ish faces
with unconcerned old eyes. Ave! Old knitter of black wool. Morituri te
salutant.
Not many of those she looked at ever saw her again – not half, by a long
way.
(Heart of Darkness, p.16)
After signing the contract, Marlow undergoes strange medical examination which f
oreshadows even stranger journey. The procedure that Marlow undergoes is strange
ly impersonal, as there was something sinister in the atmosphere of the company.
The doctor says, after measuring his cranium, that changes take place inside. I
n other words, Marlow is forewarned that he is about to find out about the unkno
wn.
In public, those departing to distant colonies had an aureole of the emissaries
of light. Marlow is surprised with delight of his aunt in his “noble assignment” as
he is aware that the main goal of the company is profit, but his aunt lives in a
blissful ignorance. His aunt, deliberately unaware, symbolizes Europe that clos
es her eyes before the consequences of colonial undertaking. After Marlow left h
is aunt’s residence, queer feeling came over him that he was an impostor, and had
a moment of startled pause before leaving for Africa.

3.5. Sinister Backcloth; Metaphysical evil: Civilization’s


Flaw – Speculations about White Race
Charlie Marlow’s journey to Africa is paralleled with Conrad’s voyage to Congo Free
State, founded in 1885 and ruled by Leopold II, King of Belgium. The political t
erritory of Central Africa comprises the French Congo and Leopold’s Congo Free Sta
te. Marlow’s journey on a steamer is, in reality, Conrad’s voyage on steamer Roi des
Belges in 1889-1890. Sinister backdrop of narration is the vast African wildern
ess soon to be carved out by the colonial powers. Names of the trading places, l
ike Gran’ Bassam, Little Popo in the novella do not bring any strong associations
relating to evil or diabolism but “seemed to belong to some sordid farce acted in
front of a sinister back-cloth” (Heart of Darkness, p. 19). The ports of call have
“farcical names”; the uniform sombreness of African coast brings associations to un
explored ground, terra incognita, and, in Marlow’s words, thinking about it “is like
thinking about an enigma” (Heart of Darkness, p. 19). The arrival of the white ci
vilisation at a wide, lush African jungle has the effect of a senseless delusion
as if there was a calculated endeavour to keep Marlow and others away from the
truth of things. “White progress” accentuates the metaphysical evil, as there is a p
resence of fault in civilisation juxtaposed to a boat paddled by black natives a
nd nature represented as surf along the ocean, “as if Nature herself had tried to
ward off intruders”.
Civilisation is considered to be faulty in comparison to the untouched nature an
d its humanity, as the narrator’s tableaux strongly suggest a flaw in magnificent
superiority of technologically advanced race. The “flaw” is depicted as destructive
effects of a “superior” race whose violent actions taint the African landscape and i
ts centuries old settlements. The “flaw” is thought to represent a fault, a distinct
feature of metaphysical evil, as it is implied that there is something intrinsi
cally wrong and evil in humankind, especially in the portion of it that is super
ior to another one. Wrongness that is present in civilisation seems to suggest M
arlow’s conscious reflection that “some confounded fact we man have been living cont
entedly with ever since the day of creation would start up and knock the whole t
hing over”. This reflection serves as a clear reference to Original sin as heritag
e of the mankind. The seascape scene that Marlow narrates brings to light that t
he fault in mankind, in this instance, is a scramble for loot in oppression of o
ne another, a competition for profit of powerful nations, as a result of the fla
w inherited through the Original sin. It is evidenced in European bombing of Afr
ican coast as a portent of a disaster that was to come:
“Once, I remember, we came upon a man-of-war anchored off the coast.
There wasn’t even a shed there, and she was shelling the bush. It appears
the French had one of their wars going on thereabouts. Her ensign dropp
ed
limp like a rag; the muzzles of the long six-inch guns stuck out all ov
er the
low hull: the greasy, slimy swell swung her up lazily and let her down,
swaying her thin masts. In the empty immensity of earth, sky and water,
there she was, incomprehensible, firing into a continent. Pop, would go
one
of the six-inch guns; a small flame would dart and vanish, a little whi
te
smoke would disappear, a tiny projectile would give a feeble screech – an
d
nothing happened. Nothing could happen. There was a touch of insanity i
n
the proceeding, a sense of lugubrious drollery in the sight; and it was
not
disippated by somebody on board assuring me earnestly there was a camp
of natives – he called them enemies! – hidden out of sight somewhere.”
(Heart of Darkness, p. 20)
Sinister backcloth of the novella is accentuated by the mention of trading place
s with farcical names where “the merry dance of death and trade goes on in a still
and earthy atmosphere as of an overheated catacomb”. Nightmarish journey foreshad
ows Marlow’s descent into Inferno on Earth, which is both metaphorical and real. O
n a sea-going steamer, Marlow is forewarned by a Swedish captain’s question what b
ecomes of the greedy European kind when they go up country. He mentions the case
of a Swede who hanged himself on the road for reason not known to them: “Who know
s? The sun too much for him, or the country perhaps”. (Heart of Darkness, p. 21).
The scenes opening before Marlow are of colonial desolation and destruction, of
“inhabited devastation brought about by the ‘progress”. The trading stations are thou
ght to be beacons of light towards progress and betterment. However, what Marlow
encounters is completely opposite to what he expected to find. The trading post
s are elaborately equated with specific circles of Hell , thus in Dante’s influenc
e on Conrad’s texts, there is a close structural parallel between Heart of Darknes
s and the Inferno. Marlow’s step into Inferno is marked by the diabolical scene of
a chain-gang driven by “the reclaimed”, one of the natives recruited into the Force
Publique Marlow was profoundly shocked with the scene of a chain-gang as he is
later haunted by paradox of meaning of those words with which he was sent on a
journey and disturbing scenes that awaited him in the Congo. These chained peopl
e were not enemies, the real enemies came to them as “insoluble mystery from the s
ea”, as invaders, slave owners, master butchers and torturers. Paradoxically, in E
urope, they were called “emissaries of light, bearers of the progress, missionarie
s bringing civilization”. In this way, Conrad’s diabolical scene of a chain gang cre
ates effect of complete inversion of usual concepts of civilization and savagery
.
3.6. Diabolism; Marlow’s Descent into Inferno; Physical
and Moral Evil; Reversed Colour Symbolism
Conrad’s reference to diabolism, which, in case of a chain gang, is represented th
rough action thought to be aided or caused by the devil, is clear. In it, devil
is personified, first as a human, but behind which stand powerful but negative e
motions like greed, lust and rapacity:
“I’ve seen the devil of violence, and the devil of greed, and the devil of
hot
desire; but, by all the stars! these were strong, lusty, red-eyed devil
s, that
swayed and drove men – men, I tell you. But as I stood on this hillside,
I
foresaw that in the blinding sunshine of that land I would become acqua
inted
with a flabby, pretending, weak-eyed devil of a rapacious and pitiless
folly.
How insidious he could be, too, I was only to find out several months l
ater
and a thousand miles farther.” (Heart of Darkness, p. 23)
Marlow’s portrayal of the “red-eyed devils” is in notable accord with visual imagery o
f European tradition, where the image of devil is usually depicted either with d
ark or reddish colour. The “reclaimed” native, a “product of new forces at work” is dark
-skinned and “red-eyed”. Again, red colour is prominent through reference to god Set
h, equivalent of devil in religion of the ancient Egyptians. A flabby, red-eyed
is the description of colonial Europe and her rapacious and soulless stupidity.
By further exploring the first river station, Marlow steps into the “grove of deat
h” and discovers a group of dying blacks, victims of the colonialists’ futile effort
s at railway building:
“My purpose was to stroll into the shade for a moment; but no sooner with
in
than it seemed to me I had stepped into the gloomy circle of some Infer
no…”
(Heart of Darkness, p. 24)
Conrad subtly creates a nightmarish apprehension and draws parallel between his
forthcoming experience and Dante’s model. Conrad’s realisation of the grove is clear
ly Dantesque:
“Black shapes crouched, lay, sat between the trees leaning against the tr
unks,
clinging to the earth, half coming out, half effaced within the dim lig
ht, in all
the attitudes of pain, abandonment and despair.” (Heart of Darkness, p. 2
4)
The landscape of pain and bodies in contorted collapse boldly recreates Dante’s ex
ample. The literary method encountered here is regularly encountered in Dante’s te
xt. It clearly summons the visual world of prostrated bodies met with throughout
the Inferno. Leaving the Wood of Suicides in Canto Fourteen, Dante builds a vis
ual picture of the damned using a language that similarly reiterates diverse phy
sical movement:
“Many separate herds of naked souls I saw,
all weeping desperately …
Some souls were stretched out flat upon their backs,
others were crouched there all tightly hunched,
some wandered, never stopping, round and round.”
(Inferno, Canto 14, 197)
Conrad’s visual projection of Inferno seems to bring feeling that some sort of sca
ffold, torture chamber or even Hell, is on Earth. Marlow’s narrative as a frame of
reference shows the picture of bodies of natives in their angular disfigurement
, that is, the account of destruction of their well-being inflicted by coloniali
sts’ actions, which is instance of moral evil, but is further enveloped in metaphy
sical evil. Cruelty and malevolence are examples of moral evil, as natives are i
n a state of complete exhaustion and collapse, in a scene that defies descriptio
n. The cause of their pitiful state is cruelty and malevolence of colonialists t
hrough their ruthless exploitation; so, when overworked and deprived of corporea
l needs to the extent that their physical well-being is destroyed, natives “sicken
ed, became inefficient and were then allowed to crawl away and rest”. Colonialists’
moral evil as a deliberate departure from an accepted moral code can take two as
pects: the first when they do something they know to be wrong – the will acting ag
ainst the guidance of the conscience; in this sense moral evil can exist even fo
r the atheist, the second is acting against the preceipts of religion – committing
sin. Someone who departs unknowing from such codes does not do evil. Thus the “pa
gans” or “savages” whom colonialists encountered did not do evil in the eyes of the Ch
ristian missionaries when found “in a state of nature” – but did so if they were “conver
ted” to Christianity but then reverted to their native customs. Contrary to Marlow’s
aunt’s statement, Joseph Conrad in his letter to British Consul Roger Casement in
1905, writes that “barbarism per se is no crime deserving of a heavy visitation; …a
punishment sent for a definite transgression; but in this the Upoto man is not
aware of any transgression, and therefore can see no end to the infliction. It m
ust appear to him very awful and mysterious; …an insoluble mystery from the sea”. (C
itation: Conrad, Joseph. “Very Awful and Mysterious: An Open Letter to Roger Casem
ent.”) In the “grove of death” scene, there is a strong presence of physical evil whic
h includes all that causes harm to man, whether by bodily injury, by thwarting o
ne’s natural desires, or by preventing the full development of one’s powers, either
in the order of nature directly, or through the various social conditions under
which mankind naturally exists. Physical evils directly due to nature are sickne
ss, accident, death, etc. Poverty, oppression and some forms of disease are inst
ances of evil arising from imperfect social organization. Mental suffering, such
as anxiety, disappointment, and remorse, and the limitation of intelligence whi
ch prevents human beings from attaining to the full comprehension of their envir
onment, are congenital forms of evil each vary in character and degree according
to natural disposition and social circumstances. Decay and death are part of cy
cle of Order and life, and are instances of metaphysical evil, whereas the colon
ial exploitation in Heart of Darkness, whose consequences are pictured in scenes
such as the “grove of death”, is instance of quickened process of decay and death b
rought upon by the humans who, as oppressors of natives and “catalysts” of the proce
ss, are part of nature, which, besides containing the imperfection of being fini
te, also contains imperfection in form of humanity which wilfully errs. In this
case, moral evil which covers wilful acts of human beings such as mass murder of
natives (through exploitation) and physical evil, which means bodily pain or me
ntal anguish inflicted on natives (fear, illness, grief, war, etc.) are envelope
d in metaphysical evil, which means imperfection and chance (criminals going unp
unished, deformities, etc). In Dantesque “grove of death”, the dominant features are
lameness and partially, deafness, dumbness and blindness, altogether features o
f metaphysical evil. In comparison of the three kinds of evil, all moral evil is
the direct or indirect result of moral agents’ free wills or ability to choose; p
hysical and metaphysical evil may or may not be the result of moral agents’ choice
s, albeit it is, in the “grove of death.” Metaphysical evil also, is limitation by o
ne another of various component parts of the natural world. Through the mutual l
imitation natural objects are for the most part prevented from attaining to thei
r full or ideal perfection, such as in instance of the exploited Congolese slave
s or African land ravished by the exploiters, whether by the constant pressure o
f physical condition, for example, by the colonialists-exploiters, or by sudden
catastrophes. Metaphysical evil, on one hand, works within the reality of formal
evil, which means that animals and vegetable organisms are variously influenced
by climate and other natural causes, while predatory animals depend for their e
xistence on the destruction of life, whereas nature is subject to storms and con
vulsions, and its order depends on a system of perpetual decay and renewal due t
o the interaction of its constituent parts. On the other hand, in monotheistic r
eligions, it is difficult to say whether metaphysical evil should be rightly cla
ssed with the merely formal evil which belongs to inanimate objects, or with the
suffering of human beings. Thus, it has often been supposed that animal suffer
ing, together with many of the imperfections of inanimate nature, was due to the
fall of man, with whose welfare, as the chief part of creation, were bound up t
he fortunes of the rest (Genesis 3 and Corinthians 9). In Heart of Darkness huma
ns assume the role of natural objects through mutual limitation: the Congolese a
re not only limited or prevented from attaining their full potential or ideal pe
rfection, but are overworked to the extent that they are facing slow death from
extreme exhaustion and undernourishment:
‘They were dying slowly – it was very clear. They were not enemies, they
were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now, - nothing but black
shadows of disease and starvation, lying confusedly in the greenish glo
om.
Brought from all the recesses of the coast in all the legality of time
contracts,
lost in uncongenial surroundings, fed on unfamiliar food, they sickened
,
became inefficient, and were then allowed to crawl away and rest. These
moribund shapes were free as air – and nearly as thin…” (Heart of Darkness,
p. 24)
Quite decidedly, metaphysical evil in the “grove of death” scene is closely intertwi
ned with moral and physical evil, as actions of humans, in this case of white Eu
ropean colonialists, affect the others adversely to the point that the natural p
rocess of decay and death for them is enormously quickened.
Cruel and senseless treatment of other people is incomprehensible to Marlow. Pie
ce of worsted attached to the neck of one dying young man led Marlow to wonder a
bout his story. For Marlow he is a human being and by being one, he has value of
a human being. For colonial Europe, people in the “grove of death” are not people,
they are worthless and are being treaded on without second thought, as leaves of
grass. They are taken for force labour, but paradoxically they do not even work
, because their health is destroyed by ruthless treatment; butchered and wrecked
they just die. This extermination is conducted by an “emissary of light and progr
ess”. Right after he saw a grove of death Marlow meets a faultlessly dressed Europ
ean that stepped out of his cabin to “to get a breath of fresh air”. These two pict
ures are not put together by coincidence, it is a paradox of civilisation. Conra
d pictures horror of senseless extermination and annihilation of other man and r
ight after, the picture of the ones who did it, picture of civilisation, Europea
n man dressed according to the latest fashion. Polished accountant is a simulacr
um of civilisation: “The accountant’s physical presence, likened to that of ‘a hairdre
sser’s dummy’, is marked by Marlow to give no indication of the ‘great demoralization
of the land’ around him.”
Europeans depart from moral code, either of conscience or preceipts of religion.
Nowadays, it is known that Belgians’ exploitation of the Congo, in only forty yea
rs of King Leopold’s rule, led to forced death of fifteen to twenty million inhabi
tants of the Congo Free State. Furthermore, the accentuated contrast between lig
ht and darkness, or whiteness and blackness is used to reverse the symbolism of
colours. Light or whiteness is usually associated with the good while darkness o
r blackness is usually associated with evil. However, the narrator reverses the
conventional meaning of colours and attributes negative connotation to whiteness
or white colonialists through a bit of white worsted round the neck of one of t
he dying blacks. Marlow asks himself about purpose of it, whether there is any i
dea at all connected with it and concludes that “it looked startling round his bla
ck neck, this bit of white thread from beyond the seas”. It is inferred that calam
ity came with presence of white race, as such was the case with African tribe me
ntioned before in a story of Dane Fresleven, who tortured chief of the village t
ribe in dispute over two hens. Fresleven was killed and tribe cleared into the f
orest expecting masive retaliation, leaving village forever. Afterwards, the Com
pany’s chief whiter-than-white accountant met by Marlow, in an unexpected elegance
of get-up, exhibits shocking indifference towards the dying sick man (some inva
lid agent from up-country) and hates “savages” – hates them “to the death”. While making c
orrect entries, accountant feels intense hatred of natives; thus the narrator em
phasizes the white Western rationality which stands in sharp contrast to seeming
ly irrational nature of black people. Thus, sense of cold reason calculated to m
ake profit, becomes raison d’etre for colonial mind, which plays down the sufferin
g of seemingly inferior beings or even justifies it for the sake of a “greater cau
se”. Also, to Marlow, it seems that he is “part of high and just proceedings”, which i
s the most usual excuse for involvement in major events known as conquests, euph
emistically termed “historical processes” behind which is evil intent which makes ph
ilosophical relativism:
“The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from th
ose
who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselve
s, is not
a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the i
dea only.
An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and
an unselfish
belief in the idea – something you can set up, and bow down before, and o
ffer a
sacrifice to…” (Heart of Darkness, p. 10)

3.7. Imperfection and Finiteness as Features of


Metaphysical Evil; Man’s Choice; “Shadow”
The description of people and interrupted, ravished landscape is much more figur
ative than literal: it tends to introduce and reinforce some of the principal th
ematic motifs suggested above. The motif is again, hint to a metaphysical evil i
n state of nature as being finite, and imperfect and finite humanity within. The
reason for being finite and imperfect lies in a great potential of humankind fo
r destruction, or mutual limitation of natural objects, which in Conrad’s evolutio
nist assumption, is inherited from animal kingdom. However, Conrad’s work aspires
to the condition of paradox, in his disposition to look in both directions: he u
ses biblical, that is, the Creationist parable of Cain and Abel to account for
radical and diabolical evil, in humans oppressing one another. Meticulously con
templating the nature of humankind, Joseph Conrad comes to conclusion which mirr
ors unpalatable truth: the nature of man is “janiform”, or double, man is equally ca
pable for good and evil. With this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde dualism, Conrad highl
ights the central theme of his literary works, the choice of man to do good or e
vil, which contradicts previous statetement that mirrors nineteen century scheme
of the mechanistic, determinist universe as a machine that had “evolved”. But he c
ould, like Hardy and the very naturalists whose art he abhorred, only show the u
niverse as malevolent, or at best schemingly neutral (F.R. Karl, The Three Lives
, p. 401). In such universe, its components – organic matter – are finite, subject t
o eternal decree that makes end of things; similarly, the humans are finite, as
mortals not endowed with absolute knowledge, and in their imperfection, inclined
to aberration which leads to evil acts. In Heart of Darkness, managers, agents
in charge of collecting ivory, as well as “pilgrims”, all blinded by the prospect of
acquiring material wealth, will stop at nothing to provide sufficient quantitie
s of ivory that will ensure that they rise in position. Being away from Europe,
they unleash Jungian shadow manifested in ruthless tortures and mass killings of
natives they commit in Congo for the sake of “higher purpose” as it is evidenced in
number of scenes: a carrier dead in harness near the path, randomly chosen negr
o beaten for arson attack at the Central station, middle-aged negro with a bulle
t-hole in the forehead. Marlow, with all his cultural baggage, is in quarrel wit
h colonialism and undeniably atrocious Belgian variety, as he is keen observer o
f the depravities and corruption of his fellow men.

3.8. The Collective Unconscious as Potential for Good or Evil


First station is a place where Marlow hears the name of agent Kurtz, for the fir
st time. Polished accountant mentioned the name. He refers to Kurtz as very impo
rtant person that enjoyed great appreciation in otherwise prosaic job of trade a
gent. In weeks to come Marlowe has heard the name countless times, but always wi
th the tone of admiration, respect, fear and tremendous dose of something unsaid
. In the cabin of one trade agent Marlow sees a panting in oil and finds out tha
t it is made by Kurtz.
“Then I noticed a small sketch in oils, on a panel, representing a woman,
draped and blindfolded, carrying a lighted torch. The background was
sombre--almost black. The movement of the woman was stately, and the
effect of the torchlight on the face was sinister.”
In the meantime Marlow has heard much about Kurtz, a man with countless and unfa
iling talents. His magnetic personality fascinated everyone who ever came in tou
ch with him. There was a legend spread around him. Marlow felt that fascination.
He found out that same people recommended two of them and that notion made some
vague bond between them. Kurtz’s painting fascinated Marlow. Symbolically, it was
a painting of colonial Europe personified in a figure of a lady that makes her
way in the dark in luxuriant dress and blindfolded, with the torch of “progress”. Co
nnection between messianic nature ascribed to Kurtz and very prosaic function th
at he conducts in the company is very strange. Speaking about the bright future
that awaits Kurtz, one of the agents (one that Marlow calls “this papier-mâché Mephist
opheles”) is sure Kurtz will be rewarded with very high position in the company. W
hat is strange is the tone of the spoken word about Kurtz, there is something fa
teful in those words that bring us back to the knitters of black wool, from the
lobby of the Company.
By observing the immensity of the wilderness, Marlow felt the finiteness and lim
itation of human being in contrast to lush jungle. Road ahead of him was unknown
and his destination was unknown.
“I wondered whether the stillness on the face of the immensity looking at
us
two were meant as an appeal or as a menace. What were we who had straye
d
in here? Could we handle that dumb thing, or would it handle us? I felt
how
big, how confoundedly big, was that thing that couldn t talk, and perha
ps was
deaf as well. What was in there? I could see a little ivory coming out
from
there, and I had heard Mr. Kurtz was in there. I had heard enough about
it,
too--God knows! Yet somehow it didn t bring any image with it--no more
than if I had been told an angel or a fiend was in there.” (Heart of Dark
ness,
p. 92)
Marlow’s nightmarish journey is an essence of the story. According to Jung there i
s a part of human psyche that is common to all humankind. That is the collective
unconscious. According to Jung, this is the deepest layer of the unconscious, m
uch deeper than the personal unconsciousness. Our consciousness emerges from tha
t completely unknown material. The experiences of humankind in the process of “sed
imentation” are deposited in collective unconsciousness and emerge only trough ins
tincts. “Instincts being defined as impulses to action without conscious motivatio
n.” Jung claims that human brain was moulded with “distant experience of the mankin
d”, the experience of our ancestors written as trace, as a river bed in collective
unconsciousness. Our life, our experience is filling these riverbeds, and that
is why all humans have common mark. We are not aware of these traces, but Jung s
ays that “Probably every ‘impressive’ experience is just such a break-through into an
old, previously unconscious riverbed.”
Marlow’s journey up river was symbolic journey to the collective unconscious. Rive
r is the symbol of the trace (the riverbed) that is filling with experience.
“Going up that river was like travelling back to the earliest beginnings
of the
world…There were moments when one s past came back to one, as it will
sometimes when you have not a moment to spare for yourself; but it came
in
the shape of an unrestful and noisy dream, remembered with wonder among
st
the overwhelmin realities of this strange world of plants, and water, a
nd silence.
And this stillness of life did not in the least resemble a peace. It wa
s the stillness
of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention. It looke
d at you
with a vengeful aspect.”
Phrase “heart of darkness” appears for the first time in the novel when the manager
of the station, wishing death for Kurtz, points out to river and jungle, saying
to his assistant.
“ ’Ah! my boy, trust to this--I say, trust to this.’ I saw him extend his sho
rt
flipper of an arm for a gesture that took in the forest, the creek, the
mud, the
river – seemed to beckon with a dishonouring flourish before the sunlit f
ace
of the land a treacherous appeal to the lurking death, to the hidden ev
il, to the
profound darkness of its heart. It was so startling that I leaped to my
feet and
looked back at the edge of the forest, as though I had expected an answ
er of
some sort to that black display of confidence.” (Heart of Darkness, p. 47
)
Marlow felt that his offensive gesture, his pointing to nature, wildernesses som
ehow seems to “…appeal to the lurking death, to the hidden evil, to the profound dar
kness of its heart.” Manager’s allusion to death which merciless jungle brings in pr
ogress of time upon mortals who happen to make their way there is clear. “Darkness
of heart” is another Conradian metaphor for metaphysical evil symbolized by slow
death that Kurtz is about to find in the jungle, isolated in his Inner Station.
Marlow’s journey up river was symbolic journey to the collective unconscious. Rive
r is the symbol of the trace (the riverbed) that is being filled with experience
.
“Going up that river was like travelling back to the earliest beginnings
of the
world…” (Heart of Darkness, p. 48)
Continuing the journey up river, Marlow is saying:
“We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness. It was very
quiet
there.” (Heart of Darkness, p. 50)
It is the darkness of primeval, primitive nature. They were on a journey to the
world of prehistoric humanity, they travelled to the world that Europe once was,
in a dark space from which our conscience emerges. The question that Marlow put
s to reader is: Is it possible to make connection with oneself from hundred and
hundred years before? Marlow said, “We could not understand because we were too f
ar and could not remember because we were travelling in the night of first ages,
of those ages that are gone, leaving hardly a sign--and no memories.” (Heart of D
arkness, p. 51) Earlier he saw the wilderness chained, defeated, tortured in the
grove of death and now he saw it monstrous and free. Marlow felt kinship with t
he savages on shore and that feeling comes from the dawn of humanity stored in u
s through the collective unconscious. Wild creatures on the shores were not inhu
man, and Marlow started to share a thought of distant kinship with that “human tur
moil”.
“…but if you were man enough you would admit to yourself that there
was in you just the faintest trace of a response to the terrible frankn
ess
of that noise, a dim suspicion of there being a meaning in it which you
--
you so remote from the night of first ages--could comprehend.” (Heart
of Darkness, p. 51)
It was a call that he responded to, recognized it, discovered it in a darkest de
pth of his soul, just as sometimes in our dreams the symbols of man from Altamir
a could appear. Marlow was coming closer to primeval, primitive nature of a man,
heart of darkness, era without the light of torch.
What had he found in the wilderness, same emotion as everywhere, fear, sorrow, f
idelity, courage, rage, and he was thinking how easily the rags of civilisations
could fall off, and without them we are all the same. Conrad emphasizes that ve
neer of civilisation is not what makes one a human. It wears off to reveal stark
er realities. And when man discovers that he is equal to savages on the shore, t
he question is, what will keep him from not committing evil, what can he rely on
? “He must meet that truth with his own true stuff--with his own inborn strength.
Principles won t do.” What will lead him, instincts? Where will he set a limit? Ba
sed on what? How can he defend himself from evil? Metaphysical evil, or in other
words, the ability for transgression is a source of moral personality of man. W
ithout ability for transgression there would not be moral personality of human b
eing. (Animals cannot commit sin that is only in the sphere of humans.) Morality
could not exist or would not be visible like a figure on identical background.
Conrad is trying to reveal to us that there is a primordial cognition of evil wh
ich pre-dates civilisation, religion, and law. Metaphysical evil as our inborn i
mperfection is inside of us, but at the same time, inside of us is also the awar
eness of it and restraint. These forces that stand in opposition to it are the e
ssence of what makes us human.
As a political statement, Heart of Darkness is an indictment of imperialism at i
ts worse, and it inveighs against evil of racism and colonialism even though he
was accused by some authors of racist sentiments. One of the most distinctive f
eatures of his literature is the fact that the standpoint of his characters and
his own standpoint can not be determined precisely. His narrative language is of
ten ironic, but not an impersonal, phony language of political correctness that
we are used to nowadays. However, despite his Cain and Abel metaphor in letter t
o Cunningham Graham, the novel Heart of darkness bristles with firm and honest b
elief of the brotherhood based on feeling of kinship with another race. Novella “H
eart of Darkness” is a 19th century journey to discovery of kinship with other rac
es, as scientific proof of kinship of different races is based on genetic resear
ches that converge to the same point: one common ancestor, scientific Adam. Acco
rding to these researches, all humankind descends from the same progenitor. And
although Conrad mentions “ugly feeling” of remote kinship to humanity of Black Conti
nent, he admits that there was “some response” to the “terrible frankness of that nois
e” which he, “remote from the night of first ages could comprehend.” It is also an all
usion to Jungian riverbed of the collective unconscious of humankind.
The mist is the boundary. After the clearing of the mist “more blinding than the n
ight”, Marlow reaches Kurtz. The mist comes down and clears away, as curtains that
hide something. Behind the mist the scream is heard. It is a primordial scream
and Marlow is able to understand its meaning. The meaning is sorrow. After arri
ving to the heart of darkness Marlow realises that the basic human emotions comm
on to us all, are at the core of humanity.
In the moment when helmsman is killed Marlow becomes aware of another astonishin
g fact. Thirty natives that helped on the ship as working force were from the ca
nnibal tribes, and through the whole journey they fed from their own food reserv
es. Death of the helmsman brought the fact to the fore. Marlow pushed the body o
f the helmsman to the river to prevent other cannibals eat it, but was more obse
ssed with question why those fellows did not attack them. There were thirty of t
hem and only five white men, and there was no obstruction in their way. Then Mar
low becomes aware of their self-restraint, they were starving but they were rest
raining themselves. “And I saw that something restraining, one of those human secr
ets that baffle probability, had come into play there.” Marlow calls it a human se
cret. The cannibals set for themselves a boundary and did not want to cross it.
Restraint is one quality purely human, that does not allow one to flout all soci
al norms or to indulge in unbridled pleasures thus exhibiting shocking spiritual
indifference:
”Restraint! I would just as soon have expected restraint from a hyena
prowling amongst the corpses of a battlefield. But there was the fact
facing me--the fact dazzling, to be seen, like the foam on the depths
of the sea, like a ripple on an unfathomable enigma, a mystery greater-
-
when I thought of it--than the curious, inexplicable note of desperate
grief in this savage clamour that had swept by us on the river-bank,
behind the blind whiteness of the fog.” (Heart of Darkness, p. 62)
In this way, Conrad achieves paradox by picturing “noble savage” who will recognize
the “sacred limit” sooner than the civilized man who happened to make his way to Con
go, and will show restraint in company of white man even when assailed by dark t
houghts of hunger.

3.9. Mr. Kurtz – the “Shadow”


Thinking about Kurtz, his legendary talents, unsurpassed gift of speech, art of
oratory which is described in novel as “pulsating stream of light, or the deceitfu
l flow from the heart of an impenetrable darkness”, Marlow asked himself: What did
Kurtz discover in the heart of darkness? What did he belong to and did the dark
ness take over him? What will happen to modern urban man who finds himself in th
e darkness of the first ages, where there is no social contract, no laws of civi
lisation or religion and no public opinion? Where would human go led by nothing
but his instincts? Killing, incest, robbery, worshipping…The questions are: What i
s transgression when the civilisation that sets the rules is gone? What rules an
d restrictions does man hold on to when returned to the dawn of mankind?
“…how can you imagine what particular region of the first ages a
man s untrammelled feet may take him into by the way of solitude--
utter solitude without a policeman--by the way of silence--utter silenc
e,
where no warning voice of a kind neighbour can be heard whispering
of public opinion? These little things make all the great difference. W
hen
they are gone you must fall back upon your own innate strength, upon
your own capacity for faithfulness.” ((Heart of Darkness, p. 70)
The truth about Kurtz emerged very clearly. Marlow observed Kurtz’s cabin and a se
ries of decorated stakes through binocular, until later he realised the true nat
ure of these ornaments:
“Now I had suddenly a nearer view, and its first result was to make me th
row
my head back as if before a blow. Then I went carefully from post to po
st with
my glass, and I saw my mistake. These round knobs were not ornamental b
ut
symbolic; they were expressive and puzzling, striking and disturbing--f
ood for
thought and also for vultures if there had been any looking down from t
he sky;
but at all events for such ants as were industrious enough to ascend th
e pole.
They would have been even more impressive, those heads on the stakes, i
f
their faces had not been turned to the house.” (Heart of Darkness, p. 82)
Character of Kurtz is modelled on several individuals Conrad met in Congo. One o
f them was Leon Rom, Belgian ivory agent whose flower bed was decorated with hum
an skulls impaled on stakes around his station.
Kurtz is repeatedly mentioned in the novel as the shadow. “This shadow looked sati
ated and calm”, “I was anxious to deal with this shadow by myself alone”, “I had to beat
that Shadow--this wandering and tormented thing.” This could be considered as Jun
gian archetype. His Persona (presentation of self to the outer world) was embodi
ment of perfection, intelligence and goodness. According to Jung more perfect Pe
rsona is, means more dark and dense the shadow is. In the heart of darkness, Kur
tz has found his own shadow that was not hidden part of psyche any more, but tha
t ruled over everything. Kurtz was nothing but shadow in the end.
What he found in himself was hunger which he did not restrain. Marlow has witnes
sed horrible rituals in which Kurtz was worshipped by the savages. Kurtz has ove
rreached, transgressed all bounds, commited every sin, committed the unthinkable
and in the process came to nothingness. His evil has reached the diabolical lev
el and with that state annihilated everything that is human. Kurtz has become a “h
ollow man.”
“But the wilderness had found him out early, and had taken on him a terri
ble
vengeance for the fantastic invasion. I think it had whispered to him t
hings
about himself which he did not know, things of which he had no concepti
on
till he took counsel with this great solitude--and the whisper had prov
ed
irresistibly fascinating. It echoed loudly within him because he was ho
llow
at the core....” (Heart of Darkness, p. 83)
Symbolically, the shadow emerges in his report to the “International Society for t
he Suppression of Savage Customs”, that consists of seventeen pages written with h
igh style about the noble cause and methods, report full of altruism and in the
end the sentence written afterwards: “Exterminate all the brutes!” Kurtz, with awake
ning of his unrestrained, forgotten and brutal impulses that brought to surface
his darker side or shadow, discovers primeval evil in his mind by not resisting
to devilish temptation to “appear to them (savages) in the nature of supernatural
beings – approach them with the might as of deity…” (Heart of Darkness, p. 72) Kurtz, “b
y the simple exercise of (our) will” exerts a power for good (or evil) “practically
unbounded”. Kurtz is found to be “hollow at the core” and thus crumbles under intense
pressure as “hollow man”.
Marlow emphasizes that all Europe has taken part in creating Kurtz. In a way, Ku
rtz is colonial Europe, full of noble cause, progress and altruism that in the e
nd in his report ordered extermination.
Twenty million of indigenous people have perished in Congo in forty year’s time of
Leopold II colonial government.

4. PARALLELS BETWEEN “HEART OF DARKNESS”


AND OTHER JOSEPH CONRAD’S WORKS
Although the works of Joseph Conrad as young or mature writer bear little resemb
lance, especially in style, structure and narrative technique, to Heart of Darkn
ess, one single indelible fact is that their common feature is thematic motif. T
hemes that constantly run through other Conrad’s literary creations, especially in
Almayer’s Folly, The Nigger of the”Narcissus”, Lord Jim and Nostromo are metaphysical
evil, diabolism and paradox: the three types of evil (moral, physical and metap
hysical) as well as radical and diabolical that present powerful driving force b
ehind major events in the history of the world, diabolism that serves as a stage
prop without which the stage would not normally function and paradox as eternal
metaphor of a man tortured by doubt, suspicion, scepticism, uneasiness, lack of
conviction and lack of confidence. Conrad’s work, at its best, aspires to the con
dition of paradox: either in his commitment to solidarity and a preoccupation wi
th isolation, in his traitional moral affirmations and radically deep insight, p
hilosophical sophistication and a fear that reflection paralyses will, atheistic
assumptions and supernatural implications, romantic enthusiasms and cynical iro
nies, hostility to revolutionaries, yet sympathy to rebels.
In Almayer’s Folly, his first novel, Conrad approaches the problem of paradox thro
ugh foreignness and otherness, in almost the same way he realizes it through the
character of Marlow in Heart of Darkness. In both works, protagonists exhibit c
ontempt for other race, but at the same time are drawn to otherness. In Almayer’s
Folly it is the case of greedy Kaspar Almayer who despises the Malay race of his
wife to whom he is bound by marriage of convenience, only until he, in his thou
ghts, gets rich and shuts her somewhere out of his gorgeous future, but it is Al
mayer who dotes on his daughter of the same Malay blood. In similar way, Conrad
achieves paradox by portraying Marlow who, in words of distinguished Nigerian no
velist Chinua Achebe, voices sentiments of a “bloody racist” who reduces the entire
African population encountered there to “overly stereotyped stage props”, but, at th
e same time is drawn to Black African race towards which he feels magnetic pull,
remote kinship and awe. Both Almayer and Marlow are assailed by constant influe
nces that can be either good or bad. As a result of it, Almayer and Kurtz, being
hollow at the core, yield to dark powers, whereas Marlow resists, persists and
survives the deadly lure of nightmares. However, Almayer, Marlow, Lord Jim and M
r. Kurtz share common “infernal alloy in their metal” as the temptation of magnetic
force of metaphysical evil, that is, death, is put in their way. Metaphysical ev
il, according to number of Christian theologians, is accursed inheritance of hum
ankind through Original Sin in Garden of Eden, and it is implied that their “infer
nal alloy” is imperfection, flaw that resulted in Adam’s and Eve’s transgression. The
indulgence in evil is obvious in acts of Almayer, Kurtz and Guzman Bento (tyrant
in the novel Nostromo) who tend to “overreach”, flout all social and moral norms, “sa
cred limit” for the sake of radical or diabolical evil. They become “overreachers”26,
which only accentuates physical and moral evil enveloped in metaphysical evil, o
r infernal alloy in man’s metal. Clearly, James Wait, Kurtz and Guzman Bento (with
his “army of skeletons”) are the epitome of Diabolos or devil, as malevolence that
emanates from them moves beyond the limits of comprehension of a group, and sign
ify the final decree of metaphysical evil, Thanatos27, that is, the death itself
.

5. CONCLUSION
“And there are things--they look small enough sometimes too--by which som
e
of us are totally and completely undone.”
Lord Jim
Metaphysical evil, for Joseph Conrad, is closely related to definition and natur
e of humanity. In his works we can recognize motives derived from mythological,
religious and philosophical understanding of evil. The motive of metaphysical ev
il, for Conrad is not something he is occupied with in the sphere of logically b
ased “problem of evil” as argument of atheism or Theodicy. He is concerned with meta
physical evil only in the sphere of humankind. For Conrad, the existence of meta
physical evil is closely connected with the essence of humanity, which is the re
ason why man is far removed from the unconscious animal and, to the same extent,
far removed from the immaculate being that will never be placed in the same dil
emma as humans are. In his works Conrad presents, in every nuance, a condition,
state of mind in which man can be obsessed with evil to the total annihilation o
f everything that is human. In moments when one’s emotion, temper, rage is unbridl
ed, one breaks free from restraint and one commits “the unthinkable”; humanness ceas
ed to exist and becomes “the diabolical.”
Conrad constantly makes searing excavations into the humanity to show where it c
omes from, and discovers that it originated from restraint. According to Conrad,
every man has “some infernal alloy in his metal” and no man is save from evil when
faced with strong temptation. The struggle to restrain one’s drives and weaknesses
is the essence of humanness. That is human struggle against metaphysical evil.
The greatness of Conrad’s works is in it that, by painting this struggle, he is ab
le to give reader an idea about immense complexity and delicacy of human existen
ce.
The diabolical in Conrad s works in one way is manifested as diabolical evil dev
oid of motive, and present in every novel at which reader looks as into an abyss
, as it is totally incomprehensible. The other ways the diabolical is manifested
are temptations or demonic influence. The example is demonic influence of San T
ome mine and James Wait as Thanatos, the demon of death. In religious and mythol
ogical aspects of the theme, demonic or diabolic element has no real power for a
ction besides the power to influence the people, changing their character and en
couraging them to do evil. Demonic forces in Conrad s novels operate in the way
to bring to surface greed, ferocity, indolence, arrogance, envy and constantly a
waken the dark side of human personality.
Paradox is powerful tool for Conrad with which he assails the reader s mind. It
is a weapon with which he defeats our indifference, our relativism, us being lul
led into illusions of our moral values. He forces us to, by taking a look at a m
erciless mirror, see deeply disturbing picture. Conrad, by use of paradox as sty
listic means, achieves that the reader, entirely controlled by the author, exper
ience a moment of recognition. Conrad s moments of recognition are always striki
ng for the reader, striking for our conscience and our self-respect. They leave
behind them anxiety and agitation. Paradox present in all of his works destroys
illusions of society, civilization and culture. In the moment we become aware of
it, his mission is already accomplished, inside us the seed of doubt is sown an
d introspection has started.
Words and epigrams of Joseph Conrad are often quoted in poetry of T.S.Eliot. Thi
s epilogue can be closed with verses of T.S.Eliot:

“We shall not cease from exploration


And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
Little Gidding
(No. 4 Of Four Quartets )
T.S. Eliot

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