Heart of Darkness Short Summary


Heart of Darkness (1899) is a novella written by Joseph Conrad in which Marlow, the storyteller tells his companions about a voyage through Congo River into the Congo Free State, which lies in the heart of Africa.

Charles Marlow, a sailor

Charles Marlow, a sailor, while travelling in a ship, tells his fellows about the events that led to his appointment as captain of a river steamboat for an ivory trading company.

He tells them that when he was young, he would use to put a finger on a particular point and say that he will visit that place after growing up.

Moreover, he was also charmed by ‘the blank spaces’ on maps. When he grows up, he becomes a sailor and desires to explore the farthest places in the world.

An Opportunity

He gets an opportunity to fulfil his desire. With the help of his aunt, he is selected for a long journey to Africa to find a person namely, Mr Kurtz. Soon, he departs on a French steamer for Africa.

He reaches his company station where he stays for some time. Railway track work is going on along with the removal of rocks with explosives. He witnesses the ill-looking Africans who worked on the railroad and now are waiting for their deaths, as they were made to overwork by the Whites.

Mr Kurtz

There he also hears appraisals of Mr Kurtz. From there he leaves along with sixty men to travel about 200 miles to the Central Station where the steamboat is, which he has to captain.

Reaching there, he comes across the shocking news that the steamboat has met an accident. The steamboat takes some months to repair.

Marlow stays there. Once a sudden fire destroys a grass shed of Whites and a native is severely punished for allegedly causing the fire.

Journey is Resumed

The manager of the Central Station tells Marlow that Kurtz is admired by the natives, but he himself doesn’t like him. The steamboat is finally repaired and he again sets out for the journey.

On the way, Marlow finds an abandoned hut and thus stops the boat near it. He finds a pile of wood and a note that the wood is for them and that they should travel cautiously.

As evening falls quickly, they stay there for a night. Suddenly a cry is raised and soon the boat is attacked by arrows killing one of them. Marlow sounds the boat’s whistle to frighten them.

He reaches Marlow’s station and finds a Russian who had happened to be with Kurtz. He tells Marlow how natives worship him and also that his health is worsening.

Kurtz in Pitiful Condition

Marlow is surprised to find sliced heads of natives near the station. He sees manager along with Kurtz in a pitiful condition lied on a stretcher.

There are a number of natives who run away after Kurtz raises some sound. The manager after having a private conversation with Kurtz tells Marlow that he has harmed the company’s business.

In the evening Marlow comes to know that the company wanted to kill Kurtz. The mortal illness worsens his condition. Moreover, he becomes aware of the fact that it was Kurtz who sent those natives who attacked the steamer so that Marlow might not come to him.

Kurtz Dies

The next day, they prepare their journey downwards. On the way, their steamer breaks down and Kurtz is about to die. He hands over some papers including his commissioned report and a photograph to Marlow and requests him not to show these to the manager.

Kurtz dies whispering to Marlow, “The horror! The horror!” Marlow also falls very ill and thinks that he might die too. However, he reaches his homeland and remains alive.

He hands over Kurtz documents to a journalist and himself meets Kurtz’s fiancée. She is in a mournful condition. She asks for the last words of Kurtz and Marlow lies that his last words were her name.