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Essay/Term paper: Man"s journey into self in heart of darkness and apocalypse now

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Heart of Darkness

Free essays available online are good but they will not follow the guidelines of your particular writing assignment. If you need a custom term paper on Heart Of Darkness: Man"s Journey Into Self In Heart Of Darkness And Apocalypse Now, you can hire a professional writer here to write you a high quality authentic essay. While free essays can be traced by Turnitin (plagiarism detection program), our custom written essays will pass any plagiarism test. Our writing service will save you time and grade.

Inherent inside every human soul is a savage evil side that remains

repressed by society. Often this evil side breaks out during times of

isolation from our culture, and whenever one culture confronts another.

History is loaded with examples of atrocities that have occurred when one

culture comes into contact with another. Whenever fundamentally different

cultures meet, there is often a fear of contamination and loss of self that

leads us to discover more about our true selves, often causing perceived

madness by those who have yet to discover.

The Puritans left Europe in hopes of finding a new world to welcome them and

their beliefs. What they found was a vast new world, loaded with Indian

cultures new to them. This overwhelming cultural interaction caused some

Puritans to go mad and try to purge themselves of a perceived evil. This

came to be known as the Salem witch trials.

During World War II, Germany made an attempt to overrun Europe. What

happened when the Nazis came into power and persecuted the Jews in Germany,

Austria and Poland is well known as the Holocaust. Here, human"s evil side

provides one of the scariest occurrences of this century. Adolf Hitler and

his Nazi counterparts conducted raids of the ghettos to locate and often

exterminate any Jews they found. Although Jews are the most widely known

victims of the Holocaust, they were not the only targets. When the war

ended, 6 million Jews, Slavs, Gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses,

Communists, and others targeted by the Nazis, had died in the Holocaust.

Most of these deaths occurred in gas chambers and mass shootings. This

gruesome attack was motivated mainly by the fear of cultural intermixing

which would impurify the "Master Race."

Joseph Conrad"s book, The Heart of Darkness and Francis Coppola"s movie,

Apocalypse Now are both stories about Man"s journey into his self, and the

discoveries to be made there. They are also about Man confronting his fears

of failure, insanity, death, and cultural contamination.

During Marlow"s mission to find Kurtz, he is also trying to find himself.

He, like Kurtz had good intentions upon entering the Congo. Conrad tries to

show us that Marlow is what Kurtz had been, and Kurtz is what Marlow could

become. Every human has a little of Marlow and Kurtz in them. Marlow says

about himself, "I was getting savage (Conrad)," meaning that he was becoming

more like Kurtz. Along the trip into the wilderness, they discover their

true selves through contact with savage natives.

As Marlow ventures further up the Congo, he feels like he is traveling back

through time. He sees the unsettled wilderness and can feel the darkness of

it"s solitude. Marlow comes across simpler cannibalistic cultures along the

banks. The deeper into the jungle he goes, the more regressive the

inhabitants seem.

Kurtz had lived in the Congo, and was separated from his own culture for

quite some time. He had once been considered an honorable man, but the

jungle changed him greatly. Here, secluded from the rest of his own society,

he discovered his evil side and became corrupted by his power and solitude.

Marlow tells us about the Ivory that Kurtz kept as his own, and that he had

no restraint, and was " a tree swayed by the wind (Conrad, 209)." Marlow

mentions the human heads displayed on posts that "showed that Mr. Kurtz

lacked restraint in the gratification of his various lusts (Conrad, 220)."

Conrad also tells us "his… nerves went wrong, and caused him to preside at

certain midnight dances ending with unspeakable rights, which… were offered

up to him (Conrad, 208)," meaning that Kurtz went insane and allowed himself

to be worshipped as a god. It appears that while Kurtz had been isolated

from his culture, he had become corrupted by this violent native culture,

and allowed his evil side to control him.

Marlow realizes that only very near the time of death, does a person grasp

the big picture. He describes Kurtz"s last moments "as though a veil had

been rent (Conrad, 239)." Kurtz"s last "supreme moment of complete knowledge

(Conrad, 239)," showed him how horrible the human soul really can be. Marlow

can only speculate as to what Kurtz saw that caused him to exclaim "The

horror! The horror," but later adds that "Since I peeped over the edge

myself, I understand better the meaning of his stare… it was wide enough to

embrace the whole universe, piercing enough to penetrate all the hearts that

beat in the darkness… he had summed up, he had judged (Conrad, 241)." Marlow

guesses that Kurtz suddenly knew everything and discovered how horrible the

duplicity of man can be. Marlow learned through Kurtz"s death, and he now

knows that inside every human is this horrible, evil side.

Francis Coppola"s movie, Apocalypse Now, is based loosely upon Conrad"s

book. Captain Willard is a Marlow who is on a mission into Cambodia during

the Vietnam war to find and kill an insane Colonel Kurtz. Coppola's Kurtz,

as he experienced his epiphany of horror, was an officer and a sane,

successful, brilliant leader. Like Conrad"s Kurtz, Coppola shows us a man

who was once very well respected, but was corrupted by the horror of war and

the cultures he met.

Coppola tells us in Hearts of Darkness that Kurtz"s major fear is "being

white in a non white jungle (Bahr)." The story Kurtz tells Willard about the

Special Forces going into a village, inoculating the children for polio and

going away, and the communists coming into the village and cutting off all

the children's inoculated arms, is the main evidence for this implication in

that film. This is when Kurtz begins to go mad, he "wept like some

grandmother" when, called back by a villager, he saw the pile of little

arms, a sophisticated version of the "escalating horrors." What Kurtz meant

by "escalating horrors" is the Vietnamese army"s senseless decapitation,

torture, and the like. Kurtz is facing a new culture and has a terrible time

dealing with it. This was the beginning of his insanity.

"All America contributed to the making of Colonel Kurtz, just as all Europe

produced Mr. Kurtz. Both Kurtzes are idealized in their function as

eyewitnesses to the atrocities. What is reflected is the threat of loss of

self, loss of centrality, and the displacement of Western culture from the

perceived center of history by those whom it has enslaved and oppressed

(Worthy 24)." This tells us that the evil side and the madness in both

Kurtzes was brought out by the fear of new cultures different from their

own, and their inability to deal with this fear. The disconnection between

the opening words of Kurtz's report "By the simple exercise of our will, we

can exert a power for good practically unbounded" and the note on the last

page, "Exterminate all the brutes!" illustrates the progressive

externalization of Kurtz's fear of "contamination," the personal fear of

loss of self which colonialist whites saw in the "uncivilized," seemingly

regressive lifestyle of the natives. Gradually, the duplicity of man and

reality merged for the two Kurtzes, one in the Congo, and one in Vietnam.

As this happened, the well defined cultural values masculine/feminine and

self/other that had specific segregated roles, could not be sustained in the

Congo or in Vietnam. "For the Americans in Vietnam, as for the colonialists

in Africa, madness is the result of the disintegration of abstract

boundaries held to be absolute (Worthy 24)."

"As it attempts to confront the 'insanity' of the war through Kurtz' s

madness, that of the filmmakers, and the madness of U.S. culture, Hearts of

Darkness exposes the contradictions between the inherent hierarchy and

inequality within the cultural forces of the United States and official

democratic principles, which led to the perception that it could waste what

it viewed as insignificant little people and preserve its own image in the

world. Along with that is the growing realization, since the Tet Offensive

of 1968, that the U.S. was somehow way off the mark (Worthy 24)." American

Culture views it self as "correct", and we see ourselves as powerful police

of the world. Our culture looked down upon the Vietnamese because they were

more simple than us, just as Europe and Marlow looked down on the Africans.

Believing ourselves to be superior, we had a lot of trouble dealing with the

discovery that we are not.

Coppola makes a point to show us that the Chief of a boat armed to the teeth

was killed by a native in a tree who threw a spear. Not even an "advanced"

Navy boat can defend itself against some "simple" natives armed only with

spears. This opens Captain Willard"s eyes to the horror of the situation he

now finds himself in.

Even more intriguing, however, is the similarity between the transformation

of the characters in Apocalypse Now, and the cast and crew that created it.

In Hearts of Darkness, (a documentary about the making of Apocalypse Now.)

Eugene Coppola becomes the narrator ( a Marlow or Captain Willard) and

Francis becomes Kurtz.

"Francis believed that only if he could duplicate Willard"s experience,

could he understand his moral struggle. In other words, he had to lose

control of his own life before he could find the answers to the questions

that his narrative asked (Worthy 24)." Coppola"s main horror was his fear of

producing a pretentious movie. "Eleanor repeatedly calls the making of

Apocalypse Now a journey into Coppola's inner self. Coppola, like Kurtz, is

regarded as a deity. Moreover, while Willard stalks Kurtz in Apocalypse Now,

Coppola stalks himself, raising questions which he feels compelled to answer

but cannot, finally announcing his desire to "shoot himself. " He means

suicide, but the cinematic connotation of the term, "to shoot," jointly

criticizes both the U.S. and Coppola's film for exercising a demented

self-absorption (Worthy 24)." Coppola had to deal with perhaps the most

agonizing of his troubles: his shriveling self-confidence. As the budget

soared, as the producers worried, as the crew and actors grew restless and

dispassionate, Coppola worried that he did not have what it takes to finish

the film. He struggled with the ending, with his own creative ability, and

with his sense of purpose.

Martin Sheen, who plays Captain Willard, is the one who really faces the

horror. During the filming he has a nervous breakdown and later a heart

attack. Some of his

co-actors believed that Martin was becoming Captain Willard, and was

experiencing the same journey of self discovery.

We live our lives sheltered in our own society, and our exposure to

cultures outside of our own is limited at best. Often, the more

technologically advanced cultures look down upon those that they deem to be

simpler. On the occasion that some member of one culture does come into

contact with another, simpler culture, a self discovery happens. Both

cultures realize that deep down inside, all humans are essentially the same.

We all posses a good and an evil side, and no culture, not matter how

"advanced," is exempt from that fact.. This discovery often causes madness

as this evil side is allowed out. Only those who have completed the "journey

into self" can understand the actions of people such as Kurtz. They are

alone in this world of horror…

The Horror!

Works Cited

1. Apocalypse Now. Dir. Francis Coppola. With Martin Sheen, Robert Duval,

and Marlon Brando. Zeotrope, 1979.

2. Conrad, James. Heart of Darkness and Other Tales. Great Britain, BPC

paperbacks ltd. 1990.

3. Hearts of Darkness. Dir. Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper. Paramount, 1991.


Cinema, 6-15-1995.

5. Worthy, Kim, "Hearts of Darkness: Making art, making history, making

money, making `Vietnam'.".,Vol. 19, Cineaste, 12-01-1992, pp 24. 

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