In Conrad’s novella, the Europeans are driven by the fear of the unknown. The dark uncivilized parts of Africa as well as the natives cause mystery and fear in the whites. The contrast between light and dark show the loss of confidence in the whites as they approach the Inner Station. The experiences of nature, the natives, and the darkness cause the fear that drives the actions and feelings of the Europeans in Heart of Darkness as well as Apocalypse Now.
The fog and noises of nature are a major cause of the fear of the people aboard the steamer. Towards the beginning of Marlow’s journey, he is taken to the first Company station, and is immediately influenced by the power of nature around him when he arrives on land. Marlow’s account was that “[t]he rapids were near and uninterrupted, uniform, headlong rushing noise [that] filled the mournful stillness of the grove where not a breath stirred, not a leaf moved, with a mysterious sound, as though the tearing pace of the launched earth had suddenly become audible” (Conrad 16). Marlow is immediately aware of the mysterious feeling of the jungle, beginning to break down any confidence he may have had. Another part of nature that increases the apprehension of the whites was the fog that would mysteriously appear many times while travelling up the river. While waiting to see if the natives would attack, one man wonders if they will be “butchered in this fog…” and “the faces twitched with the strain, the hands trembled, slightly, the eyes forgot to wink” (40). The fog heightens the sense of defenselessness in the steamboat, but beyond the fact that there is limited visibility. The eeriness evoked by the low-lying clouds keeps the whites disturbed and frightful.
The natives are another driving force for the whites as they travel up the Congo River. And although the natives appear frightful in their primitiveness and environment, the reader can see that the fear is built mostly in the minds of the sailors. The natives act out of defense and fear just as the Europeans act of fear of the natives. The only European who recognizes the true deep nature of these black people is Marlow. Marlow explains why he believes the natives will not attack and includes “the idea of attack is inconceivable to me [because of] the nature of the noise- of the cries we have heard. They had not the fierce character boding of immediate hostile intention. Unexpected, wild, and violent as they had been they had given me an irresistible impression of sorrow”(43). The whites aboard the steamboat mistake the terror in the natives for violence, continuing to keep the whites at odds with the jungle. The cause for the attacks of the natives is simply them acting out of defense.
Voyaging into the heart of darkness causes the white sailors to change and almost forget who they are from the beginning of the journey. In the setting in the beginning of the novella, the narrator states that “[w]e felt meditative and fit for nothing but placid staring…the water shone pacifically, the sky without a speck was a benign immensity of unstained light…” (4). This peaceful and pure imagery is starkly different from the imagery of the jungle towards the end of the story.
Consumed by the fear of what is around them at the Inner Station, the sailors are no longer in control. One night after Marlow has met Kurtz, he observes that “never before did [the] land, [the] river, [the] jungle, the very arch of [the] blazing sky appear to me so hopeless and so dark, so impenetrable to human thought, so pitiless to human weakness” (55). This is the darkest Marlow has ever seen his surroundings and feels trapped by it. The fear is driving the sailors, which is further portrayed by the companion film Apocalypse Now.
In the film Apocalypse Now, there are numerous parallels between the movie and the novella. In some instances, the movie provides a better visual especially in the scenes with fog and the natives. After approaching a boat with a handful of natives, the Chef is harsh with his search of the boat and eventually the men take it too far when they shoot everyone on the boat when they were blameless. These harsh and rash feelings among the men stem from the fear they have of the natives, and in response are not afraid to shoot their guns. When Willard, the equivalent of Marlow in the film, and his men are within the purple fog and begin to be attacked by the natives, their fear takes over again. Their fear causes them to fire aimlessly into the forest with no true reason or objective. This recklessness makes the whites appear monstrous and further emphasizes the effects the fear has on their actions (Coppola n.p).
Fear can be a powerful and motivating emotion. The fear takes over the mind of the sailors, keeping them to build up false impressions of the land around them. The fear of being within the darkness changes the men, “the utter savagery has closed round [them]- all that mysterious life of the wilderness that stirs in the forest, in the jungles, in the hearts of wild men” (Conrad 6). The fear drives the men to forget their dignity and respect for life, the mystery of the Congo proving to be a powerful force.
This paper best portrays my adaptability as an English student because it is the first opportunity I have had throughout my high school writing career to compare a book with a movie in an analytical essay. Although this form of comparison was unfamiliar to me, I believe I was successful in connecting these two sources and used Apocalypse Now in a way that supported and strengthened my thesis.
When I began to form my ideas for this paper I was apprehensive about how I would be able to write about Heart of Darkness in a way that was adaptable to a similar story on screen. I chose my thesis about the light versus dark and the fear that stems from the darkness because I knew that it was something I personally picked up on from watching the film in class. I immediately noticed how the fog was utilized to reiterate the eeriness in the dark parts of the river as well as being a way to show that something bad or important was about to happen to the men travelling up the river.
Looking back on my paper however, I do think that a more effective way of incorporating the specific imagery and differences of the film from the book would have been to intertwine each of the ideas that I presented for Heart of Darkness and then taken a specific point in Apocalypse Now that related to each point so that both the book and film could be compared together. Overall, I think that I was successful in picking up details in the movie that had significance to the story and using it in my analytical review of the book, showing I was flexible and capable of taking on a new way of comparing a vision and revision.