In Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness, Charlie Marlow’s experiences in the dark, savage Belgian Congo as well as his pressing assignment to find Colonel Kurtz leads him to the edge of sanity. Similarly, in James Dickey’s novel Deliverance, Ed Gentry confronts the dark side of humanity and has his pacifism and courage tested when his friends encounter a few hillbillies in the southern Georgia wilderness.
Charlie Marlow Faces the Heart of Kurtz’s Darkness
Even at the beginning of his journey, Charlie Marlow realizes that the savage behavior he witnesses around him is having a powerful impact on him. When he realizes that it was a three month journey to find Kurtz, he says “I was getting savage” (43). When he reaches Kurtz’s station, he finds out he went on brutal raids in the surrounding territory in search of ivory. Marlow envied Kurtz for his leadership, ambition, and brilliance but realizes that he succumbed to the dark side, that he became a “shadow darker than the shadow of night,” (117). He keeps his sanity by staying focused on his assignment and fixing the boiler on his ship.
Ed Gentry Becomes One with Nature
Ed Gentry actually comes closer to “going native” than Marlow when he has a ritualistic experience with some tree bark. He says, “I felt the bark next to me with the most intimate part of my palm, then broke off a needle and put it in my mouth and bit down. It was the right taste,” (184).
Ed is attempting to unify himself with nature because he knows he can never become one with the place. It is almost as if he is turning into the tree to become a part of nature. Later on, before leaving the Cahulawassee wilderness, he drinks from the river. It is a spiritual rebirth, a baptism, as he has cleansed his body of fear and replaced it with courage. He was forced to kill the hillman to save him and his friends. He becomes the hunter instead of the hunted.
Lies to Cover the Truth
In both novels, Marlow and Gentry are forced to tell lies to cover the painful truth, with Ed facing more dire consequences. Marlow lies to Kurtz’s intended by telling her his last words were about her. He remains loyal to him as a way of restoring some of his humanity. Kurtz’s last words – “the horror, the horror” could be interpreted many ways but are most likely the summary of all the events in his life. Gentry lies to the Georgia authorities because he would have been charged with manslaughter and probably would have faced injustice. He says “my hurt was good in the midst of the unhurt,” as he realizes the outcome in the dark Georgia wilderness could have been worse.
Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness and James Dickey’s novel Deliverance are classic pieces of literature that thematically explore the duality of mankind. Charlie Marlow and Ed Gentry are multi-dimensional characters that profoundly change by the end of each narrative.
Source: Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Penguin Books Ltd: New York, NY. 1995. ISBN: 978-0140186529
Dickey, James. Deliverance. Dell Publishing, Inc. New York, NY. 1994. ISBN: 978-0385313872