heart of darkness summary by joseph conrad

Heart Of Darkness Summary By Joseph Conrad

Heart Of Darkness Summary By Joseph Conrad

It was published in 1899, and this was the literary period of Victorianism and modernism. Heart of Darkness is basically a story of two men, the first one is Marlow, who is an Englishman and the narrator of this story, and the other person is Kurtz who is a German man. 

This story is character-based, rather than the plot, the story focuses on the character of Kurtz. 

Marlow narrates the story of this novel and is introduced to us right in the beginning. He explains how during his sea voyage, he met a man named Kurtz in Africa. 

Though Marlow is narrating this story, the character of Kurtz is quite emphasized as this is a powerful character in the story.


The story of Heart of Darkness begins on the Thames river in London. The narrator of the story Charles Marlow is on the roof of his ship with his friends and spent the whole night there while the ship is standing on the port of the Thames river. 

This is the place where Marlow tells his story to his friends about when he was quite young, he went to Belgium Congo as a river port pilot. He had the desire to have a sea voyage in an African country, and he got this chance when his well-connected aunt got him a job in a European trading company as a pilot of a steamboat. 

This steamship was heading to the Congo river, Africa. The company in which Marlow works is a European company that exports ivory from Africa. Before heading to Africa, Marlow had to go to the headquarters of the company.

The country of Africa, Belgium Congo, where Marlow went, once used to be a colony of Belgium, but, now its name is the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Marlow is going. 

This country lies in the central part of Africa. When Marlow was going there, he saw that on the way, a French warship was firing in the forest because they had some conflicts with the native people of that place. Marlow thought of them as being mad. 

Marlow reached the first company station where he saw that the native people were working as slaves everywhere. These were the black people. The company used to call them criminals while they were nothing more than slaves. 

The station where Marlow has reached is the outer station of the company and here he meets the Chief Accountant of the company. The chief accountant told Marlow about the remarkable man of that place, Kurtz, who is running his inner station within the deep forest. Now, Marlow wanted to go there. But, he got to know that his steamship broke down due to an accident. And now, it will take about three months to repair it. Marlow asked them to repair it quickly because it was already too late. Now, Marlow had to wait and stay there until the steamboat got repaired. During his stay, he heard a lot of praise for Kurtz. Everywhere, everyone was only talking positively about Kurtz. Kurtz was really the kind of person who had impressive abilities, and Marlow also heard that Kurtz also contributed to the company’s profit several times. 

One day, Marlow went inside his steamship to check how much work has been completed to repair it. There, he saw that two men were discussing something outside the ship. Marlow eavesdropped them. These two people were General Manager and the Brickmaker and the two were talking about how Kurtz had become a danger to their job because Kurtz alone could collect as much ivory as ten men could collectively do. Now, Marlow was more curious and excited to meet this person Kurtz because everyone was only talking about him. 

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Marlow’s ship was repaired and he set off with his general manager and other members to meet Kurtz who was running the inner station in the deep forest. Their trip was quite long and difficult. It took them about two months to reach there. On the way, the natives of that place played drums and spread fog in front of them to stop them. 

The natives didn’t want them to enter there. As soon as the steamship of Marlow was about to reach the inner station, the natives of that place attacked the ship. They sent their weapons toward the ship. 

As soon as they reached the inner station, a Russian trader came to the port to meet them. He told them that Kurtz was alive but very ill. The general manager went to bring Kurtz but Marlow continued talking to the Russian trader. The trader told Marlow that Kurtz is now like a god to the native people of this place. These people have a lot of respect for Kurtz. 

The general manager and his men brought Kurtz out of the station house on a stretcher. As soon as they brought Kurtz out, the native and a woman (presumably Kurtz’s mistress) came to protest. But Kurtz calmed them down and they all stepped back.

Now, the Russian trader comes to Marlow and asks him not to tell anyone anything that he told him about Kurtz. Then, Marlow tells the Russian to run away or he will also be stuck as the manager has come to take Kurtz with him. So, the Russian trader ran away. 

Then, the next afternoon, they take Kurtz along, the natives of that place gathered at the river bank and started shouting as Kurtz was going away from them. Kurtz was getting weaker and weaker with each passing day and it looked like he won’t be able to stay alive for long. 

In the steamboat, they are taking Kurtz along. One night, Marlow goes to Kurtz’s room and speaks with him. Kurtz tells Marlow that he is waiting for his death. Marlow was looking at him and there were some changes on his face. It seemed as if he wanted to say something. And his last words were “The Horror!! The Horror!!”. After some time, when everyone was having dinner, a boy came to them and informed them that Kurtz is dead. Everyone ran to see him. 

Before death, Kurtz had given some of his documents to Marlow which Marlow quietly took with him and went to Europe. While he started living in Europe, some of Kurtz’s relatives came to visit Marlow. Marlow gave them the papers that Kurtz had given him. The person who came to meet Marlow at the end was Kurtz’s fiancee, his mistress who told Marlow that Kurtz was an excellent, talented, and moral man. She asked Marlow what were the last words of Kurtz. Marlow lies to her and tells her that his last words were her name only. 

On hearing this, she started crying and the story ends with this. 

After finishing his story on the Thames river, he went quiet. 


Published in 1899

It can be considered an autobiographical work, as it deals with the real-life incident of Joseph Conrad. 

When Joseph Conrad visited Central Africa in 1890, he covered his journey in an African country named Congo. And he wrote a diary by getting inspired by this journey which was later converted into the Novella “Heart of Darkness”.

The genre of Heart of Darkness is Novella.

Important Themes Of Heart Of Darkness



The brutality of Europeans’ powers.


In this story, we will only find two characters, Marlow, the narrator, and Kurtz, on whose character the entire story is based. 

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Heart Of Darkness Summary And Analysis

It begins at the Thames river in England, and an English ship is standing at the port. There are many people on that ship waiting for the wind to flow so that they can continue their halted journey. It is evening, the sun is about to set, then a man named Marlow starts telling a story from his youthful days. And this story is what the entire plot of this novella is based on. 

Marlow tells that when he was quite young, he loved to travel and explore new places and meet new people. And whenever he used to see the dark regions on the map, he would be quite fascinated. So, he decided that whether or not he becomes anything else in his life, he will definitely become the captain or pilot of a steamship. 

Then, with the help of his well-connected aunt, he got the job of the pilot of a steamship because Marlow’s aunt had good connections with a Belgian company that used to export Ivory in Africa. After talking to the Seafaring and exploration department of that company, she got secured Marlow’s job there. 

Then, Marlow travels from London and reaches an unnamed Belgian city where he gives his interview and medical exam which he passes and then he is dispatched to an African country named Congo on a ship. 

From this point of the story, the adventurous journey of Marlow begins, during his journey to Africa, Marlow witnesses how the colonizers of that area (Europeans) were brutally exploiting the native people of that place. And in the name of profit, they used to make them work harder and also neglected even their basic needs. 

Then, Marlow also saw how a warship was continuously firing in their forest for no reason and then he reached a small forest where he saw how the exploited black laborers were roaming here and there in the forest waiting for their death. After crossing all this, Marlow finally reaches the first, outer station of the company where he meets the chief accountant of the company who appears quite well-dressed and elegant even though he is staying in a forest. 

After spending 10 days with that accountant, Marlow gets to know that the best ivory trader in the company is Kurtz, and wherever he looked, everyone was talking about only one person, Kurtz, due to which Marlow also gets quite excited to meet Kurtz. 

Marlow sets off for his further journey after spending his days on the outer station. Now, Marlow is heading towards the central station of the company. After traveling a lot, Marlow reaches the Central Station/ second station of the company, Marlow meets the general manager of the company who is a cheap person and can do anything for power and position.

The general manager is the one who controls the central station. After reaching there, Marlow gets to know that his steamship has been damaged because of an accident and it will take at least three months to repair it. Due to this, Marlow will have to wait for three months before setting off for his further journey. 

While the ship was getting repaired, Marlow heard from the people there that Kurtz has a lot of talents and impressive abilities and he can alone do the work of many people. Due to this, the company has also gained a lot of profit. 

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Marlow also learns about the deteriorating condition of Kurtz, but still, he is managing to send ivory to the company in some way. 

Another exciting thing is that Marlow also listened to the General manager and the brickmaker talking to each other about how Kurtz has become an obstacle in their path, so it is necessary to remove him.

After hearing all this, his excitement about meeting Kurtz increased. Finally, when the ship is repaired and ready to run, Marlow heads to the final station of the company which is located in the innermost area of the forest to meet Kurtz. 

This time, some local crew members, a company agent, and the general manager were also accompanying him. The trip was going to be quite long and difficult. As they were heading towards the depth of the jungle, it was getting more and more silent. In some instances, they would suddenly hear the sounds of drums and chanting at night. But, they couldn’t see anyone. After traveling for a long time in the Congo river, they find an abandoned cabin on the way which offers free firewood to the people passing through that area. 

There is also a signboard with caution before moving forward. After fully loading the ship with wood, they again continue their journey. But, because of a lot of fog on the way and other difficulties, their journey gets longer. And as soon as they are about to reach the innermost station of the company, the native people of that place attack the ship during which, the Helsman of Marlow’s ship dies. However, they finally reach their destination and the Russian trader told them Kurtz is still breathing but is weak enough. 

After getting to know more about him from the trader and others, Marlow decides to visit Kurtz in his room and talks to him. He saw the changed conditions of Kurtz who told him that he was waiting for death. Marlow was sure that he wanted to say something but couldn’t. The documents presented to Marlow by Kurtz were carried away to Europe where he met the relatives of Kurtz and finally, his fiancee who was devastated by the news of his demise. 

Final Words 

Heart Of Darkness is a popular post-colonial novel by Joseph Conrad where one can learn about the effects of colonialism and more. You can find out more such stories on our website and do give suggestions about the next novel you want the summary of. 

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