Looking Beneath the Surface

In his Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad proficiently develops the theme of “looking beneath the surface”, in particular. Looking beneath the surface in fact refers to the journey into the inner of the human mentality, nature, or in broader terms beneath the surface of human civilization when they receive significant power and privileges. The story pronounces events related with the colonization of Africa, the Dark Continent. One of the major themes embedded in the story which shows that the story is about looking beneath the surface is the hypocrisy of imperialism. The story throughout brings about the issues surrounding in imperialism in a complicated way through the experiences and observations of the main character Marlow. The colonial enterprise apparently pretending to trade with Congo in order to help improve the quality of life for Africans, in fact oppresses the native people, forcing them to work for colonists almost for free in extremely terrible conditions. Natives have to suffer overwork and ill-treatment from the colonists. (Conrad, 2008, Part II). This hypocrisy is unveiled in the form of Marlow’s observations as he travels from the outer station towards the inner station through the center station. All the tortures, cruelties, and near-slaveries that he observes during the voyage represents the notion, looking beneath the surface of imperialism pretended to be for the goodwill of the people. Furthermore the role of Kurtz as a typical colonist is shown as a person who shows himself as a deity in the community but establishes his position using inhumane ways. His dual personality or his inner character is revealed by the collection of severed heads on fences that Marlow and his crew witnessed as they approached the inner station. Kurtz who perceives unlimited entitlements, undertakes bloody raids whereas his pathetic papers are always about opportunities which colonization can bring to the natives (Conrad, 2008, Part III). The story shows that rich culture, morality, humanity and civilizations become meaningless for those who come in power over the weaker. Hence their reality can found by scratching them beneath the surface.

The Metamorphosis shows how family bonds, attachments, love, and blood relationships turn into hatred and lose their meanings when a loved one is in a bad situation and how bad situations make you look into people beneath the surface. Gregor, once a successful sales man who enjoys the love and praise of his parents and sister, when turns into a huge beetle, while still thinking like humans, finds out how relationships, attachments and love his close ones change into hatred and negativity (Kafka, 2003). The change in the behaviors of his relatives and their response to his strange transformation shows how he looked beneath the surface and found what love actually was for him. Although he tries to maintain the relationships with his parents and sister, yet they reject and push him to isolation despite the fact that he had been the bread winner son and brother. Upon him being in problem, the family forgets his devotion and show disappointment towards him. This shows that all the love they had was because of the materialistic well-being that he could offer earlier. Once he became unable to provide that well-being, and support, he lost his value. His inability to control his situation shifted the feelings of this family from love to indifference and then gradually to hatred. This hatred towards him is evident from the scene where he makes an attempt to reunite the family and comes out of his room to listen to the melody played by his sister Greta. As he leaves his room, he hears his beloved sister saying that the family should get rid of Gregor as he is no longer a human being and can be dangerous for them.

Despite the characters and the plot of the story seem to be unrealistic, yet they point to the fact that all the social and psychological bonds in family and friends are merely market and material relations where the love and care of others is only limited until he or she can provide financial or material benefits to the other.

Heart of Darkness refers to the change in behaviors and characters of people when they come into power. Looking beneath the surface in case of powerful and privileged people, one can find out that all they care about is their power and they are ready to harm anybody to maintain their power. On the other hand the story of Greg, the Metamorphosis, shows how people lose their social value and attachments when they are unable to provide those material benefits which they had been providing for ages. Hence it can be concluded that beneath the surface, both the powerful and the dependents or the weaker are realistically different than what their outlook shows. Powerful and privileged are concerned about their own power and they may pretend love and affection towards the weaker just to use them in order to stay in power and the weaker or dependents show their love to the powerful as long as the powerful or the supporter is able to support. In both the cases, love and humanity has no meaning and value for them.


Conrad J. (1982). Heart of Darkness and the Secret Sharer. New York, NY: Bantam Classics.

Kafka F. (1972). The Metamorphosis. New York, NY: Bantam Classics.