Heart of Darkness Conflict

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

Conflict can appear in many different forms in literature. Conflict serves to advance the plot of the story as well as reveal theme. In this lesson you'll look at the different kinds of conflict that appear in Joseph Conrad's novel ''Heart of Darkness.''


When you think of the word conflict, you probably think first of physical fights or arguments. And these do fall under the word's definition. However, conflict also covers a situation where things are contradictory, and multiple parties do not always have to be involved. In internal conflict, for example, only one person is involved. This is the opposite of external conflict, which can be between one person and another, or even one person and any outside force. Literature makes use of all the different kinds of conflict and we can see multiple types in Joseph Conrad's novel, Heart of Darkness.

Minor Conflict

Arguments and disagreements between characters do make up some of the conflict in Heart of Darkness. This can be seen during Marlow's (the main character) trek between the first station and Central Station. He has to mediate conflict between the natives who carry their supplies and his white companion. Marlow says: 'Then he got fever, and had to be carried in a hammock slung under a pole. As he weighed sixteen stone I had no end of rows with the carriers. They jibbed, ran away, sneaked off with their loads in the night-- quite a mutiny. So, one evening, I made a speech in English with gestures, not one of which was lost to the sixty pairs of eyes before me, and the next morning I started the hammock off in front all right. An hour afterwards I came upon the whole concern wrecked in a bush--man, hammock, groans, blankets, horrors.'

Here, Marlow tries to resolve the conflict by convincing the natives to carry the man, but in the end they resolved it themselves by dumping him in the bush and forcing him to walk. This conflict helps show that, despite what the white colonists seem to think, the natives are not entirely subservient. These kinds of minor conflicts seem unimportant but they add character development and depth to the novel.

Physical Conflict

Physical conflict qualifies as an external conflict because it involves a fight between the bodies of one person and another.

One physical battle, between the natives and Marlow and his crew, is an example of this tye of conflict. Kurtz sends the natives to attack Marlow's steamboat just before they reach the Inner Station. The natives attack with arrows from onshore and several of Marlow's crewmen are injured or killed. This particular battle is resolved when Marlow blows the steamboat's whistle and scares the natives away. It is the most actively violent occurrence in the novel. Most of the other violence Marlow witnesses involves only a single person or has already passed and he sees only the aftermath.

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