In the “Heart of Darkness, the main protagonist in the story is Marlow, who sets out on an obsessive quest – a journey down the coastline of Africa into its deepest jungles, to find Kurtz. In “Apocalypse now” Willard is the US Army Captain who is given the mission to infiltrate Colonel Kurtz’s troops and terminate him. Conrad’s book poses the question of what exactly civilization is – at the beginning of the novel the narrator Marlow states, “It seemed to throw a kind of light on everything about me….” but at the same time it was not very clear either. No, not very clear.” (Conrad 21)
Civilization is a very important underlying theme in the book because it is this very civilization that purportedly elevates man above the status of the beast into the status of manhood. As a result, the white men consider the natives as uncivilized brutes because they behead their enemies and are not exposed to the social norms and conventions of the white man. It is purportedly civilization that propels man towards progress and away from the evil within himself.
But as Marlow moves deeper into the jungle, away from familiar things, he feels increasingly threatened, and his basest instincts are stirred by that fear. He views the still river and the dense vegetation as “an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention.”(Conrad 60). His increasing fascination with Kurtz rests in the fact that Kurtz also aimed to bring “civilization” to the uncivilized natives. Africa “has been one of the dark places of the Earth” (Conrad 65) and a “godforsaken wilderness” (Conrad 73), and Kurtz’s mission for the river is purportedly such that “each station should be like a beacon on the road towards better things, a center for trade of course, but also for humanizing, improving, instructing.” (Conrad 107).