The knowledge of a hostile, annihilating force at the center of existence brings to Conrad's characters a constant sense of their personal vulnerability. Before this revelation, they were orphans in search of a ground for their lives, but they never doubted their ability to discover such a ground.
For most of Conrad's characters, the experience of vulnerability marks the real beginning of their voyage. Conrad's novels are attempts to come to terms with this experience, to work out ways of living with or overcoming this knowledge, for only if some such way can be found can man ever attain a stable identity.
Perhaps mind can confront the darkness directly and master it. Although this darkness is in its essence something alien to mind, if mind can asset its control over this force, if it can give it rational form and substance and thus fix the image of the "ombre sinistre et fuyante" the darkness will be robbed of its destructive potential. By assimilating its sources in this way, it might still be possible for man to achieve self, sufficiency. While he will not have found a father, found some source, which naturally confers its reality upon him, man will have made one.
For most of Conrad's characters, the initial thrust of their attempt to assert sovereignty over the ground of their existence is directed toward its immediate source in the irrational.
Ultimately, however, man's efforts to control the darkness must lead him beyond the irrational. He must come to grips with the tenuous material of the darkness whose vibrations give rise to all levels of consciousness if his efforts to master his own being are to be successful. For this reason. Conrad's heroes are not contemplatives. Although most are obsessed by the dream and by their habit of "idealizing every simple feeling", their object is not, at least initially, to create a fantasy world in which mind exists unto itself.
In the final analysis, the aim of these characters is always to perform some concrete action in the world, an action which will bring the dream to reality.
The men of this time have a natural control of themselves and of their environment so, they are able to live in harmony with one another as well.
For Conrad's ironic characters and narrators, this tension exists between their initial commitment to the world of men and action and their awareness of a darkness that nullifies the validity of this world. Commenting on the characters in Alphonse Daudet's fiction, Conrad writes that "inevitably they marchent à la mort- and they are very near the truth of our common destiny: their fate is poignant; it is intensely interesting, and of not the slightest consequence.
From their initial encounter with the darkness, then, there emerge two possibilities for Conrad's characters. They can return to commit themselves to the world and the men who inhabit it. To do this is to affirm at least the possibility that the dream can be realized: that man, through his own will can master the darkness and win for himself a stable identity. Alternatively, they can accept the darkness as final and, by doing so, come to terms with the ephemerality of their own selves. To do so is to reconcile themselves to being orphans who can never transcend their initial, tentative state of existence. (21)
This dreadful tale has been variously interpreted and valued. It has been viewed as essentially about Marlow, who represents the simple virtues of honesty, courage, pity, and fidelity, and who in Kurtz meets not only intimations of an evil before which these are no resource but also an individual with whom he is horrified to feel some obscure shadow of identity. His own code is a sufficient armor against the plain scoundrels among whom he finds