In 1890 Joseph Conrad, born Konrad Korzeniowski, took command of a steamship in the Belgian Congo. This personal experience into the interior of Africa came to provide an outline for a short novella, Heart of Darkness, which he would publish in 1899. Originally appearing in Blackwood's Magazine, this fictional account of a steamboat captain, Marlow, sent to relieve a renowned inner-station chief, Kurtz, was written with clear intentions. One of which was to expose the "secret society of murderers with a king for a [partner]," of which he had been an eyewitness (Bill 1). This king was, King Leopold II of Belgium, who had acquired sovereignty of the "Congo Free State- in 1885. King Leopold used his supreme authority within the region to exploit the natives as a slave work force to hunt elephants for their ivory tusks and gather sap from wild rubber vines. The means by which this European power kept its slaves at work included "hostage-taking, floggings, mutilation, forced labor, and outright murder- (Bill 4). With this and other publications revealing the alarming savagery taking place in the Congo: a "Congo Reform Association- was organized, King Leopold was forced turn over ownership of the Congo Free State to the Belgian government, and so culminated first major human rights movement of the 20th century.
There are two main characters of The Heart of Darkness, Marlow and Kurtz. Marlow is a long-time seaman and as much of the story is told through his narrative we see he is an accustomed story-teller. We find out relatively quickly that Marlow is skilled at his trade of seaman, he almost single handedly repairs and then pilots his own ship up the river with skill. Marlow is somewhat of a neutral character, he balances in the middle of the two extremes Kurtz and the Company. Marlow going into the trip has a little imperial skepticism but he stays moderate enough that he is easy to identify with.