Journal of Medical Humanities

, Volume 23, Issue 2, pp 133-145

First online:

Still the Heart of Darkness: The Ebola Virus and the Meta-Narrative of Disease in The Hot Zone

  • Douglas M. HaynesAffiliated withDepartment of History, University of California Email author 


“Still the Heart of Darkness” analyzes Richard Preston's best-selling account of an Ebola virus outbreak in Reston, Virginia in 1989. Through a textual examination of The Hot Zone, this essay demonstrates how Preston grounds his narrative about the threat of rare emerging viruses from the third world in terms of the colonialist discourse about Africa as “the white man's grave,” most notably Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. By foregrounding previous outbreaks in Africa, Preston simultaneously darkens its landscape and inscribes the Ebola filovirus as an external biological threat to Americans in a post-Cold War world with porous borders.

AIDS Africa Joseph Conrad contamination Ebola filoviruses HIV Heart of Darkness “white man's grave” virus hunters