Comment on the symbolism of the title Heart of Darkness

Comment on the symbolism of the title Heart of Darkness

The symbolism of the title Heart of Darkness  - Heart of Darkness (1899) is a novella by Polish-English novelist Joseph Conrad. It tells the story of Charles Marlow, a sailor who takes on an assignment from a Belgian trading company as a ferry-boat captain in the African interior. The novel is widely regarded as a critique of European colonial rule in Africa, whilst also examining the themes of power dynamics and morality. Although Conrad does not name the river where the narrative takes place, at the time of writing the Congo Free State, the location of the large and economically important Congo River, was a private colony of Belgium's King Leopold II. Marlow is given a text by Kurtz, an ivory trader working on a trading station far up the river, who has "gone native" and is the object of Marlow's expedition.

 The novella's setting provides the frame for Marlow's story of his obsession with the successful ivory trader Kurtz. Conrad offers parallels between London ("the greatest town on earth") and Africa as places of darkness. Originally issued as a three-part serial story in Blackwood's Magazine to celebrate the thousandth edition of the magazine, Heart of Darkness has been widely re-published and translated into many languages. It provided the inspiration for Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 film Apocalypse Now. In 1998, the Modern Library ranked Heart of Darkness 67th on their list of the 100 best novels in English of the twentieth century.

Joseph Conrad's most read novella Heart of Darkness has double meaning in its title. One dictionary meaning is that the title refers to the interior of the Africa called Congo. Another hidden meaning is, the title stands for the darkness or the primitiveness that every person possesses in his or her mind and heart.

The etymological meaning of the phrase Heart of Darkness is the innermost region of the territory which is yet to be explored, where people led the nomadic and primitive way of living. The setting time of the novel Heart of Darkness dates back to those periods when the continent of Africa was not fully explored. So the continent was called the heart of darkness. The major and significant events of the novel take place in the Dark Continent, though the first and the end of the story takes place outside the continent. The central character, Kurtz, comes under the influence of the savages and becomes one of them in the same dark place called Congo. The savages and Kurtz, in fact, belong to the heart of darkness.

The description of the scenery by Marlow adds something vital meaning to the title of the novel. The wild scene, thick and impenetrable jungle, the pictures of the natives hiding in the dense jungle, the silence and the dangerous stillness of the river Congo, the thick fog, all these features are suggestive to the title  Heart of Darkness. The outer physical setting intensifies the horror and the fear among the readers. The reading about the description of the natives and their way of appearing in the novel bring the terrific effect in the mind of the reader.

On one occasion, Marlow is attacked by the natives in his steamer. In that attack the helmsman is killed. The natives attack the steamer of Marlow not knowing why he is there, but in the ignorance. The ignorance and backwardness of the savages, the purposeless attack creates the feeling like being in the midst of the heart of darkness. The attack to the steamer is planned by Kurtz, who has become one savage living with the natives. He becomes more barbaric than the inhabitants. The essence of savagery, brutality and cruelty sums up in the existence of Kurtz. Kurtz's mission was to civilize the natives, to educate them, to improve their way of living and the important one is to bring the light into their lives and into that dark territory. But he ends in converting himself into the savages, and the most striking thing is that he has set himself like a god in that Dark Continent. He starts following their unspeakable rites. He does any brutal raids for the sake of collection of ivory. According to Marlow, Kurtz has become a devil being failure to control his moral restraint. He lets his inner self, the primitive self, dance freely in the lap of darkness and becomes the representatives of the darkness. His superstition and evil has become the embodiment of darkness. Psychologically, Kurtz is the symbol of everyman's darkness which is veiled under the curtain of civilization. Kurtz is the heart of darkness.

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The term heart of darkness stands for another meaning too. The journey of Kurtz and Marlow to explore the interior of the Dark Continent called Congo is not only the physical search of some the territory, but it is an exploration of the innermost part of the human mind and the human heart. The geographical search is comparatively easier than the search of one's self, one's Dark Continent. Both Kurtz and Marlow are in an implied sense in the journey to find their dark region of mind and heart. In case of Kurtz, he cannot hold the mystical and attractive power of his savagery self, his suppressed primitive self and gives in. He fails to control his moral restraint. He submits to the dark side of his personality and becomes one savage. He reaches to the heart of darkness, but cannot resist its power upon him and he cannot come back from his subconscious state of mind. But in the case of Marlow, he too travels to the heart of darkness, the subconscious. He reaches there and witnesses the heavy influence of primitive self on Kurtz. He notices that he has become totally a devil, deviating from his main aim to civilize the savages. Marlow, despite the truth that Kurtz has been transformed into the barbaric self, praises him and is attracted towards him. He has fallen a near prey to the primitiveness. But, amazingly, he does not submit himself to the savagery self of his subconscious. He reaches to the heart of darkness, witnesses the transformation of Kurtz, and gets to know the irresistible power of barbaric hidden self, praises it and again comes back to the light of civilization. 

The entire theme of the Novel lies in its title. The darkness refers to the dark civilization of Africa and Heart symbolizes the very core of the African nation where people are savage, inhuman, uncivilized and fully ignorant. Symbolically the title deals with the unexplored story and history of civil and uncivil spirit in nature and human heart.

This is very obvious that human minds are consist of a certain complexity. We cannot all together can get rid of the negativity of our mind. We are a mixed creature of good and bad. The author wants ua to believe that there are we possess much or less darkness in our mind. Sometimes we never hesitare to expose them, or sometimes we do it privately.

Colonialism has a deep impression of bitter life throughout the history. The system has changed the view of the mankind. The direct or indirect hatred toward them is the provement of the agony that sufferers feel. Colonialism only brings mental and spritual disaster under the cover of meterial development.

The character of Kurtz and the uncivil native Africans are the main subjects of the novel. The character of Kurtz is mysterious and symbolic. He is the true representative of the mankind where he is made of both something very good and somothing very bad. The native represent the unbound darkness of human.

Comment on the symbolism of the title Heart of Darkness Heart of Darkness is replete with symbols. In Heart of Darkness every person and everything means more than what we are likely to find on a superficial level. The novel is based on both the historical facts and the facts of Conrad’s own experiences. But Conrad has tried to convey the deeper truths underlying both facts. Through the novel he certainly tries to reveal obscure truth which lies underneath.

Almost all characters in Heart of Darkness have some symbolic significance. The central figure in the novel, Mr. Kurtz is highly symbolic. First, he symbolises the greed and the commercial mentality of the white people of the western countries. Mr. Kurtz’s desire to collect the maximum quantity of ivory shows the exploitation of the backward people by the white colonizers. Second, he symbolizes the white man’s excessive love  of power. Third, the change which comes in him during his stay, among the savages, symbolizes the influence of barbarism upon a civilized man.

The role of Marlow is highly symbolic. Firstly, he symbolizes the spirit of adventure and a love of knowledge. His boyhood dream of travelling to Congo and sailing upon the river Congo is translated into reality only because of his inborn spirit of adventure. He also symbolises philosophical approach to human life by his constant brooding and meditation upon what he sees.

Similarly, the characters too carry symbolic significance. The Manager of the Central Station symbolizes spiritual emptiness. He is unable to inspire respect or love or fear because he is spiritually barren. Though he has no originality and no solid ideas in his head yet he can do his manager’s work like a machine. Then there is the brick-maker who acts as the manager’s spy and informer. Marlow calls him as a “papier-mache MephistopheIes” means cunning and trickery. Then there are a number of white agents who keep loitering around the Central Station because they have nothing to do. Marlow calls them “faithless pilgrims”.

The cannibal crew on Marlow’s steamer symbolize efficiency because they do not shirk work; they also symbolise self-restraint because they do not try to satisfy their hunger by eating their flesh.

Comment on the symbolism of the title Heart of Darkness - The knitting women in the beginning of the novel symbolises the Fate, who determine the future of every human being on the earth as they seem to know all about everybody who visits the Company’s officer. The majestic-looking native woman, who appears on the river-bank when Mr. Kurtz was being taken away, symbolizes a woman’s strong devotion and loyalty to her lord. Mr. Kurtz’s fiancĂ©e, Intended, also symbolizes loyalty, she symbolizes the hold of an illusion upon a woman’s mind. The Russian, who resembles a harlequin, symbolizes inquisitiveness, loyalty and fidelity.

Finally, Marlow’s journey into Congo is symbolic it is a journey into Marlow’s sub-conscious mind or a journey into the subconscious mind of making in general. According to a critic it is a psychological-anthropological journey. The very title of the novel is also symbolic. The literal meaning of the phrase “heart of darkness” is the inmost region of the dry country known as Congo; but symbolically it means the inmost region of a man’s mind or soul. So the incursion into the heart of darkness also means a descent by Marlow into the depths of his own soul. As Marlow stands for Conrad himself so the novel also becomes a kind of the exploration of Conrad’s own mind during his visit to Congo. the symbolism of the title Heart of Darkness.

Question 1. “Fielding is one of the most pro-woman writers in English.” Do you agree with this view? Justify your answer with illustrations from the text of Tom Jones.

Question 2. Discuss how Pride and Prejudice engages with the theme of love and marriage. 

Question 3. Heathcliff, in Emily Bronte’s novel Wuthering Heights is often referred to in derogatory terms by the other characters, as being ‘the evil beast’, ‘uncivilised’, ‘without refinement’ and so on. Do you agree with such a judgement of Heathcliff ?


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