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Essay on The Meaning of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness

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The Meaning of Heart of Darkness


    Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness has a symbolic meaning behind its title like many other great works of literature. The title can actually be interpreted in many different ways. One way the title can be looked at is that it portrays how Conrad viewed the continent of Africa. It might also represent entering into a more primitive society, witnessing humans transforming from civilized to savage. Perhaps the Heart of Darkness refers to the colonialism and imperialism that the Europeans were practicing at the turn of the 20th century.

In the setting that Joseph Conrad gives the characters in the Heart of Darkness, Africa was still greatly unexplored by Europeans. It was thought by many Europeans to be a dark place of savages and strange beasts. As the author Gary Adelman writes in his book Heart of Darkness Search for the Unconscious, "As the journey proceeds from the Coastal Station to Kurtz’s outpost, darkness increasingly becomes associated with savagery, cannibalism, and human sacrifice, with Africans as the embodiment of these ideas" (p.87). Conrad depicts his ideas about Africa in this way as well as through the character of Marlow. As author Gary Adelman comments on this in his book Heart of Darkness Search for the Unconscious "Africans, in their free state, as described by Marlow, epitomizes not only the primitive condition of humankind, but also an actively demoralizing influence, which a white man coming to Africa must challenge." (p. 69) In many description located in the novel Conrad depicts Africa and it’s people as being dark and of inhuman nature. "It was unearthly, and the men were -No, they were not inhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst of it -this suspicion of t...


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... Darkness is that he meant the darkness and wickedness that he saw and associated with European colonialism and imperialistic rule of Africa. Some slight undertones and actions of some of the characters in the novel can show this. The meaning of Heart of Darkness is open to many different interpretations as to what the author means by using the phrase heart of darkness that can easily be linked to different themes. The meaning of the title will more than likely be forever shrouded in ambiguity.

 Works Cited

Aldman, Gary. Heart of Darkness: Search for the Unconscious. Twayne Publishers: Boston, 1987

Brantlinger, Patrick. Heart of Darkness: Anti-Imperialism, Racism, or Impressionism?. MacMillan Press Limited, University of Miami: 1996

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. 1997. September 24, 2000.


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