Allegorical Meanings of the Journey Depicted in Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness

Allegorical Meanings of the Journey Depicted in Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness

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For decades, Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness has been appreciated, studied, and speculated upon. Indeed, as a work of literature, the novella can be considered as one of the finest of the modern era not only because of it aesthetic value but also due to its underlying meanings. Many have speculated as to what the whole story means, what the characters, objects, and events represent, and what message the story is conveying. In the tradition of analyzing stories, this paper holds that the Marlow’s voyage to retrieve Kurtz is not a voyage per se but acts as an allegory to three journeys: one journey towards hell, another towards back in time, and lastly as a voyage towards one’s own psyche.
Why is Marlow’s mission, or the ship’s voyage for that matter, a journey towards hell? Literally speaking, the journey is not towards hell but towards the jungles of Africa, where Kurtz was to be retrieved by Marlow. However, when one takes into account the setting, one can almost see that Marlow’s mission is not simple nor is it safe. With this fact, the journey towards the jungle becomes hell in two ways. Firstly, it is hell in the sense that the African jungle serves as a dark and foreboding setting. In the initial part of the story, Marlow likens Britain’s perception of Africa to that of what was probably ancient Rome’s impression of untamed Britain. Marlow describes a young Roman as to had “Land in a swamp, march through the woods, and in some inland post feel the savagery, the utter savagery, had closed round him – all that mysterious life of the wilderness that stirs in the forest, in the jungles, in the hearts of wild men.” Thus from this excerpt, readers can see that Marlow and his companions are seemingly banished into a place tha...

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...where laws are absent and men are free to exercise their will even if at the expense of others. Secondly, it is a journey back in time where man returns to the primitiveness that was predominant before modernity. And last is that it may be a journey towards the inner self. In a place devoid of civilization and all the laws and norms that it imposes, man resurrects the savage under its skin. Nonetheless, allegorical meanings of the journey are not confined into these three interpretations alone. As beings endowed with the gift to analyze things and see them according to what our minds or hearts want to see, there is no limit to the meaning that Marlow’s traveling may come to provide. For each person, the voyage may come to symbolize different meanings and these meanings in turn may come to reflect our own nature. It us just a matter of how we perceive this journey.

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