Comment on the symbolism of the title Heart of Darkness.
Symbolism in 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.
Comment on the symbolism of the title Heart of Darkness. Almost all characters inHeart of Darkness have some symbolic significance. The central figure in the novel, Mr. Kurtzis 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.
Mr. Kurtz becomes savage because of his prolonged stay in the dark continent symbolizes the irresistible influence of barbarism upon a civilized man who is isolated from civilized society, It shows that the primitive evil instincts continue to exist in every human being, no matter how civilized he may have become. Comment on the symbolism of the title Heart of Darkness. These primitive instincts lie dominant within him; and they would rise in a favourable environment and then would govern his whole conduct.
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. Comment on the symbolism of the title Heart of Darkness.
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.Comment on the symbolism of the title Heart of Darkness.
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 fiancée, Intended, also symbolizes loyalty, she symbolizes the hold of an illusion upon a woman’s mind. Comment on the symbolism of the title Heart of Darkness. The Russian, who resembles a harlequin, symbolizes inquisitiveness, loyalty and fidelity.
Besides characters there are also other symbolic elements in the novel. Ivory symbolizes the white men’s greed. The French warship firing aimlessly into the forest, and the rock being blasted with gunpowder without any purpose, symbolize the sense of futility and aimlessness. Then the sight of the starved native symbolizes the sufferings of the natives who do not receive any sympathy from the white. Then half a dozen native men chained to one another, and each wearing an iron collar round his neck symbolizes the white man’s sway over the backward people. In short, Conrad has effectively conveyed exploitation of the people of Congo through Symbolic descriptions.
The chain-gang with half a dozen native men chained to one another, and each wearing an iron collar round his neck, symbolize the white man’s sway over the ignorant backward people without any concern for their welfare. Comment on the symbolism of the title Heart of Darkness.
Fog is a sort of corollary to darkness. Fog not only obscures but distorts: it gives one just enough information to begin making decisions but no way to judge the accuracy of that information, which often ends up being wrong. Marlow’s steamer is caught in the fog, meaning that he has no idea where he’s going and no idea whether peril or open water lies ahead. Comment on the symbolism of the title Heart of Darkness.
Furthermore the description of the natural scenery also serves a symbolic purpose. The wild and awe-inspiring scenery makes an observer think that he has gone back to the beginning of the world when the huge trees were kings. The silence of the woods and the abundance of trees symbolises mystery and honor. In sharp contrast to the wild imagery, the city of Brussels symbolizes the corruption of the white man’s civilization. The city of Brussels seems to Marlow to be something outwardly and pleasant but inwardly rotten. Brussels thus symbolizes the degeneracy of the white man.
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. Comment on the symbolism of the title Heart of Darkness. 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 Literal Meaning of the Phrase “Heart of Darkness”
The phrase “Heart of Darkness” has two meanings: one is the literal meaning, and the other is the symbolic meaning. Literally, the title refers to the dark continent of Africa, especially the territory known as the Congo.
Actually it was the famous explorer and writer, Henry Morton Stanley who, having travelled through Africa, gave the name of “the dark continent” to it; but thereafter this phrase became current and began to be widely used for Africa The phrase “heart of darkness” means the inmost region of the territory which was, in those days, still in the process’ of being explored, and the inhabitants of which still led primitive lives. Today every bit of the continent of Africa is known to everybody who has studied geography. Every , bit of Africa has been fully explored and indicated on the geographical maps. Comment on the symbolism of the title Heart of Darkness. But at the time Stanley went into Africa and thereafter, even when Conrad went thither in 1890, the continent of Africa had not been fully explored. Of course, there was a big difference between Africa as seen by Stanley and Africa as seen by Conrad. By Conrad’s time many parts of Africa had been explored and shown on the maps; but even in Conrad’s time Africa was still known as the dark continent. The action of the novel Heart of Darkness has been placed in the years preceding 1890 when Conrad himself went to the Congo; and, even though the novel records Conrad’s own experiences, yet we must not forget that Conrad had pre dated the time to which the events of the novel pertain. In short, “Heart of Darkness” is an appropriate title for the novel because Marlow here describes his experiences of the interior region of the continent which was known as the dark continent. The events at the beginning of the novel and the events at the close, of the novel certainly occur outside the dark continent of Africa; but the major and the most significant events of the story take place in the Congo and on the river of that name. The most important portion of the novel deals with a white man called Mr. Kurtz who falls under the influence of the savages living in the interior of the country called the Congo. The savages really belong to the heart of darkness.
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