Psychological Symbolism in Heart of
Darkness
Joseph Conrad relies heavily on the use of symbolism throughout his turn-of-the-century work Heart
of Darkness. These symbols set a tone for the story and the reader, to accentuate the incidents
being retold by Marlow through the narrator. They develop a greater understanding of the
human mind in the context of specific social tensions of the period.
Religion
– Marlow refers to the company
employees as”pilgrims,” implying
that their journey is almost a
religious one, with ivory being the
god.
– Refers to Brussels as the
“sepulchral city”
– Marlow is described as a “buddha”
figure
– Mr.. Kurtz is worshipped by the
natives
Water
–
Snake
–
normally symbolizes ablution, yet
it transports the ship into the
“heart of darkness”
symbolizes evil and sin, and the
river up which Marlow journeys
(the Congo River)
Contrasts
Civilized/Uncivilized
– The “civilized” Europeans are
supposed to “civilize the brutish
savages
• who is least civil of the two?
• Where did Kurtz fall?
Dark/Light
– dark symbolizes evil; light, good. The
Jungle is dark.
– The story is told at twilight; thus the
ship and crew are literally going into
the darkness.
– Gloom covered London and
“consumed” the sun.
– Marlow blew out his candle at
Kurtz’s death.
– Women knit black wool
– The woman emerges from the
darkness in Kurtz’s painting (yet her
light is “sinister,” and she remains
blind)
– The color of the native peoples.
– Refers to the natives as “black
shapes”
GEOGRAPHY
-The story is told on the
outskirts of London
(Gravesend)
-The main events take
place in an unnamed
territory (supposedly the
Congo)
-The Congo River is
described as “snakelike;”(12) in the
conclusion, the Thames
leads off into the
unknown, the “heart of
darkness.”(76)
-Africa is the “dark
continent:” Marlow
recounts how it seemed
to him to be “the center
of the Earth.”
“Going up that river was like travelling[sic] to the earliest beginnings
of the world…” (35)
-The map slowly became
filled in with names and
information
HISTORY
•
Symbolism
– discuss how the taming of Africa is
parallel to the taming of England by
the Romans centuries earlier
(implicating both are, or were, for
the best)
– Invocation of the “great spirit of the
past”
– start from the same river as many
other famous expeditions
• some were successful (the
Golden Hind), others were illfated (the Erebus and Terror)
•
Background
– European race for land in Africa;
heightened competition in all areas
– King Leopold of Belgium was
amassing rubber and ivory through
his territories
• claimed the intention of
bringing “light” (religion and
civilization) to the “savages”
Joseph Conrad
King Leopold II
References
• Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New
York: W.W. Norton & Company. 1988.
• www.classicnote.com
Download

Psychological Symbolism in Heart of Darkness