When looking at the literal meaning of the title, Heart of Darkness, it is referring to the darkness of, Africa. The main journey is shown in Congo as Africa was still being explored by a number of adventurous foreigners from Europe. “…Heart of Darkness” means the inmost region of the territory which was, in those days, still in the process’ of being explored,…” this could be the means of the events that happened in Congo.
There was a famous explorer and writer called Henry Morton Stanley and Joseph Conrad who had seen parts of Africa as well. But there are big differences between Stanley’s views and Conrad’s views. Stanley had been one of the first explorers and eventually spreads the phrase of “the dark continent”. While with Conrad, before his journey into Africa, it had already been explored by others.
The physical environment in Europe and the Congo
This novella, Heart of Darkness was set during the 1890s in which Conrad shares his experiences of his journey but was only published in 1902. In the beginning of the story, Charlie Marlow is in the location of England, a much more civilised and developed country compared to Congo. At this point in England, there were no black people; a rarity and seemed not to exist. Marlow shares his storytelling among the men. Some of the events that take place are outside of Congo but the most ground-breaking events happen in Congo. Throughout the novel there is special attention towards a character known as Mr. Kurtz. He had fallen under the influence of the savages and lives through their lifestyle of adapting their environment and brutal way of living. But Congo had belonged to the savages as it is their home. Marlow is the storyteller in this novella.
The physical aspects and the environment are described during an occasion of the Europeans sailing on the river of Congo. The natives notice these visitors and are alarmed, they begin to attack. As the natives peep behind the trees of the jungle, it may have appeared to them as strange and unfamiliar beings and that is why they attacked?
There is an atmosphere in the book that Marlow describes as the first time of beginnings of travelling. He also talks about the silence of the forests and the sunlight in the area that he was exploring was rather not pleasing. Marlow describes the physical features of the river closely, he refers the river to the stillness of peace- “this stillness looked at a man with a revengeful aspect”-this kind of description brings the reader back to the phrase of the “Heart of Darkness.” (Naeem, 2010).
The two rivers
The reader is introduced into the Nellie in between the Thames River near Gravesend, England. Marlow has company on the ship and tells them of his journey. How travelling up to Congo River had been a tremendous adventure. He first gives them an imagination of what it could have been for the Romans that travelled into England for the first time. He assumes it must have been a jungle of forests as well. But he states that they are different among them as Romans were the victorious, “… they are colonists, whereas the Romans were conquerors.”
Along his journey while he was in London, before exploring Congo, he speaks about how he travelled many places but came across a map and longed to travel elsewhere which appeared to be the unknown depths of Congo. (Novelguide, n. a.).
The colour of some character’s skins
Throughout the novella, the common colours that are used are black and white. It is the contrast of their skin colour and what character they portray and links to a person’s soul. It is the savages’ skin colour that is black and Marlow as well the other European men skin colour that is white. ”Black symbolises evil and white symbolises good.” (AP Lit, 2008).
A black/dark soul that is of a white man is more likely to be evil and dishonest. “I met a white man in such an unexpected elegance of getup…” (Conrad, 1902: 21) – This shows how a white man is seen to be a good person. And is a good example of Kurtz’s character and skin colour. Though white is good, looks and physical features can be deceiving. While a white/light soul that is a black man is likely to be honest and sincere. “An athletic black belonging to some coast tribe and educated by my poor predecessor… thought all the world of himself” (Conrad, 1902: 45). A black person is seen with evilness in contrast with their skin colour. Example, the savages.
During one of Marlow events, through the night he seems blinded by the darkness of the sky. He hears a loud splash in the early morning and compares this to a gun that has been fired. As the morning progresses he sees a white fog that covers his sight and seems more unclear then the night. The fog remains, feeling like it was not passing, it would lift up now and then but comes down again making it almost impossible to see.
The fog creates a sense of confusion and uncertainty. While Marlow is on his journey with his steamer, he is uncertain on how his journey may proceed and what may come forth. In the above description of not being able to see clearly gives out a feeling of mysterious encounters. What is beyond this fog? As the fog is literally and physically white and the colour is opposite to darkness; this also emphasises on blindness. (123HelpMe.com. , 2014).
Physical actions- how the environment and characteristics are treated
Naeem (2010) claimed that when reading through, the natives, the reader can pick up a sense of mystery and fear; this brings the reader into the point of darkness.
In the book when Marlow’s steamer draws closer to the forest, the natives are alarmed and begin the attacks. There is a loud cry by the natives like some kind of language among the natives. This cry brings out fear toward the white men. The natives attack with their arrows and the white men respond by firing their rifles. In all of this, it is not about the attack of the natives that creates the effect of darkness. It is rather their behaviour and reaction of ignorance. They do not have an idea of why these white men-including Marlow’s have arrived. Before considering their reasons, the natives chose to attack. But they were ordered by their master Mr. Kurtz. He is the influence of the savages’ mentality as he is barbaric and identifies himself among them.
In Marlow eyes, Mr. Kurtz has fallen in their ways that he even practising their customs and traditions. He has become evil and holds a high position on their land. Marlow elaborates how Kurtz’s sanity becomes part of the darkness of Congo. For he has lived in the Heart of Darkness and has become a dark person.
There’s a contrast of Kurtz, from a civilized and educated man to a brutal dangerous person. This could also reflect to Africa, a once peaceful continent to conflicted and disastrous and this could lead to the literal darkness of Congo. He behaved like them and the natives regarded him as a GOD because he had given them the impression that he belongs with them. But he was once also a white man visiting their land just like those of Marlow and other white men.
Naeem, M. (2010). Bring out clearly the significance of the title “Heart of Darkness”. Available: http: http://neoenglishsystem.blogspot.com/2010/11/bring-out-clearly-significance-of-title.html [Accessed: 20 August 2014].
Novelguide. (n. a. ). Heart of Darkness: Summary: Part 1. Available: http://www.novelguide.com/heart-of-darkness/novel-summary [Accessed: 27 August 2014].
Conrad, J. (1902). Heart of Darkness. United Kingdom: Blackwood.
123HelpMe.com. (2014). “Symbols and Symbolism Essay: Color as a Tool in Heart of Darkness”. Available: http://www.123HelpMe.com/view.asp?id=7944 [Accessed: 21 August 2014].
AP Lit. (2008). Heart of Darkness-symbol. Available: http://maryliterature.blogspot.com/2008/01/heart-of-darkness-symbol.html [Accessed: 21 August 2014].