Examining The Heart Of Darkness English Literature Essay

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The novel Heart of Darkness written by the famous English writer Joseph Conrad is considered to be one of the most significant works of the English literature. The novel is based on the writer's experiences which he got eight years before writing the book serving as a captain of the Congo ship. Heart of Darkness is an adventure story which attracts readers' attention by its complex plot and different characters. It's a novel where the author touches the problems of politics, moral values and social order. The readers can see the picture of the exploration of Africa by Europeans. Every person in this world has his heart but not everybody's heart is "heart of darkness". My goal in this research work is not only to analyze Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness but also to draw the major conclusions on this literary work. To achieve this goal, I decided to organize the paper in the following way: in the first section of the research work I will discuss the major themes which were revealed in the novel, in the second section I will make the characters analysis, in the third section I will touch upon the meaning of symbolism in the literary work, in the forth section I will refer to some literary critics in order to learn their opinion concerning the novel, in conclusion I will summarize the major points of the essay.

The main themes represented by Joseph Conrad in the novel Heart of Darkness

Joseph Conrad could not only captivate readers by his thrilling storyline but also he could show the conflict between reality and "darkness". He describes how human behavior can be shaped by reality and opposes Kurts, a person of wild character and powerful nature against Marlow, brave and open hearted person. "Reality" is used in the novel to stand for something "which is civilized". It stands to reason that the idea of restraint is another theme in the novel. Joseph Conrad marks out the idea of what is real against what is "dark", what is civilized against what is savage. Reality has all the features of civilized society. The cannibals in the novel are involved into the horrible conflict between reality and darkness. Marlow cannot understand how these "big powerful men, with not much capacity to weigh the consequences" could restrain their greatest desire to eat him: "Restraint! What possible restraint? Was is superstition, disgust, patience, fear or some kind of primitive honor? No fear can stand up to hunger, no patience can wear it out." (Conrad 121)

So, on the one hand Africans stand for darkness and but on the other hand he understands that "true darkness" did not exist in Africa because it existed in Europe, and Europeans who took part in colonial exploitation were the representatives of "darkness". Marlow was a witness of terrible "evil practices" of colonizers in Congo. It was moral darkness. Joseph Conrad wanted to show how European invaders dehumanized aborigines and wanted the only thing - to get profit and wealth. The aborigines became the victims of Europeans' darkness. (Conrad 134)

The main characters in the novel Heart of Darkness and their characteristics

Kurtz is the major character in Africa. The readers wait for Kurtz's arrival with great interest. He is dictatorial and ruthless. Marlow is disappointed by him. Kurtz is described by the author as an evil genius who has no culture and ideological ideas, who considers that ambition and power are virtues of the human being. Marlow considers that they are sins. He is the right person. Kurtz lost himself having the only thought to earn more money. Marlow seeks Kurtz and realizes that everything is "corroded and corrosive". Marlow's journey ends with the death of Kurtz. Marlow tells lye to Kurtz girl when she asks about his last words. Marlow says that Kurtz told her name but in truth he spore about the meaning of the life: "The horror! The horror!". (Conrad 145)

Women in the novel are represented as objects to be owned by men. They are the proof of the man's success, position in the society and wealth. They are also representatives of ideal version of the world and as a so called nature of imperialism, for example, Marlow's aunt and Kurtz's girl.

Symbolism in the novel Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad symbolizes Africa as a dark continent not only because most people in Africa were illiterate but because they were poor and savage at the same time. Their tribes were always in a war. Marlow is a traveler whose home is his ship. He talks about "darkness" as a symbol of fear. Darkness denotes evil and violence in relation to the natives. The interesting fact is when Marlow saw two women in the office of the Company he noted they were "guarding the door" of Darkness. In this case Darkness denotes the fear of uncertainty because Marlow should live in some unknown places. Marlow calls the city as the city of dead. When he saw black natives he thought: "They were not enemies, thy were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now - nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation." (Conrad 109)

It is interesting to note that most images in the novel are put in patterns of opposition and contrast, for example, light-dark, black-white, civilized -savaged. There also some other symbols in the novel such as the Congo River which stands for the key to Africa for Europeans giving them the best opportunity to get to the center of the continent.

Literary Critics about the Novel Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

It is known that a great deal of critics expressed their understanding of the novel in their articles and books. I'd like to represent only some of them in my paper. Cinua Achebe wrote in her critical article that Conrad developed not only the theme of human power, personal responsibility and social justice, he also represented an adventure story with mystery, escape, unexpected attacks, life and death. Chinua Achebe's attitude to the author of the book concluded in the following words: "Conrad is undoubtedly one of the greatest stylists of modern fiction and good story teller into the bargain". (Achebe 252)

Chinua Achebe also thinks that Conrad and his literary work are "bloody racist". The racism is hidden in the book. Conrad showed his ignorance to the African history and people referring to the them as to black savages, niggers, brutes. (Achebe 260)

Another critic Garret Stewart in the article Lying as Dying in the Heart of Darkness says that the plot of the book is "in part a political autopsy of imperialist myths." He states that the book is "a naked exposure of the human ego, unshielded by civilization and its self contents, to a world of savagery presumed to be far beneath it is".(Stewart 319)


Heart of Darkness is a novel where the main character Marlow takes a journey not to Africa but to his inner world. He says that he did not know himself before this journey and he wants to find himself in "what no other man can know" He says: "The mind of a man is capable of anything, because everything is in it, all the past as well as all the future." (Conrad 127)

This literary work criticizes colonialism and violent relation to the black people of Africa. The author could show that the blacks are better than the whites. Joseph Conrad could show not only human meanness and greed for money but also political situation at that period.