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Studying The Heart Of Darkness Symbols English Literature Essay

1480 words (6 pages) Essay in English Literature

5/12/16 English Literature Reference this

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Kurtz’s painting. It is a woman, blindfolded and carrying a lighted torch. Although women did not take part in the imperialistic actions, she represents the civilized blind white men coming to Africa to enlighten the natives. She is blind because the Europeans were not able to see the damage they were doing to native Africans with their enterprises, and they were also blinded by the greed.

The whited sepulcher. It refers to the hypocrisy of the Companies and the European civilized society, so beautiful in their intention of civilizing the savages from Africa but black and corrupted in their real actions and purposes. It alludes to a biblical passage in the book of Matthew when Jesus talk to the Pharisees and call them hypocrites (Matthew 23: 27-28 ¨27 Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.¨).

Two knitting women. They are knitting the destiny of a human life according to the Ancient Greeks. The thread made of black wool represents Marlow’s awful and shocking trip to the jungle.

Heads on the sticks. It symbolizes Kurtz’s cruelty and barbarity.


*Red. Found on the maps used by the Companies. It symbolizes the blood of the natives and the animals killed by the white men in their activity of civilizing black men and getting ivory.

*Yellow. Also found in the maps of the Companies. It symbolizes illness and corruption. Those were the areas devastated by ivory trade.

*Blue. On the water of the river, the sea and the sky. It represents tranquility and silence.

*Brown. Dark, almost like black.

*Black. The same as in darkness.

*Green. It represents nature, life, and new things.

13-Candle on the steamship. Just at the moment before Kurtz dies on the ship, Marlow brings a candle to Kurtz’s quarters. This candle represents the battle fought by Kurtz to survive. Finally Kurtz dies and Marlow blows out the candle.

14-West and East. According to the Egyptians and the Greeks the west symbolizes the kingdom of the devil because of the death of the sun, the coming of darkness. And the East, on the contrary, represents the kingdom of God because the sun is born in the East and with it comes the light.

15-Pilot. It is a figure of the Greek Mythology. The pilot guided dead souls into the water to another dimension between earth and heaven. So we consider that it represents the journey towards death.

Sources :

*Cirlot, J, A dictionary of symbols, 2nd edition, Barnes & Noble Books, New York, 1995.




Allusions to the Roman Empire:

Rome became one of the most important Empires of the world through domination and expansion. It dominated most of Europe and the Mediterranean region. Being Heart of Darkness a story about Imperialism, allusions to the first greatest Empire are significant. Marlow recalls the Roman conquest of Britain as they were the precursors to European expansion in Africa. These references to the Roman Empire are:

¶Gauls. This is a historical allusion to a name used in the context of Ancient Rome in reference to the region of Western Europe approximating present day France and Belgium. The Gauls were Celtic people living in Gaul. This territory was conquered by Julius Caesar. The cultures of the Gauls and the Romans merged to create what is known as the Gallo-Roman society. The Romans brought roads, bridges and baths to Gaul, whilst the Gauls shared their craftsmanship.

¶ Trireme: it is an Ancient Roman ship with three tiers of oars in each side. The trireme was built for speed and mobility. This was a sign of the power of The Roman Empire.

¶ Falernian Wine: it was a sweet white wine drunk by Emperors and produced in Ancient Rome.

¶ Ravenna: this is a geographical allusion to the site of an important Roman naval base in Northern Italy.

¶ Toga: this is a cultural allusion to the one-piece garment which has become closely associated with Ancient Rome, where it was the official state garment and a symbol of Roman culture..

¶ Ave! Old knitter of black wool. Morituri te salutant. Literally, “Hail! Those who are about to die salute you”; a salute of the gladiators in ancient Rome to whomever was hosting their tournaments. Marlow uses this phrase comparing the knitters to the Roman Emperors who are the ones in charge of the gladiator’s destiny.,pageNum-128.html

Allusions to the British Navy:

Britain had always been proud of her navy. References to this fact are found in the way the unnamed narrator talks about those men and ships which followed the tidal currents and made the nation proud.

· Sir Francis Drake and the Golden Hind: Sir Francis Drake was an English navigator (1540?-1596). The first Englishman to sail around the world, which he did in his ship the Golden Hind (1577-80). Participated in the defeat of the Spanish Armada (1588).

· Sir John Frankly and the Erebus and the Terror: Sir John Frankly was a British explorer (1786-1847). With his ships the Erebus and the Terror, he set out for the Arctic in 1845 to search for the Northwest Passage-an expedition that ended, tragically, in the deaths of all members.

Biblical Allusions:

o The white sepulchre: this is an allusion that comes from the biblical Book of Matthew. A sepulchre implies death and confinement. In the Bible, this phrase is used to describe a hypocrite. The allusion in Matthew is “beautiful to look at on the outside, but inside full of filth and dead men’s bones”,pageNum-128.html#ixzz0iN4me0n1

Allusions to darkness/evil figures

ƒ¼ “With a forked little beard and a hooked nose ” “A black figure…it had horns”: this could be taken as an allusion to the devil

ƒ¼ Inferno: a literary allusion to hell as described in Dante’s Divine Comedy.

ƒ¼ Mephistopheles: it is a literary allusion from the epic poem Faust, by Goethe. Mephistopheles was a skeptic, a gambler, self- confident, witty, stubborn, smart, creative, tempting and of course, evil character. Much like today’s crude interpretations of the devil. There were very ironic things about him. Though he was evil, he was a force of goodness. The evil in him was portrayed in the negative aspects of Faust’s personality, which showed that no matter how powerful the Lord was, the devil would always have an impact on a person’s life and decisions. In the story it is used to refer to the manager’s spy, portraying in him the influence that such a devil figure (the manager) could have on someone.

Other Allusions

The greatest town on earth: an allusion to London city as the image of progress and wealth of the 19th century.

The sepulchral city: used to refer to Brussels that was where the Company headquarters were placed.

El Dorado Expedition: this is an allusion to El Dorado. El Dorado is a legend that began with the story of a South American tribal chief who covered himself with gold dust and would dive into a lake of pure mountain water. Imagined as a place, El Dorado became a kingdom, an Empire, the city of this legendary golden king. Francisco Orellana y Gonzalo Pizarro departed in a famous and disastrous expedition towards this lost city.

Martini Henry cartridges: it refers to a rifle that was adopted by the British army in 1871 and continued in service colonial duties until after 1900.

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