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Discuss the meaning of the title of Heart of Darkness and how the title relates to...

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lkruther | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted April 2, 2009 at 9:06 AM via web

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Discuss the meaning of the title of Heart of Darkness and how the title relates to the work as a whole.

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somergalal | Student , Grade 11 | eNoter

Posted March 3, 2010 at 3:38 PM (Answer #1)

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The horror that Kurtz is refering to is his realization of the primitive savage that lies within all of humanity. Kurtz is an example of the very core of darkness. He is stripped of all his outter civilized layers. Thus, the horror represents the stark realization that humans are all raw and evil when put in situations that requires their survival.

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speamerfam | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted April 2, 2009 at 12:35 PM (Answer #2)

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There are a number of ways to consider the meaning of the title on its own or as it relates to the story.  You may or may not be aware that Africa was frequently referred to as the "Dark Continent," and Conrad was almost certainly aware of that. The darkness of the continent could refer to its unknown quality or the darkness of the people who resided there. (Remember that the book takes place during a period of colonialism and great racism, and "darkness" in this context might very well have racist overtones today.) 

Another interpretation of the title that you might want to consider is the darkness of men's souls, which could refer to their lack of morality, the darkness of insanity, or the cruelty of colonialism. Remember also that this is a trip upriver, and the source of a river might be considered its "heart," hence the destination might be the source or heart of the darkness of Africa or the men who colonized it. 

Darkness might refer to the darkness of the insanity that the narrator finds at his destination, the darkness of the treatment that he observes on his way upriver, or the despair of the Africans who are so horribly mistreated. When you consider the plot of the entire book, there is little that could not be reasonably called dark. 

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belarafon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted June 7, 2012 at 7:11 PM (Answer #3)

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The theme of darkness is present throughout the novel, appearing in Marlow's first words: "And this also has been one of the dark places of the earth." He refers to the terrible things he has witnessed in his life, and to the darkness that he believes hides in the inner heart of every man, waiting for release. The first in-text example comes when Marlow overhears a conversation between the Manager and his uncle:

I saw him extend his short flipper of an arm for a gesture that took in the forest, the creek, the mud, the river—seemed to beckon with a dishonoring flourish before the sunlit face of the land a treacherous appeal to the lurking death, to the hidden evil, to the profound darkness of its heart.
(Conrad, Heart of Darkness, eNotes eText)

The uncle doesn't seem to care about the atrocities that men perform when released from the bonds of civilization as long as his nephew is doing well. Throughout the novel, the imagery of a "heart of darkness" recurs, showing how Marlow comes to believe that every man has the potential for evil inside their hearts, and how it is bound only by civilization and convention. Kurtz is Marlow's prime example, being a person who lost his morality early and now has had his heart and soul all-but consumed by the overpowering darkness of the jungle.


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