Heart of Darkness Questions and Answers
by Joseph Conrad

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Darkness In Heart Of Darkness

How is "darkness" used as a symbol in Heart of Darkness?

"Darkness" is used as a symbol in Heart of Darkness to represent the bleakness of reality and human nature. Conrad employs the symbol of darkness both literally and figuratively, through the dark sky and through the moral and ethical corruption in the Congo.

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Thanh Munoz eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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To answer this, we need to come to an understanding of the Western attitude of Conrad's period regarding the colonial empires that had been established.

One often hears Africa described in the European mindset as the "dark continent." Despite the slave trade and exploitation of Africa that had been going on for several hundred years, Europeans still, by the end of the nineteenth century, knew little, if anything, about the interior of Africa. In Heart of Darkness, the disappearance of Kurtz deep within the unnamed country of Marlow 's visit is emblematic of this mystery the Western mind had nurtured concerning not just Africa but any of the lands peopled by non-whites. But "darkness" also refers to the darkness that exists within Kurtz's own mind and soul. What is it, Marlow keeps wondering, that this man (about whom there is a mystical and dangerous aura) is actually doing in the interior? What has motivated him, and what has created the lurid notoriety with which Kurtz has been invested?...

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chrisyhsun | Student

Darkness is used as an indication of evil in this work, yet the target of this judgment remains unclear. On the one hand, the word darkness clearly reflects the Congo environment, with both its darker people and its darker surroundings The environment can be described as evil in the sense that the people are depicted as mysterious savages in need of the civilization of the European colonizers. However, this is only in reference to darkness as an outward quality. Another point of consideration is the use of darkness to describe something innate, something of the soul. In this sense, the word darkness and the meaning of evilness that it carries can be applied to the Europeans, who watch as villages are torn apart by the quest for ivory. They lie, they trick, they manipulate - all for the greed of wealth and hunger for power. All this goes to show the word darkness and the trait of evil in a separate light.

sherylmr | Student

According to most scholars, the use of darkness in Heart of Darkness represents the inherent evil (or dark side) in humanity.  It is also linked to colonization, especially when involving the exploitation of people and natural resources.

Throughout the novel, Conrad shows the reader that appearances can be deceptive.  Our first view of this is the map of uncharted Africa.  Marlow is able to see that the continent, when drawn, is for the most part unknown.  As the result, it appears white on the map.  Through exploration, colonization, and exploitation, the rest of the continent will be charted and filled in, which will cause Africa to appear dark.  This is in direct contrast to the perception that exploration brings "light" to a region.  Here, Conrad is trying to illustrate the negative ramifications of colonization.

Conrad also uses light and dark to tell us more about the inner state of specific characters.  Kurtz, a Caucasian man, has white skin, but also has the darkest and most depraved soul in the novel.  In addition to this, the reader discovers through Marlow that the African natives are truly noble individuals.

Finally, Conrad closes with the idea that darkness is not strickly limited to a continent.  Darkness of humanity can appear anywhere.  Just like Kurtz, darkness can infect the soul of any person.  In the closing of the novel, Marlow describes how some parts of England, even with its civility and enlightenment, are just as "dark" as other places on the globe.