Heart of Darkness Questions and Answers
by Joseph Conrad

Heart of Darkness book cover
Start Your Free Trial

What is the meaning of the title Heart of Darkness and how does it relate to the story?

Expert Answers info

Octavia Cordell eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseTeacher (K-12)


calendarEducator since 2016

write1,063 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

The title can be understood in a number of ways, depending on how you understand the word “darkness.” Here is a short list:

  1. Kurtz’s mysterious encampment is the ”heart” of darkness, the most mysterious place.
  2. The “darkness” is akin to wildness, or nature untamed by man; Marlowe’s journey into the jungle is a journey into the “heart” of this wildness.
  3. “Darkness” can also be understood as moral corruption or greed; Marlowe’s journey up the river reveals the Company’s decay as a result of a force for “civilization."
  4. “Darkness” can be thought of as a kind of madness...

    (The entire section contains 6 answers and 1,049 words.)

    Unlock This Answer Now


check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2015

write10,114 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Law and Politics



Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

belarafon eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2011

write2,867 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Science, and History


Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2008

write2,422 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and Law and Politics

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

erin-milburn eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2007

write11 answers

starTop subject is Literature

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2006

write2,050 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and History

check Approved by eNotes Editorial


chrisyhsun | Student

The title "Heart of Darkness" can be interpreted in two different ways:

  1. In reference to the physical place of the Congo in Africa. Congo is described as the heart of the African continent and a place shrouded in mystery with its savage people and plentiful ivory. Thus, the "heart" refers to the center of the continent where the Congo is located and the "darkness" speaks to the people and uncivil habits of the people.
  2. in reference to the abstract concept of sin in the human heart. Marlow's story describes many of his expedition peers as morally corrupt. They have no qualms about lying or manipulating so long as they receive the power and wealth they so crave. Thus, the "heart" refers to the human heart and the "darkness" refers to evil or sin.
check Approved by eNotes Editorial
arachnoblaster | Student

Heart of Darkness was set in the Belgian Congo. There are a number of ways one can decode the title. Simplistically, Congo is at the heart of Africa - known as the dark continent by authors & the like around 100 years ago. Obviously, the dark continent is linked to the language of colonial exploitation & it is considered bad form to refer to Africa as 'dark' nowadays. The dark heart of Kurtz whose methods & practices have become 'unsound' (Coppola), due to his prolonged exposure to Africa (Europeans widely thought that 'madness' could result if white men who operated in the colonies spent a long time outside the familiar constraints of their own societies, giving rise to concerns that mad Europeans could threaten their image of superiority - read Sadowsky, McCulloch, Vaughan etc.), again, fairly simplistic, but easy to back up. A more radical approach would be to explore the dark hearts of those who tried to legitimise colonialism by claiming that Africans were inferior to Europeans in terms of intellect - the travel writers, anthropologists & ethno-psychiatrists such as Virey, Cuvier, De Blainville & later Carothers. These guys facilitated, rationalised & justified colonialism in the name of pseudo-science concurrently with missionaries in the name of religion. Conrad has been accused of facilitating notions of the inferiority & savagery of Africans (Achebe), although Hearts of Darkness is generally viewed as an indictment of colonialism. Read Sartre's preface in Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth, however, be warned, this is controversial stuff & may not be suitable for 12th grade. Probably the safest thing to do is read some scholarly reviews on H of D & remember that darkness can also be seen as not illuminated as in the dark ages where knowledge of what happened through that period was scant.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial
kc4u | Student

Titles of novels mostly relate to their main themes or motifs. In Conrad's novel, Heart of Darkness, the theme is the discovery of darkness, not only physical, more pronouncedly moral and spiritual. The word 'heart' signifies the innermost core, and the word 'darkness' refers to the moral-spiritual vacuum that the ivory trader Kutz got himself trapped in.

Conrad weaves a complex narrative in which Marlow tells the story of his visit to the deep dark heart of Congo to see and rescue Kutz from the 'Inner Station'. When after a long and arduous journey from the 'Central Station',  Marlow reaches the darkest part of Congo, Kutz is found among the black Africans who attack Marlow's vessel, for they wouldn't allow their god-like Kutz to be taken away. Infirm, indisposed and crawling through the forests, Kutz is rescued. But he succumbs on the way back, uttering the words-'horror! horror!' Perhaps, Kutz could see into the deep darkness of his own mind.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial