Heart of Darkness
Born in 1857 in Poland
Both parents were dead
by his 12th birthday
Spent youth as a
1898 and 1899 wrote
Heart of Darkness
This was after his
journey into the Congo
Is man a free agent or is he subject to forces beyond his control?
According to Heart of Darkness, man cannot
control his own destiny.
Fate and the surrounding environment dominate
and change a person.
This is exemplified by the “darkening” of Marlow’s
thoughts as he spends more time away from
He considers killing Kurtz at one point and ends
up despising “civilized” people by the end of the
He is forever changed by his experiences.
Every soul has its dark truth and its light truth.
Life Inevitably Marlow is “placed” and
finds out who you “tested” by his journey
in the Congo.
truly are by
He finds himself during
placing one in a the expedition and
situation which learns that he is not a
most severely truly “good” person.
tests values. The environment
causes Marlow to
compromise his values.
When society’s restraints are removed, and one is forced to
rely upon one’s own emotional and spiritual resources, a
person often proven to be “hollow at the core.”
The greatest sin that a man can commit is inhumanity to
The Africans were treated as a subservient race of
people by the British.
They were actually referred to as a subspecies of
the white man.
They were brutalized and forced into slavery for
Is there anything in which to believe?
According to the story in Heart of Darkness, the
only thing that can be believed is that people are
capable of any atrocity.
Their religious beliefs and basic “goodness” are
just a by-product of society’s rules and laws that
have conditioned them.
When they are removed, as in Marlow’s case, so
are any beliefs that one might have.
Put a man into isolation and his true nature will be revealed.
Grass covers up men’s mistakes and
accomplishments and enhances the idea
that no matter how great or good or evil a
man’s deeds are they are transitory.
Symbolizes the sick
and putrid reason
that the white man
has lost all
The painting of the blindfolded woman holding the
torch out into the darkness could represent one of
• Kurtz’s intended and the truth about the darkness
• Or Europeans stumbling into Africa
• Or, in our interpretation, it could represent man’s
blindness to himself
The jungle represents two things
Truth and Reality
The psyche and the twisted, torturous, and
tangled route a man must take for self-
Pairings of twins
Through juxtaposition and a process of
misdirection, Conrad attempts to convey
In the map when Marlow was being
“interviewed” by the company, the part he
was going to was blank and white.
He thought this meant it was full of
something and secret.
However, it was only filled with Darkness.
White means the opposite, and Darkness
may be the real, the pure part.
DARKNESS It is present in the
is present throughout the
beginning of the
novel as a symbol of book in describing
desolation and isolation. the estuary the boat
Marlow tells his
story in darkness.
The lady in the
painting holds a light
in the darkness.
The use of words in
written or oral discourse
Conrad uses Marlow as
a means of both.
Conrad writes as Marlow
and makes the reader
feel as if the story is
being told instead of
Point of View
Conrad is a master of using Marlow’s point of view
as storyteller to lead the reader down the dark
journey into his soul.
Conrad uses the point of view to confuse the
reader and to make one pay attention to the story.
By using Marlow’s point of view, Conrad also
shows the psychological changes that take place
during the expedition.
In Heart of Darkness,
Pathos- the treatment of the
blacks by the British is
The quality in literature discussed.
which stimulates pity,
They are used for slave
tenderness, or sorrow
labor and are fed little,
in the reader or viewer ;
and when they cannot
implies helpless and
work anymore they
crawl off and die.
A simple element which reoccurs
In Heart of Darkness, there are several motifs.
• The baseness (wicked, immoral, sordid, corrupt) of the
• How the English are the true “savages”
• Constant travel
• Darkness and Light
The doctrine that primitive man, because he has
remained closer to Nature and has been less
subject to the corrupt influences of society, is
nobler and more nearly perfect than civilized man
Conrad often referred to the Jungle on
either side of the river as a beast that
breathed and waited.
Conrad uses Marlow as a master of indirection.
Much is left out of the story on purpose so that the reader must
decide for himself what has occurred.
The timeline is also distorted by this misdirection.
Future and past become intertwined, and the trip seems to take years
instead of months.
Perhaps the best example of this is when Marlow is examined by the
Doctor, who alludes to the “changes in individuals” who have been
out in the Congo.
After Marlow visited his aunt he also had “a startled pause” at going
on to Africa.
He was very wary of this because, being a seaman, he left his
temporary “land” home all the time.