The Heart of Darkness Themes

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In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the dark and mysterious landscape of the unexplored interior of the African jungle represents the darkness in man’s Heart, darkness that Marlow, the protagonist, and all people struggle to overcome. Heart of Darkness expresses Conrad’s views of insanity, Alienation, and Racism.

I always ask leave, in the interests of science, to measure the crania of those going out there,” he said. “And when they come back too?” I asked. “Oh, I never see them, ” he remarked; “and, moreover, the changes take place inside, you know.” He smiled, as if at some quiet joke. “So you are going out there. Famous. Interesting too.” He gave me a searching glance and made another note. “Ever any madness in your family?” he asked, in a matter-of-fact tone. I felt very annoyed. “Is that question in the interests of science too?” “It would be. he said.(Conrad 25)

Insanity is foreshadowed from the start of the book. Marlow has a visit with a doctor before going out into the land of the unknown, into the darkness. The doctor wants to examine him as if to see if he is already insane before he goes out into the lonely and savage land. People who have been released into the darkness go low on resources, such as food and water. people end up starving and hallucinating; That is when the madness begins. “There were moments when one’s past came back to one, as it will sometimes when you have not a moment to spare for yourself; but it came in the shape of an unrestful and noisy dream”(Conrad 82).

Marlow’s memories start to seem just as alien as the wilderness. Marlow feel as though the jungle around them is alive and looking at him “with a vengeful aspect,” and when someone starts to think that the world is out to get them, is a good sign of madness starting to take over. Mr. Kurtz was another man who suffered from this madness. “He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision—he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath:’The horror! The horror!’”(Conrad 184). Mr. Kurtz explaining the best he can at this point at the things he saw and experienced in his time in the darkness of the African jungle; loneliness and savagery of the land and natives in it. These words stick with Marlow, and terrify him in the time being and as well in the future when the mission is done and over with. Marlow keeps his madness to himself and bottles everything up, making it harder for him to keep sanity.

I heard him mutter, ‘Live rightly, die, die…’ I listened. There was nothing more. Was he rehearsing some speech in his sleep, or was it a fragment of a phrase from some newspaper article? He had been writing for the papers and meant to do so against, ‘for the furthering of my ideas. It’s a duty.(Conrad 180)

Marlow hears Kurtz talking to himself while he is dying slowly in his sleep. Kurtz starts to really lose his mind and getting crazier and crazier while he is lying there almost unconscious. Everything that has been stirring up in Kurtz’s mind starts to pour out endlessly until his death there in the boat. Anything and everything that Kurtz has been through has scattered his brain and he was at the point where he was mentally lost. Madness and alienation has ruined him.

Madness comes with alienation. is shown throughout the entire book because it is the main theme in the Heart of Darkness. Being isolated in the darkness of an unknown continent makes Marlow and many others feel uneasy, lonely, and lost, even though, they were warned before their exploration about how alienation; and how it affects them mentally.

The idleness of a passenger, my isolation amongst all these men with whom I had no point of contact, the oily and languid sea, the uniform sombreness of the coast, seemed to keep me away from the truth of things, within the toil of a mournful and senseless delusion. The voice of the surf heard now and then was a positive pleasure, like the speech of a brother. It was something natural, that had its reason, that had a meaning.(Conrad 30)

Marlow’s isolation from other people and the never-ending scene of the African jungle gives him a false sense of security, as in a delusion. Marlow explains that his surrounding of the wild is a peaceful and comforting experience and the deeper he goes into the African jungle it becomes more of a delusion than anything else. Loneliness and alienation start to kick in and he feels like he is going to be safe and okay, but little does Marlow know, there is a long and dark road ahead full of mind-boggling and heart-pounding experiences. Mr.Kurtz has been on the island for many years, left alone with his own thoughts. The growing madness and the severe amount of loneliness end in a true mental illness; scarred from his experiences with the wildland and savage people on it. “He had kicked the very earth to pieces. He was alone, and I before him did not know whether I stood on the ground or floated in the air”(Conrad 175). Marlow is explaining how Kurtz has gone to the point of insanity that nothing matters to him anymore. Kurtz has no set morals, no definition or a sense of good and evil. Too far gone from feeling the same and left with only his thoughts. A human left in an area with no social contact or any stability of living that has grown up in civilization can and most likely will grow lonely and the thoughts in their mind will be as if a curse is to be cast onto them; madness and horror that the mind can stir up will drive a person to insanity and cause furthering problems.

One really well-known themes in The Heart of Darkness is racism. The book is based in the 1890s and people in that time had no respect for someone of a different color. White was the dominant skin color and people thought that they could have anything and take anything they please.

Near the same tree, two more bundles of acute angles sat with their legs drawn up. One, with his chin propped on his knees, staring at nothing, in an intolerable and appalling manner, his brother phantom rested its forehead as if overcome with a great weariness; and all about others were scattered in every pose of contorted collapse, as in some pictures of a massacre of a pestilence. While I stood horror-struck, one of these creatures rose to his hands and knees and went off on all-fours towards the river to drink. He lapped out of his hand, then sat up in the sunlight, crossing his shins in front of him, and after a time let his woolly head fall on his breastbone.(Conrad 39-40)

As the white men have come from civilization, they say that they feel as if they need to take control of the natives and teach them ways of being civil. Instead of doing so, they take over completely and enslave the natives that have been caught; used for the white men dirty work and abused physically for not doing so. This quote exposes the truth to what the white men have really done to the natives. Left with no food, water, or shade in the scorching African sun; in terrible conditions, the slaves are starved to the bone and highly dehydrated. Marlow refers to the natives as “creatures” because they are so sick looking they look almost inhuman. Slaves were left for dead in the heat. Dropping left and right from the intense heat and malnutrition, the whites just brush it off as if nothing is wrong and continued their work on the village. “There had been enemies, criminals, workers—and these were rebels. Those rebellious heads looked very subdued to me on their sticks.”(Conrad 146). Marlow finally arrives to Mr. Kurtz’s station down the long river to find heads of the natives posted on sticks, representing “rebels” that have tried to get between Kurtz and his mission collect ivory. Marlow is confused and also agitated by hearing all of the names given to the body of natives.

The Russian (Kurtz’s sidekick) explains the conflict between them and the rebels, and Marlow is not too fond of the reasons behind their doings. Various names were given to the natives by their actions. The rebels were the ones who escaped the white men and are on a mission of their own to protect their land and their people. The racism does not just end with the natives but extends to the Russian. The manager (White Englishman) hates Russians. Marlow tells the Russian “The manager thinks you ought to be hanged”(162); just for the simple fact that they are different from one another, which is the whole reason any part of racism is how it is.


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The Heart of Darkness Themes. (2020, Sep 20). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/the-heart-of-darkness-themes/



What are the major themes in Heart of Darkness?
The major themes in Heart of Darkness include imperialism, racism, the darkness of the human soul, the effects of colonialism, and the ambiguity of truth and morality. The novel explores the destructive consequences of European colonialism in Africa and the psychological effects on both the colonizers and the colonized.
What does the darkness represent in Heart of Darkness?
In Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, the darkness represents the unknown and the unknowable. It is a symbol of the primal, the chaotic, and the mysterious.
What is the moral of Heart of Darkness?
The moral of Heart of Darkness is that the darkness of the human soul is inescapable, and that even the best of intentions can lead to horrific results.
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