Question: Justify the title of the novel The Heart of Darkness. Or, How does Conrad explore the different shades of meanings of Darkness in the novel “The Heart of Darkness”?
“Heart of Darkness” is a novella by Polish-British novelist Joseph Conrad (1857-1924). The title of the novel has two means. It implies not only the dark continent of Congo, Africa but also symbolically presents the dark forces of evil, the atmosphere of death, destruction, and decay. The dark power that is all around rules over everybody directly or indirectly.
Exploration of demonic temptation
The title of the novel explores the demonic temptation of the human heart. Mr. Kurtz comes to the dark continent of Africa with the purpose of improving or ameliorating the condition of the life of the backward people but he himself becomes the victim of demonic temptation there. He begins to gratify all his various lusts and monstrous passions. He totally gives up the moral values of life. That is why Marlowe tells that Kurtz’s darkness is impenetrable darkness.
“His was an impenetrable darkness. I looked at him as you peer down at a man who is lying at the bottom of a precipice where the sun never shines”.
The above quotation shows that Mr. Kurtz has been grasped by the darkness of his heart because of his demonic temptation. Thus, the civilized man who arrives at the dark-Africa is overpowered by primitivism.
Unspeakable dark rites of the backward people
The unspeakable rites of the backward are the most horrible experience of Marlow in Congo. They sacrifice men to keep their man-god Mr. Kurtz healthy and strong and put those skulls on posts outside Mr. Kurtz’s home. They do not want to let anybody take Mr. Kurtz away from them. Thus, they rush out with all kinds of weapons to attack Marlow’s ship who is taking Mr. Kurtz to Europe for medical treatment. Here we can feel that Kurtz is very and lustful for ivory, but his managing power is superb for this reason the black people dedicate their lives to keep him with them. So, Kurtz as an agent of imperialism is lighthearted to the natives but he is totally corrupted from a moral perspective. The heart that is devoid of morality is nothing but a paradigm of darkness.
Ambivalent nature of imperialism
Marlow experiences an atmosphere of inefficiency, conspiracy, intrigues, murder, attack, sufferings, and miseries everywhere in the dark Congo region. His experiences after visiting the three stations become clear that colonialism is a robbery through violence. The imperialists only pay heed to their own interests. They never care about the sufferings of the natives. At the outer station, Marlowe observes that the weak natives are forced to do what the imperialists want. The central and inner stations also provide him such impression that is why he frustratingly declares:
“They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be get. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind-as is very proper for those who tackle darkness”.
Here, we can understand again that the imperialists are blind because of this they cannot see the sufferings of the natives.
Dark nature of Congo or Africa
Whole nature seems to Marlow a symbol of evil. It is lurking everywhere. Several suggestive phrases are given to the jungle as a dwelling of evil. The phrases used by the protagonist of the novel are “dark jungle, dark bushes, immense heat, lurking death, profound darkness” and so on which focus on the horrible evil power of imperialism.
To sum up, the title of the novel is highly suggestive and appropriate. It is symbolic because the story is not only concerned with Marlow’s journey to the darkness of the Congo region but also to the darkness of the heart and power of darkness.