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Home » , » Discuss the significance of the title Heart of Darkness or, How does Conrad explore the different shades of meaning of 'Darkness ' in Heart of Darkness?

Significance of the title "Heart of Darkness"

Heart of Darkness, the title of Conrad's novel,bears two meaning .One is literal and the other symbolical.Literally the title refers to the dark continent of Africa ,especially the territory known as the Congo.Symbolicallly,it means the dark region or the sub-conscious state of human mind which is even more difficult to explore than the exploration of dark country like the Congo.

Darkness is suggested by many descriptions of the wild scenery of the thick ,almost impenetrable jungle from where the natives peer at the intruders from behind the trees in a stealthy, and suspicious manner,and even attack them on all a sudden . Marlow refers to the great stillness that prevails in the impenetrable forests where the air is warm, thick, heavy and sluggish. The barbarism of the natives and the evil designs of Mr.Kurtz give us an impression of darkness. On one occasion,  the natives of Congo see Marlow's steamer sailing up the river and drew near the riverbank to launch an attack upon the intruders. In the encounter the helmsman of the steamer is killed with a spear hurled at him by a native.  This attack of the natives is made out of ignorance and on direction  from Mr . Kurtz who has become a part of the darkness of the Congo.
heart of darkness Marlow's exploration

Marlow's Exploration

The phrase "Heart of Darkness"bears another meaning . Marlow's exploration of the dark country is accompanied by an exploration of the depths of his own mind or soul. The human mind may also be regarded as a kind of dark continent . The exploration of this dark continent is perhaps even more difficult than the exploration of a dark country like the Congo. The novel certainly describes a physical journey but at the same time, it is a psychological and mystical journey.  In many passages of Marlow's narration,  he gives us glimpses of his own mind.  In this connection we may refer to his feelings of isolation in the steamer , his reaction to the suffering of the black men chained with one another and each wearing an iron collar around his neck , the ill-treatment of the cannibal crew by the white owner of the ship,  his reflections on manager of the central station , Brickmaker,  and finally  Mr. Kurtz . When marlow meets Mr. Kurtz he begins to admire him despite his demonic character . He remains loyal to him even when he returns to Europe and tells a lie to Kurtz's fiancee that his last word was her own name . This loyalty to Mr. Kurtz expresses his own response to primitivism and barbarism. This means , if Marlow had stayed for sometime longer in the Congo region , he too, would have followed the same path of evil as Mr. Kurtz had done.

Thus Heart of Darkness is an exploration not only of a dark continent but also in the sub-conscious state of the mind , which is also a dark region.  Therefore the title of the novel is appropriate as it refers to the both kinds of exploration .


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