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The use of irony and satire in Heart of Darkness

Irony is a figure of speech in which the writer or the speaker says one thing when he means something different or opposite of his meaning. Irony adds much pungency to an observation and is very much effective in exposing the vices and follies of men and women. Heart of Darkness is replete with elements of irony and satire. In it Conrad has satirised  the evil of imperialism through effective use of ironies all through the novel.
irony and satire in Heart of Darkness

Elements of irony may be traced in Marlow's descriptions of places, things and person's behaviour. For example, Marlow's medical examination at the Company's headquarters in Brussels is ironical. The description of the warship firing its guns without any purpose is ironical, since no enemy is visible in the forest and the warship is merely wasting its ammunition. There is also irony in the fact that, although the whitemen have brought a lot of machinery in the dark country of the Congo, the machinery is lying unused.

There is lot of irony in Marlow's description of the white agents, loitering about at the Central Station in the Congo, and in Marlow's describing these men as 'faithless pilgrims'. The irony here becomes most pungent when Marlow says, "I verily believe they took these sticks to bed with them". The portrayal of the manager's uncle and the brich-maker who tries to elicit information from Marlow is  ironical, because he wrongly believes that Marlow has influence over the higher officials of the Company.

The greatest irony in Heart of Darkness is the transformation of Mr. Kurtz from a civilized whitemen into a savage. In his early life Mr. Kurtz was a man of sound sense and enlightened outlook upon life. He was admired throughout the whole of Europe. But we are puzzled to see the change in his character and outlook after his prolonged stay in the interior of the Congo. Instead of civilizing the savages, he fell an easy prey to the life and customs of the savages. The wilderness seemed to have consumed his flesh and spirit and transformed his whole being completely into a devil. Thus, the opposite of what was expected from Mr. Kurtz has happened.

The irony becomes all the greater when Marlow tells Kurtz's fiancee in England that the last word uttered by her lover before his death was her own name. The actual fact is that the last words spoken by Kurtz were "The horror! The horror!." The irony here arises from the contrast between what Mr. Kurtz had actually become and what his fiancée still continues to think about him.

Thus irony has been used in Heart of Darkness as an effective weapon to satirise and unfold the evil designs and hypocrisy of the white imperialistic rule in a backward country like the Congo.


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