The novella “Heart of Darkness” written by a Polish-born English author Joseph Conrad is considered as one of the most prominent examples of symbolism. Conrads dense prose and his style, in general, have always been a subject of literary and stylistic analysis.
It must be mentioned that the very plot of the story is an unusual one because it is a story within a story or a frame narrative as some may call it. It is a literary device in, which one story is narrated during the action of another one.
At the center of Heart of Darkness is the difficulty that people experience when they try to understand the world, which is entirely unknown to them, and the ability of people to judge their actions. It should be mentioned that the novel is in the times when Great Britain was a colonial empire, and the author shows how people can behave when there is no system of social checks and balances when a person can exercise full power over the life of another human being.
Conrad arrives at the one possible conclusion in the vast majority of cases these people are morally corrupt. It should be taken into consideration that the author was very often accused of racism many critics believed that he depicted indigenous people as half-human or savages. They must have completely forgotten that it is through the eyes of Marlow that we see the action, it does not necessarily mean that the author shared the views and ideas of the main character.
However, we should focus on the stylistic peculiarities of the novel. As it has already been mentioned before, it is full of symbols and images. The very of the novel is symbolic. The author says that the main character “penetrate[s] deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness” (Conrad, 121). It probably means spiritual “darkness” As Marlow goes does father into the wilderness; he crosses this line of civility and yields to his primitive instincts, so he is no longer a well brought up European but rather a barbarian or a savage.
The main message that the author wanted to convey is any person’s certain conditions can reach that “heart of darkness” and nobody can be insured against it.
Another very bright image of the novel is ivory. Marlow describes it in the following way:” “The word ‘ivory’ rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it. A taint of imbecile rapacity blew through it all, like a whiff from some corpse.
By Jove! I’ve never seen anything so unreal in my life” (Conrad, 65) It is just an initial impression of the main character. the word “ivory” acquires an entirely new meaning because for the workers of the company it is not just an elephant task it is the only means of survival. For these people, ivory embodies some social advancement or perhaps even freedom. So, it comes as no surprise that it becomes some object of worship. The author eloquently illustrates how our perception of some ideas or material things can change with time passing.
It can also be applied to the main character and his views on other people. We can see that he is quite to classify some people as “inhuman” (a very odd pairing) just because they are different from him.
Perhaps it would be better if we illustrate it by the quotation:” “It was unearthly, and the men were—No, they were not inhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst of it—the suspicion of their not being inhuman. It would come slowly to one. They howled and leaped, and spun, and made horrid faces; but what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity—like yours” (Conrad, 100). Only when the moral fabric of a person can he utter a thing like that.
We may develop this aspect even further because there is another instance of cynicism on the part of Marlow:” Long afterward the news came that all the donkeys were dead. I know nothing as to the fate of the less valuable animals. They, no doubt, like the rest of us, found what they deserved. I did not inquire.”(Conrad, 88) The less valuable animal is how Marlow can define another human being.
However, Marlow is the protagonist of the novel, even though has many prejudices of Western Europeans he manages to get rid of them he understands that such a social phenomenon as imperialism will lead to no good results but just violence.
So the author tries to show the reader the whole danger of stereotyping. Perhaps this conclusion is a little bit farfetched but it seems that the author foresaw what is called Nazism. Because at the time he was writing “Heart of Darkness” many Western Europeans began to believe that they are to a certain degree superior to people who live in less developed countries.
When Conrad describes the jungle he often uses the word “impenetrable” for instance in this passage:” Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest.” (Conrad, 95) Naturally the word “impenetrable” does not only mean jungle, but may be it can also go for the jungle that exists in our inner consciousness, which is also practically impenetrable for us just because we are too scared to look in it
It is also very typical of Conrad to use the word gloom in the meaning of darkness like for instance; “The long shadows of the forest had slipped downhill while we talked, had gone far beyond the ruined hovel, beyond the symbolic row of stakes. All this was in the gloom” or “gloomy forest” Overall, the very concept of darkness itself is of utmost importance in this novel.
The symbol of fog is also very noticeable in the story, it appears to be some sort of corollary to darkness it also reflects those uncertainties in Marlows behavior and probably his doubts if he has any.
In this essay, an attempt has been made to analyze the novel “Heart of Darkness” in terms of its symbols and the ways to interpret these symbols. On the whole, we may conclude that Conrad novel is full of hidden messages and the interpretation of these messages depends on the persons perception of the world.
Joseph Conrad. Heart of Darkness: A Casebook. London University Press, 2004.