The Meaning of Heart of Darkness
Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness has a symbolic meaning behind its title like many other great works of literature. The title can actually be interpreted in many different ways. One way the title can be looked at is that it portrays how Conrad viewed the continent of Africa. It might also represent entering into a more primitive society, witnessing humans transforming from civilized to savage. Perhaps the Heart of Darkness refers to the colonialism and imperialism that the Europeans were practicing at the turn of the 20th century.
In the setting that Joseph Conrad gives the characters in the Heart of Darkness, Africa was still greatly unexplored by Europeans. It was thought by many Europeans to be a dark place of savages and strange beasts. As the author Gary Adelman writes in his book Heart of Darkness Search for the Unconscious, "As the journey proceeds from the Coastal Station to Kurtz’s outpost, darkness increasingly becomes associated with savagery, cannibalism, and human sacrifice, with Africans as the embodiment of these ideas" (p.87). Conrad depicts his ideas about Africa in this way as well as through the character of Marlow. As author Gary Adelman comments on this in his book Heart of Darkness Search for the Unconscious "Africans, in their free state, as described by Marlow, epitomizes not only the primitive condition of humankind, but also an actively demoralizing influence, which a white man coming to Africa must challenge." (p. 69) In many description located in the novel Conrad depicts Africa and it’s people as being dark and of inhuman nature. "It was unearthly, and the men were -No, they were not inhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst of it -this suspicion of their not being inhuman" is how Conrad describes Africa and the people it contains. Marlow sees the people in the same way and sees himself in the same way, which is truly disturbing. Critics and the descriptions from the book seem to point to the fact that Europeans and perhaps Conrad viewed the European unexplored Africa as the heart of darkness.
We are all animals, we act civilized because it is our society and culture that looks down upon turning to innate savage forces. Conrad shows that being removed from our normal societal beliefs and placed in an alien society can have great psychological effects on humans. He shows how Kurtz entered the jungle in a reasonable state of mind and how he turns to the primitive ways of the natives and looses touch with western civilization. This is yet another interpretation as to what the meaning of the Heart of Darkness is; that is to say that journeying into an alien society can be like journeying back into the dark side of man, the basic animalistic side. Many critics tend to agree with this idea about the meaning of the title. In the Heart of Darkness, Marlow describes how one can be turned to the most primitive side of man,
…-With solid pavement under your feet,...