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Theme of Darkness in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad tells the story of the narrator’s expedition to the central Africa in search of a man called Kurtz. As the title suggests, darkness is a prevailing theme in this book. The Darkness, in one sense might refer to the Dark continent, i.e. Africa, where the ray of civilization has not yet fallen. The narrator begins his journey to the Inner Station where he is supposed to meet a greedy ivory trader, Kurtz. The narrator sails through the Congo river and crosses the dark jungles. He comes through several experiences in his journey, being attacked by the Natives, who are considered as uncivilized, and witnessing the death of the helmsman. As he progresses towards the Inner Station, Marlow witnesses the darkness of the place in literal sense.

Marlow describes the scenery of the dense forests on both sides of the river, where Natives are hiding to attack the invaders. This imagery itself presents a dark image of the continent. The setting gives a vibe of horror among the readers. The savage Natives, who are the complete opposite of the civilized Europeans depict the theme of Darkness. They attack the crew and kill the helmsman in ignorance. Kurtz, by living with the Natives for years becomes one of them. He loses his morality and gives himself to wilderness. In fact the attack on the narrator’s crew was ordered by Kurtz himself, so that they can never reach him. In fact here, Darkness presents a different meaning. Here, darkness is focused on the heart of Kurtz and other Europeans. The Europeans exploit the Natives and use them for their self gains, which actually portrays the darkness that prevails inside the hearts of the so called civilized Europeans. Kurtz is the devil, who is completely overshadowed with darkness. He lost his sense of morality and became one of the savages. He has established himself as a demi-God among the Native Africans. The Europeans who entered the region under the umbrella of ‘spreading light among the Dark region’ actually aimed for exploitation of resources. This reveals to us the inner darkness that is contained in the hearts of the white folks.

Marlow’s expedition to the innermost part of Africa is also his journey to self-realization. In the beginning of his journey, he sets an adventurous mood for himself. However, as he starts realizing the bitter truth of European colonization, he becomes a changed man. Kurtz who had come to this dark region in order to trade ivory, was so attracted to its wilderness, that he finally gave himself too. He became one of the barbaric Natives. He gave up into the dark desires of his heart and became a dark man. However, Marlow who was attracted to Kurtz’s wilderness at the first refused to give in to the darkness. He didn’t give in to the dark feelings of his heart and chose to travel on the path of morality. Thus, Marlow is a contrast to Kurtz. He managed to escape from the attractive pull of the wilderness with the help of his senses. Thus, he didn’t give himself to darkness.

Thus, the theme of darkness is very much evident throughout the entire story. The darkness has several aspects and to understand it, we need to analyze the story carefully.

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