Symbolism in Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad


The novel Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad is quite symbolic. It must be noted that the fundamental intellectual mode of the symbolism is religion and imagination rather than science and observation. According to Conrad, “all the great creations of literature are symbolic.”

The Title

The title of the novel Heart of Darkness is itself quite symbolic. It means the centre of the dark continent or the centre of a diabolically evil person.

The term consists of two nouns- heart and darkness and both of them are heavily charged with physical and moral suggestions that prepare us for something beyond our usual expectations. The heart is a finite and solid thing and darkness is infinite and does not have any existence (it is the absence of light).

The novelist thus wants to discover something finite in infinite or in other words meaning in a meaningless thing. The phrase can also refer to the Heart of Africans or Africa or to the darkness that exists in the heart of white people.

Opaline Haze

When Marlow moves over Thames River he finds Opaline Haze that makes it difficult for him to see beyond. Opaline Haze in the author’s perspective, depicts something deeper. According to Claude Monet, ” poor blind Idiots. They want to see everything clearly even through the fog.

Not only Marlow but other characters also try to see beyond the fog or in other words in the dark. Kurtz sees money and comfort in Africa, unaware of the fact that he is about to die. Marlow, in the beginning, is curious about going to Africa unaware of the fact what the British are doing there.

Reaching there he finds the dark side of Civilized Europeans. Similarly, the mistress of Kurtz remains loyal to him though Kurtz is the one who destroys them. Thus everyone is trying to see something in the darkness.

Mistress of Kurtz

Mistress of Kurtz who is the only African women described in the novel remains silent throughout the plot. In the scene we first encounter with her, she accompanies Kurtz and remains silent and patient.

In the final scene, she again appears quiet silent but quite depressed. It is assumed that she dies after Kurtz goes away.

She represents Africa symbolically. Like her Africa also remains come to the interference of Europe and when the later go away they leave behind them destruction, devastation, and death.

Other Symbols

The manager at outer station represents emptiness as he works like a machine, the brick-maker represents cunningness and trickery, cannibals represent self-restraint and hunger, native women represent loyalty, Ivory represents greed and dark woods and fog represent the darkness of mind and heart.