Joseph Conrad’s famous novel Heart of Darkness deals with the horrible situation of African slaves through the lens of a colonizer. From the perspective of a colonizer, we come to realize that the white men view the Africans as nothing more than mere insects. For the colonizers, the colonized are primitive people having no language, history or culture. The African slaves are treated in a very brutal way, they are chained and used for labor work. The colonizers had no sense of humanity. For them, the slaves are insects who only speak gibberish only because they don’t have a real language.
“It was written I should be loyal to the nightmare of my choice.”
Even if you look at the title of the novella you will come to realize that it carries a double meaning. Basically, the heart of darkness means the innermost territory that is yet to be explored, the place where people follow the nomadic and primitive way of living. Basically, it refers to those parts of Africa that weren’t yet explored by the colonizers. The continent which wasn’t explored is known as the heart of darkness. If we look at another meaning of the title, we come to realize that heart of darkness can also refer to the dark hearts of the colonizers and their superiority complex.
“Your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others.”
Mr. Kurtz symbolizes the evil colonizer whose heart is full of darkness and greed. He has become so accustomed to power that it has made him totally absurd and mad. The greed for wealth and power left him as the darkest creature in Africa. Mr. Kurtz was a civilized man with a normal human heart but when he came to Africa and had complete power over the Africans, he turned into his real self, the real self he was trying to hide under the guise of civilization. In Africa, Kurtz got exposed to the effects of barbarism and how it influenced him in a negative way.
“But his soul was mad. Being alone in the wilderness, it had looked within itself and, by heavens I tell you, it had gone mad.”
The narrator Marlow is symbolic of an adventurous and free spirit with a deep love for knowledge. He is a very civilized man and had a philosophical approach to life but in Congo, his own primitive instincts are awakened, and he too feels trapped by the darkness of Africa. Basically, the novella shows the bad impact of colonization on the colonizers. It is written from the perspective of a white man; therefore, the focus of attention is only the white people while the African slaves are portrayed as insects, crawling and creeping here and there, chained, speaking gibberish or nothing at all. The slaves are given no importance and their identities are thwarted by the white colonizers, but they were not ashamed, they were focusing on how negatively Africa is affecting them, all the wealth and power is making them expose to their original primitive nature which had been hidden under the mask of civilization.
“It echoed loudly within him because he was hollow at the core.”
Heart of darkness also refers to the unknown, the unconscious, the moral darkens of a human being, the darkness which made him commit sinful things. Mr. Kurtz had that darkness and it was getting transferred to Marlow as he was spending more time in Congo. Kurtz dies of illness in the end and his last words were the horror. He had realized it in the end that he is not a good person and his heart is made of darkness because he had experienced everything. There are many underlying meanings in the text and these meanings basically hint at human nature and the impacts of colonization. The river was symbolized as a snake. Marlow’s journey to Congo is basically about a spiritual change that is going to happen to him, his journey to the heart of darkness, to know his real, true nature. Half a dozen African slaves chained to one another, wearing an iron collar around the neck shows the brutality of the white colonizers without any concern for the welfare of the Africans.
“The horror! The horror!”
Heart of Darkness is about the harsh realities of life, and how colonization had a dark impact on the colonized but as it is from the perspective of white men, therefore, the problems of white masters are highlighted while the African slaves are just part of the scenery. They are like the insects, crawling and creeping here and there without an identity of their own. They are completed sidelined and treated in a brutal way. The colonizers are shown as mentally traumatized and plunged deep into the greed and power. As a result of imperialism, there is madness in the colonizers. They are so hungry for power, that they let go of the mask of civilization that they are wearing and expose their true nature, their dark and primitive self.