Symbolism in ‘Heart of Darkness’ Essay

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad features as one of novella about a voyage that travels to Congo Free State through the Congo River. The author describes the ship’s destination as the heart of Africa.

According to the story, the main protagonist, Charles Marlow narrates a story to a group of friends that board the boat. In their narration, Maslow seems obsessed with finding Kurtz, who is an ivory trader that travelled to Africa. His determination to find Kurtz throughout the highly dangerous journey is visible when he finds Kurtz (who is critically ill and finally dies on the boat) and carries him back home using his steam ship. However, it is this journey that gives the author a chance to create a contrast between “the greatest town on earth” and Africa (the heart of darkness).

Analytically, Conrad’s use of symbolism makes him sound like a racist in this literary work since he portrays Africa as the “the heart of darkness” as he compares it to London which is the “the greatest town on earth.”

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The title of the novella “heart of darkness” symbolizes Africa in this story. While it is notable that the author produced this literary work towards the end of the nineteenth century when Africa was still uncivilized, his choice of words in the book makes him appear racist. Notably, by 1899 when Conrad produced the book, Africa seemed like a jungle due the lack of civilization. It was a time before the arrival of European explorers that scrambled and partitioned Africa as they brought civilization to this content.

However, the use of the term “heart of darkness” appears offensive to African readers based on the color of their skin. The use of this symbolism not only refers to their natural skin color but also their level of backwardness as narrated by Maslow (chief protagonist) in the novella.

The title of the book also depicts racism antics of the author based on the comments made in the story by the characters. Notably, the choice of words by the narrator justifies and gives meaning to the racist nature of the book’s title. The author describes “the gloomy circle of some Inferno”(Conrad 24–25). Notably, he says that this was a place surrounded by diseased Africans who were workers at the railroad. They appeared thin as their sickened bodies seemed to wait for death. Analytically, the choice of these words is symbolic of the ‘darkness’ that Conrad talks about in the title of this work of literature. They are not empathetic words since they seem to dehumanize the Africans according to the reader’s analysis.

Therefore, the author sounds racist in the choice of words used in this novella.

The symbolism of racism also features in the novella when through Kurtz’s book that he entrusts to Maslow. The pamphlet on “civilizing the savages” with the words “Exterminate all the brutes” provides symbolism of racism. It is clear to the reader at this point of the story that Conrad hated the African and thought of eliminating them. He symbolically refers to them as ‘savages.’ These words symbolize the racist nature of author.

In conclusion, the author’s utilization of symbolism in the novella portrays him as racist because he depicts Africa and the Africans as the “the heart of darkness” while he refers to London as the “the greatest town on earth.” The title of book “heart of darkness” depicts the racist nature of the author as he uses symbolism to refer to Africa as a haven of darkness. Additionally, his choice of words in the story are symbolically demeaning to the Africans since he chooses words as ‘savages’ and ‘exterminate brutes’ to refer to them. These evidences prove that Conrad uses symbolism to express his racist nature against Africans.

Work Cited
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Harper Collins, 1899.

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