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Imagery in Heart of Darkness

Imagery Examples in Heart of Darkness:

Chapter 1

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"bit of white thread..."   (Chapter 1)

Conrad uses color imagery and symbolism to create a stark contrast between the Europeans and the Africans. In this instance, white is symbolic of European colonialism. The image of the white thread tied around the black man’s neck is reminiscent of a noose. Conrad combines these images to suggest that colonialism is a violent and deadly practice.

"impossible to divine..."   (Chapter 1)

Like the man-of-war firing into the jungle, the purpose of this hole is unknown. It represents only the appearance of progress, not any true advances. It is merely a facade that obscures the regression of European morality in their colonial efforts. There are several images of follies like this throughout the novella.

"waggled to and fro like tails..."   (Chapter 1)

Conrad uses imagery and similes in this passage to reduce the Congolese people to animals. By creating this colonial narrative where one group of people were considered subhuman and needed to be “civilized,” Europeans could justify invasion, extraction of natural resources, and unjust treatment of the colonized. Take note of the other animal-related imagery in this passage.

"somnambulist..."   (Chapter 1)

Note how this woman is described as being highly disinterested in the matters around her. She is so preoccupied with knitting that Marlow compares her to a somnambulist, a sleepwalker. Conrad links femininity with ignorance, and continues to do so later in the novella.

"bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to..."   (Chapter 1)

Conrad’s use of religious imagery in describing his views on colonialism may suggest that he thinks about religion in a similar way—ostensibly good before it is put into practice. Take note of how religion and the religious are described. He paints a disparaging portrait of religion, particularly in regards to the self-righteous Christians in the novella.

"monkey tricks..."   (Chapter 2)

Conrad has described colonialism with a great deal of imagery related to farce, folly, and show. In this instance, Marlow refers to himself as a sort of performer, removing himself further from the reality of the situation. Marlow’s work on the steamer grounded him, but since he no longer has that work to tether him to reality, he begins to lose his sense of identity, performing meaningless “tricks.”

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