Irony in Heart of Darkness

Irony Examples in Heart of Darkness:

Chapter 1 4

"we listeners could hardly see one another..."   (Chapter 1)

Marlow discusses the difficulty of conveying information accurately. It is ironic that he speaks of clarity while his crew cannot even seem him in the darkness. Obscurity is an aspect of hollowness, as an outer shell “obscures” the fact that there is nothing inside. Consider how this theme of obscurity runs throughout Heart of Darkness and how this affects the perception of truth and reality.

"high and just proceedings..."   (Chapter 1)

Conrad ends his passage detailing the Europeans’ inhumane treatment of the Congolese people with this ironic statement that likely explains the European mindset at this time. Just as they created a narrative where the Congolese were uncivilized, the Europeans also had to tell themselves that their cause is a noble one to proceed with these unjust acts.

"Sir Francis Drake to Sir John Franklin..."   (Chapter 1)

Francis Drake and John Franklin were explorers who, as the narrator indicates, are revered in English history. They represent not only England’s history of exploration (and imperialism), but a certain “Britishness” that should be aspired to. Conrad sarcastically describes them with hyperbolic phrases like, “the men of whom the nation is proud” and “the great knights-errant of the sea”, as well as calling the names of their ships “jewels flashing in the night of time.” He uses intensely nationalistic language to critique England’s obsession with legacy and pride in its exploitative past.

"the biggest, and the greatest, town on earth..."   (Chapter 1)

London lies west of Gravesend, so it is most likely the town Conrad is referring to. His hyperbolic descriptions, “biggest” and “greatest”, are ironic when juxtaposed against his description of the “mournful gloom” hanging over it. Take note of Conrad’s sly criticism of London and what it represents; it will be important later in the novella.

"anything can be done in this country..."   (Chapter 2)

Recall that the Europeans intended to bring civility to the Congo. The General Manager and his uncle discuss hanging a trader nonchalantly because they are aware that there will most likely be no legal repercussions. This ironic exchange reveals the hypocrisy of the Europeans’ colonial agenda.