Themes in Heart of Darkness
Consequences of Imperialism: At the time of writing, Conrad’s novella reflected a growing awareness of Europe’s role in exploiting foreign lands and resources. With depictions of violence and the abuse of land and people inherent to the ivory trade, the novel condemns European colonization in the Congo. However, both Marlow and Kurtz believe that imperialism is justified if the intention is that of a ‘civilizing’ mission, that is, to bring European values and beliefs to the supposedly savage and immoral native populations. To modern readers, this reasoning is flawed because it is based in inherently racist beliefs used to justify further European violence and dominance over native populations. While the novel’s original intention was to condemn Europe’s colonial project, it also asserts that the Congo is a place of “darkness” and the people there are inferior and inherently savage, a fundamental ideology that propelled European colonization.
The Battle Between Good and Evil: Conrad uses light and dark as symbols to represent the battle between good and evil in this novel. In the novel, light represents morality and goodness and is aligned with European society and Christian values. Darkness represents immorality, sin, lust, and greed and is aligned with the Congo. This imagery was often used by imperialists to justify their excessive use of oppression, violence, and enslavement of native populations.
Themes Examples in Heart of Darkness:
"I did not see the real significance of that wreck at once..." See in text (Chapter 1)
"The prehistoric man was cursing us, praying to us, welcoming us—who could tell?..." See in text (Chapter 2)
" 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...." See in text (Chapter 3)