Vocabulary in Heart of Darkness

Vocabulary Examples in Heart of Darkness:

Chapter 1 7

"a white man..."   (Chapter 1)

While in this passage “white” refers to the man’s race (i.e. the color of his skin), it also connotes the “Europeanness” that was previously alluded to. The man’s dress and other accoutrements are all pristine, and it is obvious that he has not had to engage in physical labor. He is thus distanced from the reality of the colonial proceedings, not fully involved in the violence and subhuman conditions. Conrad suggests that the Europeans were not fully cognizant of the state of the colonies they were so enthusiastic about.

"man-of-war..."   (Chapter 1)

A “man-of-war” was a term used by the British Royal Navy to refer to powerful warships from the 16th through the 19th century. The warship is blindly firing shells into the jungle, and Marlow sees this “incomprehensible, firing into a continent” as a metaphor for the larger concept of European colonization as being a futile attempt to control something that cannot and should not be controlled.

"Gran’ Bassam Little Popo..."   (Chapter 1)

Grand Bassam was the French colonial capital city in Côte d'Ivoire from 1893 to 1896, and Little Popo was a part of the Portuguese slave market in the 19th century (now modern-day Aného in Togo). The contrast between “Gran’” and “Little” sounds almost comical and fitting for a “farce,” a highly exaggerated and often absurd form of comedic show.

"‘Du Calme, Du Calme, Adieu.’..."   (Chapter 1)

[French] “Stay calm, stay calm, farewell.”

"Morituri te salutant..."   (Chapter 1)

[Latin] “They who are about to die salute you”.

"Ave!..."   (Chapter 1)

In Latin, this is used as both a greeting and a salutation. It directly translates to “hail.”

"THE NELLIE, A CRUISING YAWL..."   (Chapter 1)

A “yawl” is the small sailboat often rigged to a ship. Conrad spent nineteen years as a merchant marine and many of his stories and characters were influenced by his experiences. Heart of Darkness was particularly influenced by his three-year stint on the Congo River.

"carried his arms..."   (Chapter 3)

“[A]rms” has somewhat of a double meaning here. In the previous passage, Kurtz is described body part by body part, so it is only natural to assume that these “arms” are his actual limbs. Conrad clarifies, though, that these “arms” are armaments, his guns and other weapons. This is related to the previous mention of Kurtz being “carved out of ivory”; there is no longer any separation between Kurtz and the work he engages in.