Heart Of Darkness Theme Analysis Essay

Two Themes in Heart Of Darkness

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Two Themes in Heart Of Darkness


      There are many themes that run through the novel Heart of Darkness.

There are however two main and significant ones.  These are the theme of

restraint and man's journey into self.


      The importance of restraint is stressed throughout Heart of

Darkness.  In the novel Marlow is saved by restraint, while Kurtz is doomed

by his lack of it.


      Marlow felt different about Africa before he went, because the

colonization of the Congo had "an idea at the back of it."  Despite an

uneasiness, he assumed that restraint would operate there.  He soon reaches

the Company station and receives his first shock, everything there seems

meaningless.  He sees no evidence here of that "devotion to efficiency"

that makes the idea work.  In the middle of this, Marlow meets a "miracle".

The chief accountant has the restraint that it takes to get the job done.

He keeps up his apearance and his books are in "apple-pie order."  Marlow

respects this fellow because he has a backbone.


      "The cannibals some of those ignorant millions, are almost totally

characterized by restraint."  They outnumber the whites "thirty to five"

and could easily fill their starving bellies.  Marlow "would have as soon

expected restraint from a hyena prowling amongst the corpses of a

battlefield."  The cannibals action is "one of those human secrets that

baffle probability."  This helps Marlow keep his restraint, for if the

natives can possess this quality Marlow feels he certainly can.


      Kurtz is the essence of the lack of restraint Marlow sees

everywhere.  Kurtz has "kicked himself loose from the earth."  "He owes no

allegiance to anything except those animal powers, those various lusts,

those unpermitted aspirations lurking in the darkness of his inner station.

Marlow also responds to these dark callings, and he almost becomes their

captive.  He confuses the beat of the drum (the call to man's primitive

side) with his own heartbeat, and is pleased.  Yet he does not slip over

the edge as Kurtz does.  Marlow keeps to the track.  When he is confronted

with the ultimate evil where a man "must fall back on (his) own innate

strength, upon (his) own capacity for faithfulness,"  he is able to do so,

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Heart Of Darkness         Restraint         Cannibals         Marlow         Accountant         Kurtz         Battlefield         Ignorant         Probability         Devotion        

he shows the necessary restraint.


      The second theme of course is man's journey into self.  During

Marlow's mission to find Kurtz, he is also trying to find himself.  He,

like Kurtz had good intentions upon entering the Congo.  Conrad tries to

show us that Marlow is what Kurtz had been, and Kurtz is what Marlow could

become.  Every human has a little of Marlow and Kurtz in them.  Marlow says

about himself, "I was getting savage," meaning that he was becoming more

like Kurtz.  Along the trip into the wilderness, they discover their true

selves through contact with savage natives.


      As Marlow journeys up the Congo, he feels he is travelling back

through time.  He sees the unsettled wilderness and can feel the darkness

of it's solitude.  "Marlow comes across simpler cannibalistic cultures

along the banks.  The deeper into the jungle he goes, the more regressive

the inhabitants seem."


      Kurtz had lived in the Congo, and was separated from his own

culture for quite some time.  He had once been considered an honorable man,

but the jungle changed him greatly.  Here isolated from the rest of his own

society, he discovered the evil side and became corrupted by his power and



      Marlow realizes that only very near the time of death, does a

person grasp the big picture.  He describes Kurtz's last moments "as though

a veil had been rent."  Kurtz's last "supreme moment of complete

knowledge," showed him how horrible the human soul really can be.  Marlow

can only guess as to what Kurtz saw that caused him to exclaim "The horror!

The horror," but later adds that "Since I peeped over the edge myself, I

understand better the meaning of his stare... it was wide enough to embrace

the whole universe, piercing enough to penetrate all the hearts that beat

in the darkness..he had summed up, he had judged."  Marlow guesses that

Kurtz suddenly knew everything and discovered how horrible the man can be.

Marlow learned through Kurtz's death, and he now knows that inside every

human is horrible evil side.


      In conclusion the themes of restraint and man's journey into self

run through Heart of Darkness and actually become intertwined.  It is

interesting to note that Marlow and Kurtz coming from the same background

do not end up the same in the novel.  Kurtz is doomed by his lack of






1.    Douglas Tallack,  Literary Theory A work (New York, 1987)

Analysis of Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad Essay

4372 Words18 Pages

Analysis of Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

When Joseph Conrad composed Heart of Darkness he created a literary masterpiece which embodied the essence of light contrasting with darkness. Throughout the novel Conrad constantly utilizes the images of light and dark and uses them to mold a vision, which the reader is then able to use to decipher the literal and metaphorical meanings of the novel. As Conrad said, “ my task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel- it is, before all, to make you see.” (Crankshaw 34) In Heart of Darkness Conrad makes the reader “see” by absorbing into every aspect possible of the book images of lightness and darkness. The light and dark images of…show more content…

Within this paragraph Marlow reveals one of his greatest fears. This is the thought of how uncivilized man could survive in the dark time when there was no technology or sophisticated people. Marlow then goes on to discuss how short and meaningless our lives really are compared to the light of all life and history. Another important aspect of the paragraph is the use of the word, “knight” representing nobility accomplished during the flicker of civilization. It is not only what Marlow says that makes him fit in with the solemn setting but it is also his appearance:
Marlow is pointedly described as sitting in the ‘pose of Buddha,’ suggesting that he has been the recipient of a weird Enlightenment, which he is impelled to share with his listeners. (Bennett 76)
Within the story Marlow narrates to the crew and the reader by taking “his listeners” back into the darkness of yesterday.
As Marlow approaches the African coast, the reader is able to visualize the dusting of colonies left behind by great explorers. These colonies barely survive; they neither expand nor retract as the years continue to pass by. The light of civilization obviously does not belong in a place as blackened with uncivilized cultures as in Africa. The light has been unable to penetrate the darkness. Once locked within the country Marlow finds his surroundings extremely harsh:
The Congo is described as a place of intense mystery whose

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