Relatively played out throughout the novella, the readers are presented with a multilayer interpretation of Darkness. From the White explorers point of view the title “Heart of Darkness” refers to the heart of wilderness or Africa. Marlow’s journey aboard the Company steamer into the very depths of Africa may be taken as an expedition into the heart of what they consider to be a place characterized by darkness. Africa’s remoteness and inaccessibility qualify it as an abstruse enigma for the foreign invaders.
The secluded forests occupied by unknown, vicious animals and equally uncultured inhabitants give Africa a sense of brutal mysteriousness which inevitably credits it as a darkened area in the colonial minds of the Westerners. Apart from the uncultivated landscape, the primitive traditions and superstitious beliefs of the savages is also erroneously judged as an indication of their blurred understanding of reality thereby adding to the African’s so-called “dark or blinded existence.
” It is important to note that the colonizers generally believe that the aboriginals live under the distasteful clouds of ignorance because it is what provided the imperative for their unsolicited colonization or what they justified as benevolent assimilation. The pilgrims, Kurtz and the other crew of the Company assume a humanitarian role to their invasion as their way of bringing the enlightenment of civilization to Africa’s darkened land. Taking this symbolism to a more complex level darkness essentially pertains to the the shady nature of men exemplified in the self-serving acts of the members of The Company.
The fate of Kurtz, for one, shows how man’s insatiable greed and self-consuming ambition corrupted not only himself but also the innocent people of Africa. Kurtz’ shameless exploitation of the natives backfired to him in the end. Instead of achieving his sinister plans of ruling over the tribes like the supreme deity he assumed to be he ended up dead and alone in a foreign land which would never even remember his demise. The title “Heart of Darkness” translates to the darkness or evilness of man hiding beneath his polished good looks.
For the friends and intended of Kurtz he is nothing but a well-educated and mildly mannered man devoted entirely to opera and philanthropic works. However, in the course of the plot we witness Kurtz’ vainglorious attempts to make a god out himself at the sorry expense of the natives. Although European ideology equates the color black with sin and goodness with white, we witness how this seemingly sophisticated man behaves worse than any primitive. From the vantage point of the villagers Kurtz’ is the one who is beastly and demoniac. The Western ideology linking black with evil is also put forth in the Chief Accountant’s characterization.
Like all Western civilized men the Chief Accountant values his appearance more than anything else. He keeps his clothes immaculately clean as a way of projecting the pureness of his character. In contrast to the squalid surroundings and grubby Africans he interacts with, he religiously maintains his stainless wardrobe as if trying to separate himself from the dirty-looking primitives. People like the Chief Accountant believes that goodness is skin deep. Coal-colored skin for them is indicative of barbarity and immorality hence they treat the Africans as their inferior.
Various instances in the novella underscores how the colonizers treat the natives as revolting idiots who exists for their own pleasure. Marlow treats Helmsman as a mechanized servant. The Chief Accountant employs another native female as his laundrywoman. Kurtz enslaves the villagers as his loyal subjects. The pilgrims command tribal men to do menial tasks for their ivory trades. In the case of the Chief Accountant he treats the squalid primitives as someone physically, socially and ethically below him. He is compelled to remain a superior clean image as a way of elevating himself above the indecently exposed natives.
The European’s preoccupation with superficial veneer is explored deeply in the malicious expeditions sent to undeveloped countries like Africa. Hiding behind the guise of benevolent assimilation The Company finances explorations as a means of pillaging the country of its natural resources. In this light, the theme of darkness is now attributed to the concealed corrupted intentions of the European colonizers. The Company invades the rural villages with the aim of ushering in progress but in truth they are ruthlessly abusing the people and the land.
Despite of the spotless looks, advanced devices and pompous manners of the ship’s crew their brutal nature unconsciously shows through. The pilgrims, on the other hand, exemplify the shabby morality of the pious. Obsessed with putting up images of moral authority over the pagan natives they uphold a high regard for their “generosity” to the less fortunate Africans. Portraying themselves as charitable agents of development they fool the natives to acquiesce to their dictatorial demands and new teachings. Conrad criticizes the role of religion and politics in colonial commerce.
Here we are presented again with a realistic illustration of man’s shadowy self. The title “Heart of Darkness” then evolves to mean a heart made of darkness or darkness concealed in the hearts of men. Additionally, darkness is associated with something esoteric. The darkness referred to in the novella can be interpreted as a deep, dark secret. Buried within the pretty surface of a genteel, modern man is his unfathomable and malevolent yearnings against his fellow men. The attractive surface hides within it wicked longings. The appearance is a mere display meant to deceive others.
Thus, it is important to look deeply within men’s hearts because it holds his real character. However, the natives because of their innocence with the ways of the world are readily duped into believing the charity of the colonizers. In this aspect the Africans are indeed cloaked in the darkness as the colonizers perceive them to be. Unfortunately, instead of illuminating them, as they claim to do, the explorers kept them in the shadow in order to gain power over them. The fog that covers the Congo river is related to the theme of darkness since it keeps everything concealed.
The darkness caused by the fog connotes the ignorance of the people of the villages along the river. The primitives are clouded from seeing the oppression they’re suffering. The fog may also be taken as an portentous warning presaging death. In this case it foreshadows the tragic end of Kurtz and the gloomy future of the natives in the hands of the colonizers. In the end, Marlow’s voyage into entrails of Africa led him into the true darkness that lies not in the land or its inhabitants but within the very depths of the hearts of men.