The Heart of Darkness stands as a profound examination of the hypocrisy of imperialism, and the darkness that results from it. This imperialism embodies itself in the form of Kurtz, the antagonist of the story. Kurtz initially exists as a “remarkable man,” an “emissary of light” who enters the Congo with noble intentions. (Conrad) However, as he enters the “heart of darkness” that is the Congo, his own heart becomes dark as well. This novella explores Kurtz’s transformation in three consecutive chapters. The darkness foreshadows itself in part one, describes its path in part two, and finally presents itself in part three. Conrad depicts this darkness with his skillful use of imagery and metaphors. Carefully crafting the message of the story, Conrad utilizes imagery and metaphors as the paints to his palette.
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Foreshadowing permeates every moment of this narrative. Although it can be found in the entirety of the story, it predominates in part one. The foundations for the consistently dark imagery lie in Conrad’s prolific sentence structure, which tends to meditatively wonder, both in the scenery and his own philosophical speculation. (Lachotta) Through the vivid imagery, many metaphors arise, and contribute to the foreshadowing as well. The foremost metaphor of part one exists as the Congo River itself, which resembles “an immense snake uncoiled.” (Conrad) One usually associates a snake with evil, which foreshadows the actuality that lies in the Congo. As a metaphor, it represents the European imperialism, and thus, it represents Kurtz. Another metaphor lies within the two woman at the doctors office, who are “knitting black wool.” Marlow states his uneasiness in regards to them, how they seem to be “guarding the door of Darkness.” (Conrad) Conrad capitalizes “Darkness” in this sentence to emphasize the imagery of his message. Indeed, these women stand as an omen for the dark months that lie ahead, for once Marlow enters that door, he officially becomes part of the dark world that leads him to Kurtz. Numerous metaphors in part one foreshadow Kurtz’ transformation into madness. The story of Fresleven, who “was the gentlest, quietist creature to ever walk on two legs,” exemplifies this dark dissent. After a couple of years “engaged in the noble cause,” he attempts to assert self respect by beating a native mercilessly, all for the frivolous reason of “two black hens.” (Conrad) The fact that the doctor wants to measure Marlow’s head, along with the Swede’s story of the man who hangs himself, both serve as key elements of foreshadowing Kurtz’s own destiny. (HoD, Symbolism)
Once the foreshadowing takes place, Conrad further explores Kurtz’s darkness in part two. Now that Marlow physically stands in the Congo jungle, he vividly describes the darkness that part one preludes to. As the manager’s uncle extends him arm out to the forest, Marlow states that he seems to “beckon” to “the lurking death, the hidden evil, the profound darkness of its heart.” (Conrad) This ominous atmosphere of the Congo exists as the same atmosphere that drives Kurtz to madness. Once Marlow and his crew descend up the river to reach the inner station, Conrad’s vivid imagery presents further metaphors. Marlow explains that going up the river “was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings.” (Conrad) Comparing this journey to the beginning of the world represents the colonist’s journey, which moves away from civilization and towards a primitive existence. As they move away from civilized society, they become closer to the “heart of darkness” that Kurtz physically and psychologically lives in. Another metaphor presents itself with the personification of the trees as kings. This alludes to Kurtz’s proclamation of himself as a god to the natives, something of which he accomplishes only through his primitive location. Overall, the imagery of Africa Conrad deploys in part two provides a backdrop for Kurtz’s moral dissolution. (Mwikisa)
Once the path up the river comes to an end, part three begins. In this final chapter, Conrad presents the core of the darkness – Kurtz himself. The entire novella leads up to this point, in which Kurtz’s corruption establishes itself. Presiding over the inner station, Kurtz becomes addicted to his power. (Rekue) He grows tired of being a mere man, and through force and violence, transforms himself into an omnipotent figure. The scene where the natives carry him on a stretcher indicates how he completely abandons European morals and norms of behavior. (Lachotta) In the beginning of this chapter, Conrad’s phenomenal imagery illustrates the inner station. As Marlow observes his surroundings, he assures that “never before did this land, this river, this jungle, the very arch of this blazing sky, appear to me so hopeless and so dark.” (Conrad) This not only explores Kurtz’s darkness, but preludes to his “hopeless” death. Kurtz gives in to the immoral temptation within the Congo, and thus, his inner darkness takes over.
In further speculation of the chapter, Conrad’s imagery and metaphors explore the characteristics of darkness itself. Three elements must correlate in order to constitute darkness. These elements include anger, fear, and aggression. (Lachotta) Throughout this chapter, Kurtz exemplifies all three of these characteristics. After Marlow witnesses Kurtz being carried on a stretcher, the harlequin tells the story of how Kurtz threatened to shoot him over a small lot of ivory. Kurtz reasoning “was that he could do so, and had a fancy for it.” (Conrad) This, along with the chastisement of the manager, represents Kurtz’s anger. The heads of the “rebels” on the sticks represent his aggression in gaining complete power; his “ivory hunts” represent his aggression in obtaining ivory. In regards to fear, Kurtz fears being taken away from the dark place of which he feels comfortable. In the desperation that arises from his fear, he tries to escape by crawling away the night before the departure. Kurtz pleads that he has his plans, but his efforts remain futile. (HoD Study Guide) Through these three elements, Conrad explores the darkness of the human soul. Kurtz’s moral degeneration in the Congo epitomizes that darkness, which in the end, completely envelops him.
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Kurtz initially exists as a man of morals, who travels to the Congo full of philanthropic ideals. (HoD, Kurtz) However, these ideals become devoured by the darkness of imperialism. The Heart of Darkness explores this transformation through the three chapters of the novella. The darkness foreshadows itself in part one, describes its path in part two, and presents itself in part three. Conrad depicts this darkness through his aesthetic use of imagery and metaphors, which work to intertwine throughout the entire story. During the last moments of his life, Kurtz, in realization of his darkness, utters the words, “The horror! The horror!” (Conrad) In the end, he succumbs to the darkness, for “once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny; consume you it will.” (Yoda Quotes)
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