Heart of Darkness Symbols Identity—Kurtz & Marlow The contrast—Light & Darkness Themes Presentation by Lillian, Viola, Kate, Mei
Symbols in Heart of Darkness l Snake is a symbol of evil. Marlow mentions that “the river was therefascinating-deadly-like a snake. ” This reference creates a dark image. (p. 1963) l Fog is associated with darkness. Fog not only obscures but distorts; it gives one just enough information to begin making decisions but no way to judge the accuracy of that information, which often ends up being wrong. (p. 1989)
l The colors of a rainbow marked on the map represent European imperialism in Africa. (p. 1963) Yellow is associated with corruption, decay, and most importantly ivory. (p. 1963)
l Ivory- represents economic freedom, social advancement, and an escape from a life of being an employee. The word has lost all connection to any physical reality and has itself become an object of worship. (p. 1973) l The “Whited Sepulcher” is Brussels, where the Company’s headquarters are located. A sepulcher means tomb and implies death and confinement. The phrase “ whited sepulcher” comes from the biblical Book of Matthew. In the passage, Matthew describes “ white sepulchers” as something beautiful on the outside but containing horrors within (the bodies of the dead). (p. 1963, 1975, 2011)
• • • The River Congo 1. The river separates Marlow from the African interior, while on the river, he is exterior to. 2. It also seems to want to expel Europeans from Africa so its current makes travel upriver slow and difficult. Besides, going up the river is like traveling back to the earliest beginning of the world. On the contrast, the flow of water makes travel downriver rapid and going down the river means to return to “civilization. ”
• The river also symbolizes rebirth. Marlow’s voyage is like a journey of discovery, both externally in the jungle, and internally in Marlow's own mind. The deeper he penetrates into the heart of the jungle, the deeper he delves within himself. Through this journey, Marlow realizes something from Mr. Kurtz. He returns to civilization with his new knowledge. • The River Thames is suggested as a peaceful, tranquil river. (p. 2011)
• The wilderness 1. It appears solid, immovable, and ominously threatening. (p. 1979) 2. The natives’voice seems to be coming from the wilderness itself. (p. 1987) 3. The full significant of the wilderness can be seen only through Kurtz, because it is he who surrenders to the power of wilderness. Through the influence of the wilderness, basic human nature is revealed in him. ( p. 2007) • The two black hens represent the savage and uncivilized natives. (p. 1962) • Jupiter symbolizes externally imposed authority. (p. 2003)
A Study of Identity from Kurtz & Marlow • Kurtz: -- loss of self ex. : “Mr. Kurtz lacked restraint in the gratification of his various lust…. ” (2001). ex. : “no restraint, no faith, and no fear…. ” (2008). -- a cheat for a cheat (by nature) ex. : “the wilderness had found him out early, and had taken on him a terrible vengeance for the fantastic invasion” (2001). ex. : “The horror!” (2010).
• Marlow: -- an exploration of the hidden self -- disillusionment ex. : “I went no more near the remarkable man who had pronounced a judgment upon the adventures of his soul on this earth” (2010). -- a study of initiation ex. : “I seem to have lived through” (2011). ex. : “It was a moment of triumph for the wilderness, an invading and vengeful rush which, it seemed to me, I would have to keep back alone for the salvation of another soul” (2013).
The Contrast between Light and Darkness I. The beginning: (1) Light = knowledge, cognizance, civility and civilization • Example: p. 1975, p. 1959 (2) Darkness = mystery, savagery and uncivilized • Example: p. 1968. P. 1969
II. Into the heart of the African jungle: • --Marlow begins to understand savagery as a primitive form of civilization. Therefore, a reflection on his own reality, the light-dark metaphor shifts. (1) The light offers Marlow the realization • Example: p. 1968 (2) The darkness is gloomy and filled with a mournful stillness instead of the wanton savagery.
• Example: p. 1968, p. 1969 --The partiality and dimness of the light reflects Marlow’s half-awareness. • (3) A pun of Marlow’s understanding of light • Example: p. 1969 III. Marlow’s conclusion: (1) Kurtz’s actions reflect human nature. P. 1999. P. 2001 (2) All civilizations are shrouded in darkness. P. 1982. 2017
Themes in Heart of Darkness • The Hypocrisy of Imperialism • Civilization vs. Savagery
The Hypocrisy of Imperialism • Marlow’s journey of torture, cruelty, and near-slavery. • Justifying imperialism with the rhetoric — “trade”, “civilization. ” • “suppression” & “extermination” – expose the evil practices behind European activity in Africa • An oppression of nonwhite is more sinister.
Civilization vs. Savagery • The story implies that civilizations are created by the setting of laws and codes that encourage men to achieve higher standers. Civilization, however, must be learned. Like London itself, a symbol of enlightenment in the story, was once one of the darker places of the earth before the Romans forced civilization upon the darker tendencies.
• Civilization acts as a buffer. -- to prevent men from reverting back to their darker tendencies • The tendency to revert to savagery is seen in Kurtz. -- throwing off his restraints • Two opposite examples of human condition— Marlow & Kurtz • Civilization is superficial. -- The level of civilization is related to the physical and moral environment • Every man has a heart of darkness covered by the light of civilization.