Comment on symbolism in Heart of Darkness.
Ans. Heart of Darkness of Joseph Conrad is replete with symbolic suggestions. Right from the very title to the end of the novel we get abundant use of symbols. The story is based on Marlow’s voyage to the Congo region, the dark continent of Africa. But through his narrative, as in a parable, Conrad has tried to convey the evasive and elusive truth underlying both the historical facts and his personal experiences through powerful symbols.
The very title of the novel has a symbolic meaning in addition its literal meaning. The literal meaning of the phrase “Heart of Darkness” is the inmost region of the dark country known as the Congo but symbolically it refers to the inner most region of a man’s mind, the dark recess of the sub-conscious state of his mind Marlow’s journey to the dark continent symbolically means his descent into the depth of his own psyche.
Almost all the characters in Heart of Darkness bear symbolic significances. Mr. Kurtz, for example, the protagonist suggests the whiteman’s greed for wealth, commercial mentality and passion for power. He also represents a penitent sinner as well as a civilized man, turned into an evil spirit under the influence of barbarism and savagery. Marlow symbolizes the spirit of adventure, love of knowledge, a thoughtful observer of human life, a psychologist and a civilized man under the influence of the savage and primitive instincts. Among other characters the Manager of the Central Station symbolizes inefficiency, spiritual emptiness and barrenness. The Brickmaker, who acts as an informer to the Manager, symbolizes cunningness and treachery. The whitemen who are termed “Faithless Pilgrims” represent complete absence of faith, moral or belief. They also symbolize parasites of the Belgian Trading Company. The ‘cannibal crew’ who do not kill the whitemen in order to eat their flesh in spite of starving badly, symbolize self-restraint.
There are few other symbolical elements such as ivory which signifies whitemen’s greed for wealth. It is ivory which motivates them to come over the dark region of Congo. On account of this greed they do not hesitate to kill even one another. Again many sights seen by Marlow in the course of his journey also have symbolic significance. For example, the French warships firing aimlessly at the forests, and the rock being blasted with gunpowder symbolize futile and aimless action.
Thus Heart of Darkness is replete with various types of symbols. In fact, it is through the appropriate use of symbols that Conrad has been able to convey the theme of his novel to the readers most effectively.
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