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Heart of Darkness Themes and Symbols

The hypocrisy of imperialism: Heart of darkness focuses on the issues that surround imperialism in very complex ways. While marlow ventures from the outer station to the central station, and eventually up the river to the inner station, he stares in the face of torture, cruelty and slavery. At its root, the novel paints a dark picture of colonial enterprise.

The men working for the company categorize their activities as ‘trade’ and their horrible treatment of the native inhabitants is just another necessary part of civilization. Kurtz, on the other hand, is honest in the fact that the does not ‘trade’ but instead takes ivory by way of force. In his own words, his treatment of the natives has nothing to do with civilization, but is instead suppression and extermination.

Madness as an outcome of imperlialism: Madness and imperialism are seen as one in the same. Africa is viewed as being responsible for mental collapse and physical illness. Madness serves two functions; a device of irony to engage the sympathies of the reader and to establish the necessity of social frictions.

Fog: The fog is reputed to be consequential of darkness. Fog is used to obscure and distort. If presents just enough information to start making a conclusion, but does not provide the information needed to determine accuracy or merit.

Women: Both kurtz’s fiancé and his native mistress act as blank slates to display the values and wealth of each of their respective societies. Marlow is often heard claiming that women are the keepers of naïve illusions.

Despite sounding condemning in nature, this role is actual crucial. These naïve illusions are the foundation of the social fictions that justify economic enterprise and colonial expansion. As such, women are the beneficiaries of the wealth that follows, and they become status symbols that men use to showcase their success.

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