The Characters, Setting, and Symbols of Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad

1780 Words8 Pages
Beyond the shield of civilization and into the depths of a primitive, untamed frontier lies the true face of the human soul. It is in the midst of this savagery and unrelenting danger that mankind confronts the brooding nature of his inner self. Joseph Conrad’s novel, Heart of Darkness, is the story of one man's insight into life as he embarks on a voyage to the edges of the world. Here, he meets the bitter, yet enlightening forces that eventually shape his outlook on life and his own individuality. Conrad’s portrayal of the characters, setting, and symbols, allow the reader to reflect on the true nature of man. The two main characters in Heart of Darkness, Marlow and Kurtz are used to show the true nature of man, that is, the…show more content…
This is expressed at both the start and the end of the novel. The “light” of Marlow, and his subsequent psychological awareness and evolution, is contrasted by Kurtz, who, as many have expressed, may represent the “dark” half of Marlow. Marlow's journey leads him in an urgent search for Kurtz, the one man who can provide him with the truth about himself. Like Marlow, Kurtz came to the Congo in hopes to bring "light" and civilization to a backwards society. He is a highly-educated, refined gentlemen; yet, in the end, the brutal nature of the Congo forces him to resort to the life of a murderer and pilferer. The name Kurtz itself has symbolic meaning. "The physical shortness in Kurtz implies a shortness of character and spirit" (Heart of Darkness: A systematic evaluation). Marlow and Kurtz both symbolize the two conditions of human nature. "Kurtz represents what man could become if left to his own intrinsic devices outside protective society. Marlow represents a pure untainted civilized soul who has not been drawn to savagery by a dark, alienated jungle." (Heart of Darkness: A systematic evaluation). When the two come face to face, each man sees a reflection of what he might have become in the other. In Kurtz, Marlow sees the potential
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