The Literal Meaning of the "Heart of Darkness" in Conrad's "Heart of Darkness"

The Literal Meaning of the Phrase “Heart of Darkness”

The phrase “Heart of Darkness” has two meanings: one is the literal meaning, and the other is the symbolic meaning. Literally, the title refers to the dark continent of Africa, especially the territory known as the Congo. Actually it was the famous explorer and writer, Henry Morton Stanley who, having traveled through Africa, gave the name of “the dark continent” to it; but thereafter this phrase became current and began to be widely used to Africa. The phrase “Heart of Darkness” means inmost region of the territory which was, in those days, still led primitive lives. Today every bit of the continent of Africa is known to everybody who has studied geography. Every bit of Africa has been fully explored and indicated on the geographical maps. But at the time Stanley went into Africa and thereafter, even when Conrad went thither in 1890, the continent of Africa had not been fully explored. Of course, there was a big difference between Africa as seen by Stanley and Africa as seen by Conrad. By Conrad’s time many parts of Africa had been explored and shown on the maps; but even in Conrad’s time Africa was still known as the dark continent. The action of the novel, “Heart of Darkness” has been placed in the years preceding 1890 when Conrad himself went to the Congo; and even though the novel records Conrad’s own experiences, yet we must not forget that Conrad has predated the time to which the events of the novel pertain. In short, “Heart of Darkness” is an appropriate title for the novel because Marlow here describes his experiences of the interior region of the continent which was known as the dark continent. The events at the beginning of the novel and the events at the close of the novel certainly outside the dark continent of Africa; but the major and the most significant events of the story take place in the Congo and on the river of that name. The most important portion of the novel deals with a white man called Mr. Kurtz who falls under the influence of the savages living in the interior of the country called the Congo. The savages really belong to the heart of darkness.


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