- They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind- as it is very proper for those who tackle a darkness. Part 1
The use of the word darkness in this quote holds a double meaning. On one hand the darkness can represent the people and the wilderness in the unknown world within the Congo. Upon further examination, the darkness that they are tackling does not only refer to the uncivilized world around them, but also to the darkness within themselves or the human race in general. The horrors that they create are driven from the anger and wildness within. Their actions are a result of trying to cover or hide the evils, pilgrims, as well as giving into it, Kurtz. In this quote we are also introduced to the use of blindness as a motif throughout the novella. Blindness is a condition that hinders the ability to see, and Conrad uses it to describe many characters. Here, it is keeping the people from seeing the true cause and result of their actions. Blindness is chosen over sight by the pilgrims. These characters choose not to see the horror in truth and instead cover it with false righteousness. They refuse to see the darkness beneath their surface for the chance at power and wealth. Overall, we see that in actuality one cannot hide away from the “heart of darkness” by being blind to it because the evil lies within the depths of the human soul.
- “They were dying slowly—it was very clear. They were not enemies, they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now—nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation, lying confusedly in the greenish gloom.” Part 1
As Marlow notices the slaves chained together and indifferent to their surroundings, knowing nothing but their labor, he views them as being hardly considered dangerous enemies. Marlow describes it as “greenish gloom” instead of another color because green emphasizes the connotation of sickness and disease, which undoubtedly consumed the Africans. As Marlow encounters “savages” throughout the novella we see the true horrors of imperialism and conquest: mistreated and overworked slaves who are left to die outdoors, given no food, care, or medicine. They are treated inhumanely, and because of this, Marlow sees them as less-than-human. This is seen throughout the novella with Conrad’s intentional dehumanization of the Africans by giving them animal qualities and contrasting that with the personification of machinery. Even more profound is that he finds similarities between the savages and the whites, a kind of “kinship”, later on in the story, even though the savages are dehumanized so significantly. He even notices how ironically the savages act more civilized than the pilgrims do as they journey to Kurtz’s station.
- Two women, one fat and the other slim, sat on straw-bottomed chairs, knitting black wool. The slim one got up and walked straight at me – still knitting with downcast eyes – and only just as I began to think of getting out of her way, as you would for a somnambulist, stood still, and looked up. Her dress was as plain as an umbrella-cover, and she turned round without a word and preceded me into a waiting-room. Part 1 – at Brussels
Two of the three Fates spin the life-thread of each human being. The thread represents a human life. The third Fate cuts the thread when the time comes for the man to die. The Fates, being Greek immortals, have foresight and can see every man’s fate. Conrad uses the two women knitting black wool to foreshadow Marlow’s horrific journey into colonial Africa. The slim one who gets up is described as a somnambulist or sleep-walker that is so occupied in her spinning that she does not pay much attention to Marlow. She may not have paid attention to Marlow because she was spinning Kurtz’s fate. Conrad does not include the third fate over the duration of Heart of Darkness intentionally due to the fact that the third fate is supposed to represent the death of a man and we don’t know the true fate of Marlow, we only know that he is alive at the end of the novella.
- The word ‘ivory’ rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it. A taint of imbecile rapacity blew through it all, like a whiff from some corpse. Part 1 -Marlow when arriving at the central station
This quote displays the emphasis and significance the “pilgrims” placed on ivory. They were hungry for money and power to the point that they worshipped the ivory like a god, as seen in Marlow’s description of them praying to it. Ivory imagery is often juxtaposed with bone imagery as shown in this quote with the use of the word “corpse.” Marlow’s reference to the corpse is used literally and figuratively. Elephants and native Africans both die due to the greed and pursuit of ivory. In the beginning of the novella, dominoes were attributed to the Accountant. The connotation associated with an accountant would be greed, wealth, and power. Dominoes in this time period would have been made of ivory which is actually elephant tusk or bone. This quote shows that the word “ivory” takes a life of its own for the men who work for the Company. To them, it is far more than the tusk of an elephant, but represents economic freedom and social advancement. The ivory symbolizes greed and the destructive nature of man throughout the novella.
- It was like a weary pilgrimage amongst hints for nightmares. Part 1
The fact that Marlow refers to his journey as a “pilgrimage” implies that his mission is one so pure as to be blessed by God. In reality, his motivation is far less noble, but he deludes himself into this comforting lie. We know that Marlow understands the truths behind the “civilizing of the savages” since he comments on women’s idealistic ideas after his aunt believes his journey is a righteous one. He too conforms to the ways of the pilgrims in the fact that they hide away from the evil and darkness of their actions. It is ironic though, that Marlow would call his journey a pilgrimage, but include the “hints for nightmares.” He is covering up the truth, but at the same time trying to suggest the darkness hidden beneath the surface. He is also foreshadowing of the horrors or “nightmares” he will experience as he journeys to Africa. Nightmares and dreams become a motif throughout the novella.
- They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force – nothing to boast of when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. Part 1 – On the Nellie with lawyer, accountant, director of companies, and narrator
When he described the Roman conquerors in England at the beginning of Heart of Darkness, Marlow imagined them as appalled and attracted by its savagery, but also calls them “conquerors.” Marlow challenges everything he said about the nobility and good intentions of the explorers. Instead, he does see the brutal truth of colonization and knows that the colonizing countries care only about efficiency and profit. They are successful in their imperialism simply due to the fact that the Africans or savages are “weaker” than they are. Marlow condemns the explorers as mere robbers and murderers, men who were going about their business blindly. Marlow’s quote here about strength and weakness is timeless and remains relevant today. One can only gain control due to the submission of another, as we see with Kurtz submission to the wilderness and the savages’ submission to Kurtz.
- You should have heard him say, ‘My ivory.’ Oh, yes, I heard him. ‘My Intended, my ivory, my station, my river, my – ‘ everything belonged to him. It made me hold my breath in expectation of hearing the wilderness burst into a prodigious peal of laughter that would shake the fixed stars in their places. Everything belonged to him – but that was a trifle. The thing was to know what he belonged to, how many powers of darkness claimed him for their own. Part 2 – introduced to Kurtz physically
One of our first glimpses of Kurtz shows us a man that’s selfish and egotistical but weak compared to the “powers of darkness” that are taking him over. Kurtz is no longer in control of himself, but belongs to the wilderness. Ironically he believes that he is in control of all things when the opposite is true. Kurtz’s sense of ownership has been warped by his status as a “god” among the native Africans. He thinks everything, including the wilderness he inhabits, belongs to him. His sense of himself has expanded to include everything around him, in contrast to the other men’s sense of getting smaller in comparison to the large, overwhelming wilderness. Kurtz is known for possessing more ivory than others which gives him more power, but as we discussed in an earlier quote ivory symbolizes power as well as greed. In Kurtz’s quote we see the greed that has overcome him through the possession of ivory. This quote further develops the symbolism of ivory.
- It was very simple, and at the end of that moving appeal to every altruistic sentiment it blazed at you, luminous and terrifying like a flash of lightning in a serene sky: ‘Exterminate all the brutes! Part 2
The statement made by Kurtz, “Exterminate all the brutes” adds to the dark and evil characterization attributed to him. This statement even emphasizes the effect of his beheading of the “rebel” savages and placing them on sticks for presentation. We see here that even in Kurtz’s attempted submission to the wilderness and desire to separate from civilization that it cannot be done. He still tries to bring some sort of law or government to this most uncivilized place by punishing the savages for rebelling. He even thinks himself a king and believes himself worthy enough to “exterminate” the savages. Although, in the end his attempts are futile.
- I observed with assumed innocence that no man was safe from trouble in this world. Part 2 – on the way to Kurtz’s station, at the broken down cabin
This quote foreshadows what Marlow will discover by the end of the novella. This merely reiterates the idea that the “heart of darkness” is found within the depths of every human beings soul, therefore no man can escape it. This quote may seem simple and repetitive of the theme of the story but it is the final truth or message that Conrad is trying to communicate to the readers. This theme is timeless as well and can be related to humans of every generation.
- I heard a light sigh and then my heart stood still, stopped dead short by an exulting and terrible cry, by the cry of inconceivable triumph and of unspeakable pain. ‘I knew it—I was sure!’ . . . She knew. She was sure. I heard her weeping; she had hidden her face in her hands. It seemed to me that the house would collapse before I could escape, that the heavens would fall upon my head. But nothing happened. The heavens do not fall for such a trifle. Would they have fallen, I wonder, if I had rendered Kurtz that justice which was his due? Hadn’t he said he wanted only justice? But I couldn’t. I could not tell her. It would have been too dark—too dark altogether…. Part 3, Marlow telling intended the false last words of Kurtz
Marlow, who has seen some of the worst horrors of the Congo, lies to Kurtz’s fiancé by telling her that his last words were not “The horror!” but rather crying her name. This is because Marlow does not want to carry the darkness of the real world into this woman’s idealistic world. Conrad uses Marlow’s aunt at the beginning of the novella to establish woman in Heart of Darkness as symbols of society’s blindness to its own hollowness. Kurtz’s Intended further supports this symbolism since she is completely clueless about Kurtz’s true nature. Though Marlow knows Kurtz’s triumphs lay in his understanding of men’s delusions about themselves, he can’t bring himself to make Kurtz’s Intended see the “dark” reality. Marlow knows that if even he, who does see civilization’s futility, can’t bring himself to reveal the darkness then civilization will remain blind to its faults.