Symbols and Motifs

Symbols:

1.     Kurtz

a.     Kurtz represents the dark side of mankind, and what it transforms you into if it encases you completely. His constant and prolonged exposures to the untamed regions of the Congo cause him to lose grip with civilization, and the morals associated with it. His complete decline is finalized through his last words, “the horror, the horror!”

2.     Kurtz’s Painting

a.     The painting Marlow encounters early in his journey depicts a blindfolded woman cast in a black background, who holds a torch casting a gloomy light on her face. The painting brings forth a feeling of lady-justice, despite the obvious lack of her presence in Africa. The woman represents the Europeans who have come forth to bring “the light” of the torch to the misguided African natives, despite the fact that they are blind to the evil caused by this venture.

3.     The Accountant

a.     The accountant represents the façade of the company; the image they wish to project while undergoing their colonization of Africa. He is an ironic stark contrast to his surroundings, as he appears elegant and sophisticated in his pure white garments, regardless of the fact he is surrounded by death and destruction.

4.     The Knitting Women

a.     These two women are a metaphorical and physical embodiment of the Moirae (The Three Fate of the underworld), who weave and measure the thread of life. Their purpose in front of the doctor’s office is to foreshadow Marlow’s less than optimistic journey into Africa.

5.     Flies

a.     Throughout Heart of Darkness, flies symbolize “The Lord of the Flies;” a title synonymous with death. They appear following the death of the slave in Chapter 1, and more notably after the death of Kurtz in Chapter 3.The flies also suggest inferno and hell imagery.

6.     Heads on Sticks

a.     These barbaric displays emphasize Kurtz’s excessive brutality, and as they are direct in their message, they are a contrast to the Pilgrims who shroud their motives through facades of hypocrisy and lies.


 

Motifs:

1.     Darkness

a.     Darkness is evident throughout the entire novel, and is important enough to even garner a part in the title. It is difficult to discern the exact meaning of darkness as it shrouds everything in the novel, including those things generally considered bright. The metaphorical nature of the darkness evolves into a representation of the darkness hidden in the heart of every human, especially men.

2.     Ivory

a.     Ivory accentuates the greed and destruction apparent in the pursuit of financial expansion. The object ivory becomes almost synonymous with savagery, as those who pursue it the most become corrupt by its influence. The most prominent example is Kurtz, who possesses the most ivory, and is the most brutal.

3.     Fog

a.     The fog that engulfs Marlow’s steamer is both physically and literally white; though in this case rather than white being the opposite of the darkness evident throughout the novel, it merely compounds it, and develops uncertainty in those aboard. It thus emphasizes the motif of blindness.

4.     Rivets

a.     The rivets symbolize a lack of progress on the company’s part. Marlow has a difficult time acquiring them from the company in order to repair his steamer and advance in his journey to find Kurtz. The company seems lack to provide them despite the fact that Marlow requires them in order to pursue the company’s interests. The rivets, along with the other machinery, symbolize deterioration and lack of efficiency.

-Colten

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