Symbolism has long been a tool of the storyteller, finding its origins in the folklore of our earliest civilizations. In more recent years, however, symbolism has taken on a new role, forming the skeleton upon which the storyteller builds the tales of his or hers thoughts and adventures. Knowing the power of this element, Joseph Conrad uses symbols to help the reader explore dark interiors of men. The symbols become a vehicle that carry the audience from stop to stop, the ride becoming an evaluation of the darkness contained inside the hearts of mankind. Through the use of Dark Africa as an overpowering symbol, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness tells a story that evaluates man’s tendencies to fall back on barbaric methods when not protected by civilization.
As Marlow proceeded through the jungle towards the uncivilized world of Kurtz, he said, of the men they passed , “They passed me within six inches, without a glance, with that complete, deathlike indifference of unhappy savages”(Conrad, 80). Marlows advancements into the jungle, acted parallel with my discovery: In our deepest nature, all men are savages. Marlow connects with the very backbone in which constitutes Conrads theme “The shade of the original Kurtz frequented the beside of the hollow sham, whose fate it was buried presently in the mold of primeval earth. But both diabolic love and the unearthly hate of the mysteries it had penetrated fought for the possession of that soul satisfied with primitive emotions, avid of lying fame, of sham distinction, of all the appearances of success and power”(Conrad 146).
Our enlightenment into the corruption of mens souls eventually becomes complete when Marlow meets Kurtz and finds out what Kurtz has really become, one with the land, devolved to a primitive state. Marlow and Kurtz could be considered as two conditions of human nature, Kurtz representing what man becomes when left to his own intrinsic devices to be powerful, and Marlow being the untainted civilized soul who, as a leader, has not been drawn to savagery.
Conrad moves on to create the image of Kurtz for the readers, and the well-anticipated meeting with Marlow. As Marlow is inquiring about Kurtz, he is informed that “He is a very remarkable man”(Conrad, 84), and in charge of an interior trading post. Then, the man, as if calming Marlows anxiousness, states “In the interior you will no doubt meet Mr. Kurtz” (Conrad, 84). According to the man, Kurtz and his “fleet” send in more Ivory than all the other posts combined. Obviously, Kurtz is very influential and the posts down the river depend on his business.
Marlow first encounters Kurtz when he delivers a speech to the natives. It is here that we must understand the true strength and power that Kurtzs society derives from him. As he speaks, the natives surround him and listen with complete focus. Kurtz had the power to transform the savage natives into an obedient crowd. In order to keep the faith of the natives, Kurtz would hold ceremonies in which men were beaten and beheaded. At the moment of Kurtzs death, he said “The horror! The Horror”(Conrad, 147). Conrad concludes the story on this note. The natives, after realizing their leader is dead, run off into the forest ranting and raving over the collapse of their once routine society. And the readers are left to try and comprehend the meaning behind it all. Kurtz was a man who derived his strength and power from the society in which he created and was needed. But, once he was removed, Kurtz, along with the natives, knew it meant the demise of his once powerful creation. His appreciation for this unfortunate truth was the horror in his eyes. For he has lost all strength and now must accept that his goals have not been met; he died and so did his society.
Marlow and Kurtz could be considered as two conditions of human existence, Kurtz representing what Man could become if left to his own intrinsic devices outside protective society. Marlow, then, representing a pure untainted civilized soul who has not been drawn to savagery by a dark, alienated jungle. According to Conrad, the will to give into the uncivilized man does not just reside Kurtz alone. Every man has inside himself a heart of darkness. This heart is drowned in a bath of light shed by the advent of civilization. No man is an island, and no man can live on an island without becoming a brutal savage. Inside his heart lies the raw evil of untamed lifestyles.