Heart of Darkness Copy


Joseph Conrad is a key novelist in making the transition between literary realism and literary modernism. He is also influenced by ideas belonging to romanticism in building his characters and in his interest in exotic landscapes.

Realism in Conrad’s novels:

  • The realism of human experience;
  • Contemplation and depiction of reality;
  • Anti-heroic characters (influence of the romanticism);
  • Vivid descriptions of exotic places (influence of the romanticism);
  • Characters inspired by real people he met;

Modernism in Conrad’s novels:

  • Literary impressionism
  • Considers that the writer’s task is “to make you see”;
  • Uses a fictional narrator who works as a sailor as a literary framing device. In doing so, the author mediates stories of imperialist adventure into meditations about truth and falsehood.
  • Focus on the narrative unreliability;
  • Focus on the complicated relation between subjectivity and epistemology;
  • Elements of supernaturalism;
  • Experiments with narrative style and writing techniques (stream of consciousness).

LITERARY GENRE: adventure novella, romance

“Heart of Darkness” is a colonial adventure novel.

“Heart of Darkness” is a psychological thriller in which the narrator journeys into a madman’s mind. 

HEART OF DARKNESS (published 1899)


  • Late 19th century, Belgian-controlled Congo Free State.


Main theme: good vs evil. Marlow is led by a desire to do good, but in the world of the book, he must constantly choose between evils. He encounters characters who are increasingly unable to distinguish between good and evil and thus become fundamentally evil. Several themes fall under the confusion between good and evil, as characters proclaim having good intentions, but wind up doing more harm.

Subsequent themes:

  • Imperialism;
  • Madness;
  • Hypocrisy.

Other themes:

  • Man and the natural world;
  • Race;
  • Identity;
  • Power;
  • Femininity;
  • Language;
  • Fear;
  • Time.


Marlow tells the narrator the story of his time as a riverboat pilot in the Belgian Congo. He travels to Belgium to the Company’s headquarters. Then, he travels to Congo to assume command of his ship. On the way, he witnesses waste, incompetence, negligence, and brutality. While waiting for spare parts for his ship, Marlow grows fascinated with Kurtz, a man who runs the Company’s Inner Station in the jungle. When the ship is finally ready, they sail up the river, encountering many delays and difficulties. When they find Kurtz, he is ill, but also mad, having transformed himself into a god for the natives. Kurtz refuses to return to civilization, but, after they convince him, he dies. Marlow returns to Europe, after being very ill. He meets Kurtz’s fiancé, who is in mourning and believes that he was a great man and a hero.


Characters presented in the analysis of the literary fragment should be adapted to the fragment itself.

  • Marlow – the narrator of the story. He is philosophical, independent-minded, and generally sceptical of those around him. He is eloquent and able to draw his listeners into his tale. Although he is white, his experience with the world makes him sceptical regarding imperialism and the civilising discourse of the white men. He is shocked and disgusted by Kurtz’s madness and cruelty.
  • Kurtz – The chief of the Inner Station and the object of Marlow’s quest. He is a talented man, a gifted musician, and a fine painter, but also a charismatic individual and a good leader. He understands the power of words, and his writings are marked by an eloquence that obscures their horrifying message. He exerts a powerful influence on the people in his life. His downfall seems to be a result of his willingness to ignore the hypocritical rules that govern European colonial conduct. He refuses to keep up the appearances and fraternizes with the natives, and is thus disregarded by his fellow white men.
  • General manager – The chief agent of the Company in African territory. He runs the Central Station. Has a hardy constitution that allows him to outlive all his competitors. He is average in appearance and unremarkable in his abilities. The narrator perceives him as having a strange capacity to make others feel uneasy around him and keep everyone sufficiently unsettled so that he can exert control over them. 


  • 1st person; Marlow is the main narrator and he tells his story from his perspective. He is an unreliable narrator to some extent, as he is unable to make sense of his experience, but he is actually channelling a story with multiple voices. Conrad uses the same narrator in “Lord Jim” and “Chance”.
  • There is a second 1st person narrator, who appears in the narrative frame at the beginning of the story. He interrupts the story several times and reminds the reader to re-evaluate Marlow’s story.


  • Marlow’s tone is ambivalent about imperialism and cynical regarding the horrors he encounters. Death scenes are described in poetic language, but also with an unflinching, emotionless attitude.
  • The frame narrator is ambivalent towards Marlow and sometimes treats him with irony.


  • Gloomy and foreboding narrative;
  • The gloomy atmosphere is anticipated by the title;
  • Many terms related to darkness throughout the text;
  • Many terms related to appearance, impression: “seem”, “resemble”, “appear”;
  • Dense language with sentences containing a lot of information without using internal punctuation;
  • Metaphorical.

She stood looking at us without a stir, and like the wilderness itself,”

                                                                                   “Heart of Darkness”

  • The language has a psychological link and uncovers certain thoughts, emotions, or features of the characters.