Heart of darkness
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“Heart of Darkness”. Notes on the Theme of Transformation. From Savagery to Civilization, and Back. Rome conquers Europe, Europe conquers Africa – Each country is transformed from “savagery” to “civilization.”

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Heart of darkness
“Heart of Darkness”

  • Notes on the Theme of Transformation

From savagery to civilization and back
From Savagery to Civilization, and Back

  • Rome conquers Europe, Europe conquers Africa – Each country is transformed from “savagery” to “civilization.”

  • “And this also has been one of the dark places of the earth.” (p.67) – England has been transformed from darkness into the light.

Setting tone
Setting / Tone

  • In the beginning, the Thames is “placid,” “serene,” “tranquil” (p.66) – but the Congo grows gradually more menacing as they leave civilization, and near the heart of darkness.

Setting tone1
Setting / Tone

  • The Company’s Offices – In the city “that always makes me think of a whited sepulchre.” (p73)

  • A sense of foreboding: the doctor’s comments about insanity, the “civilizing mission” of the aunt, Fresleven’s quarrel.

Setting tone2
Setting / Tone

  • The Company’s Offices

  • “An eerie feeling came over me. She seemed uncanny and fateful. Often far away there I thought of these two, guarding the door of Darkness, knitting black wool as for a warm pall… Ave! Old knitter of black wool. Morituri te salutant.” (p.75)

Setting tone3
Setting / Tone

  • Outer Station – Sense of decay and absurdity.

  • “…rivers, streams of death in life, whose banks were rotting into mud, whose waters, thickend with slime, invaded the contorted mangroves that seemed to writhe at us in the extremity of an impotent despair.” (p.80)

Setting tone4
Setting / Tone

  • Outer Station

  • Sense of decay and absurdity.

  • The man-o-war shells the bush

  • The well-dressed accountant is frustrated by the cries of the dying natives.

  • The introduction of slavery, brutality, sickness, and death.

Setting tone5
Setting / Tone

  • Central Station

  • Sense of chaos, confusion, and frustration.

  • Marlow’s boat is sunk.

  • No rivets for repairs

  • Long delay

  • Corruption of the Pilgrims, the Manager, the Expedition

Setting tone6
Setting / Tone

  • Inner Station

  • Sense of danger and lurking insanity.

  • Fog = confusion and lack of vision

  • They are attacked and the helmsman is killed

  • They are greeted by a harlequin, heads on stakes, savagery, and the madness of Kurtz

Setting tone7
Setting / Tone

  • The Twist: Returning to “civilization” Marlow finds it transformed: “I found myself back in the sepulchral city resenting the sight of people hurrying through the streets to filch a little money from each other… They were intruders whose knowledge of life was to me an irritating pretence… (p. 156)

Setting tone8
Setting / Tone

  • The Twist: Even the “placid” and “pacifical” Thames is transformed: “The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed sombre under an overcast sky – seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.” (p. 164)


  • Marlow is shown savagery, and chooses it over civilization (prefers Kurtz’s evil to the Manager’s)

  • He is shown madness, but chooses sanity

  • He is shown the truth, (the horror) and chooses a lie (his message to the Intended).


  • Marlow’s reflection on the journey

  • “I don’t want to bother you much with what happened to me personally, yet to understand the effect of it on me you ought to know how I got out there, what I saw, how I went up that river to the place where I first met the poor chap.” (p. 70)


  • “It was the farthest point of navigation and the culminating point of my experience. It seemed somehow to throw a kind of light on everything about me – and into my thoughts. It was sombre enough, too – and pitiful – not extraordinary in any way – not very clear either. No, not very clear. And yet it seemed to throw a kind of light.” (p.70)


  • Kurtz: Begins as a promising man, a “universal genius” (p.157) who “could get himself to believe anything – anything.”

  • Sees the edge of sanity and crosses over

  • He has the ability to persuade and influence men – accepts the role of God and is consumed by it.

  • (Elements of Tragedy)


  • Kurtz as Tragic Hero:

  • Great man with promise

  • Hamartia (fatal flaw)

  • Leads to his inevitable downfall & death.

  • Can you think of another tragic character like Kurtz?