Into the Heart of Darkness

An e-text of the whole novel has been placed in the Pre-1914 Prose section.

Further resources will be added as we go along.

Now, your first task:

I want us to identify as many quotations as possible that refer to colour and light/darkness. Find such a quotation from the beginning of the novel to the point we got to today (half way down column 2 of page 9 in the edition available here), post it on here and make an analytical comment on it. You can choose a quotation that uses a single word or phrase relating to colour or light, or one with several, but don’t quote more than a couple of sentences at a time.
I’ll do the first one to get the ball rolling.

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30 Responses to Into the Heart of Darkness

  1. Mr Heald says:

    “In a very few hours I arrived in a city that always makes me think of a whited sepulchre.” (p 3, col 1)

    A sepulchre is a burial chamber (usually associated with darkness), so a whited sepulchre would be a tomb that has been whitewashed to make it appear more attractive. Conrad almost certainly took the phrase from the words of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which outwardly appear beautiful, but inwardly are full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.” So the city is seen as a place of hypocrisy, outwardly attractive, but with a ‘dark heart’. Perhaps Marlow is thinking of the evils of colonial exploitation in Africa which helped to pay for many of the attractive buildings and treasures of European cities.

  2. Karly says:

    “Here and there a military camp lost in a wilderness, like a needle in a bundle of hay–cold, fog, tempests, disease, exile, and death,–death skulking in the air, in the water, in the bush.”

    Although this does not literally refer to light/darkness and colour, I think that this quote does have an air of darkness about it, in its sense of it being cold and refering to death and disease, which aren’t classed as uplifting or ‘colourful’ subjects. But instead are associated with grief, mourning, and literally black which is worn at funerals. By refering to ‘cold, fog, and tempests’ it could be percieved in the way of his emotional state which could be numb-refering to the cold, he can’t make sense of things-the fog, and he could be in a struggle-tempest, which can be a state of emotional upheaval or disturbance. Or Conrad could literally be talking about him being at sea, being cold, by the weather being foggy, and by the tempest being a severe storm. By Conrad saying ‘death skulking in the air, in the water, in the bush’ it adds to the darkness of the story by the motif of darkness from the title re-occuring throughout the book. Even when he talks of the city (London) it is that of a ‘dark city’, therefore showing how darkness, as opposed to colour is shown throughout the book.

  3. Mark says:

    ‘In the offing the sea and the sky were welded together without a joint’

    We are told here how the sky and water become one as there colour is exactly the same. here he oculd be saying how the sea and sky are the same, as humans are unable to live in each as they need land beneath there feet. so therefore the sea and sky are equals.

    ‘Flames glided in the river, small green flames, red flames, white flames, pursuing, overtaking, joining, crossing each other–then separating slowly or hastily.’

    The different colours of the flames are representing how fire and flames can look so beautiful and can be extremely helpful as in allows us to cook food but on the other hand flames are evil as they can destroy most things in there path or at least burn them. so to me this symbolises the beauty in the evil.
    This also could be seen as the water reflecting into the flames therefore giving the flames different colours. Also as the water is moving quickly this allows the flames to change colours.

  4. Manu (Emmanuel) says:

    “And this also,” said Marlow suddenly, “has been one of the dark places of the earth”

    This quotation is found very early on in the book and to me shows a very signficent point. The place he is talking about is London, the capital of the great british empire, that was most deffinatly thought of VERY highly at the time. Of course it was a very important and respected city by many, however many did not know that the riches of this city was brutally taken from Africa and all it’s people. The fact that Marlow refers to it as “one of the dark places of the earth” implies that it is a (some may even say)’evil’ place. This highlights just how clueless people are of just how dark it is. Like Mr Heald pointed out “a whited sepulchre.”
    Further more Conrad refers to London as “one” of the dark places. the fact that he sais one shows that there are more places just like london that are highly respected and valued however also take from the needy people of Africa and give nothing in return. These places of course are the other Europian countries that have set up colonies in Africa.

  5. Mr Heald says:

    A very impressive first three responses from Karly, Mark and Emmanuel: you’ve set a great standard there. Just on a practical point for future posters, please remember to give a page reference for the quotations (though it’s easy enough to find them using Ctrl+F).

    Also, try and take account of the context of the quotation. Karly’s quotation is when Marlow is imagining a Roman commander being sent to Britain, so that the ‘darkness’ of Africa that is central to the novel is ‘framed’ by the idea that Britain, too, was once a place of ‘darkness’. Exactly what that idea of’darkness’ connotes is a subject for plenty of debate, though.

    I wrote the previous paragraph before Manu had posted, and he actually picks up on that issue with the quotation he refers to. Again, though, you may need to consider whether Marlow has the critical attitude towards the ‘current’ role of London/Britain that Manu suggests. Interestingly, the verb form used is that this place ‘has been’ one of the dark places (rather than ‘was’ or ‘is’).

    Mark’s interpretation of the ‘flames’ image is interesting and thoughtful, but doesn’t consider what the flames might actually be. Any thoughts?

  6. freddie says:

    “Moreover, I respected the fellow. Yes; I respected his collars, his vast cuffs, his brushed hair. His appearance was certainly that of a hairdresser’s dummy; but in the great demoralization of the land he kept up his appearance. That’s backbone. His starched collars and got-up shirt-fronts were achievements of character.”

    This quotation when Marlow is describing the company’s accountant at the station seems to have some importance in my view. The fact that Marlow seems to repsect this man so much which seems to uphold the sterotypes of the ‘upper class’ and the superiors in soceiety; even so far from what Marlow and others like him would consider as a society, there is still some formal hierachy perhaps? merely a formal nicety instilled on lower classes associate ‘starched collars’ with a position of command.
    He staes that ‘That’s backbone’ when describing the upkeep of the accountants apppearence, perhaps refering to how in such climates most men seems to fall to disease, to illness and a sloggish life of discomfort and drudgery by ‘western’ standards (european whatever i could be considered) of the time period this man has managed to keep the ideals of this perception alive through his appearence and effort.

  7. Mr Heald says:

    A striking quotation with interesting comments, Freddie. It almost seems churlish to point out that I can’t quite see how it fits the idea of building up a body of quotations on colour and light.

    But I can’t. Perhaps you can enlighten me. (Geddit? ;-))

  8. Cassandra says:

    ‘Only the gloom to the west, brooding over the upper reaches, became more somber every minute, as if angered by the approach of the sun.’

    This quotation has a certain irony about it as ‘the approach of the sun’ wouldnt normally bring anger. The sun is arguably a symbol of God and Heavan; ‘sun of man’ as apposed to the ‘son of man’ and heavan is supposed to represent peace and eternity… not something usually associated with anger, therefore this quotation could represent Marlow’s mixed emotions; his awe with the beauty of his surroundings, ‘The day was ending in a serenity of still and exquisite brilliance,’ but also his felling of dread for what is inevitably to come. Also, in this quotation Conrad seems to have used irony to suggest that the sun is lighting up the tranquility and magnificence of the land but is also shedding light on the fact that many riches have been taken from Africa and it’s people.

  9. Jenny says:

    ‘The edge of a colossal jungle, so dark-green as to be almost black, fringed with white surf, ran straight, like a ruled line, far, far away along a blue sea whose glitter was blurred by a creeping mist.’ (Page 4)

    It seems that at every mention of a colour other than black in the first nine pages, Conrad takes it as his duty to ‘dim it down’ or so to speak. From the examples posted prior to mine, we can see that Conrad describes London, Belgium and Africa as the “dark places of the earth”, shown through the gloomy imagery used to set the scenes of the different locations. In my example, we can see that Conrad favours describing the colour as ‘dark-green as to be almost black’ rather than noting the sights, the sounds and the feeling of being in the ‘colossal jungle’. This suggests that the colour of the jungle is more overwhelming than all of the other senses, perhaps showing the reader that there is an oppressive force circulating around the theme of the book, which is overpowering anything and everything that has the capacity to be positive. Moreover, we can see that Conrad acknowledges the ‘glitter’ of the ‘blue sea’, but only uses it to show the contrast of how it was ‘blurred by a creeping mist’. This could again possibly show that the ‘darkness’ is not necessarily colour as such, but something domineering that is taking over and overshadowing Marlow’s world.

  10. Samson says:

    ‘Two women, one fat and the other slim, sat on straw-bottomed chairs, knitting black wool. ‘

    There are many concepts and connections you can make from the colour black. Common realtions with this colour are negativity, posotivity, death, witchcraft, magic, unknown and secrecy. Many superstitions have aroused from the colour black, and many people regard the colour as being lucky or unlucky. Negative connotations include many days in history where the days are reffered to as black for bad reasons. For example ‘Black Friday’. However posotive suggestions of the word include; life, prosperity, beauty and being free form death.

    In the beginning of ‘Into the heart of darkness’ we come to meeting two female characters knitting black wool. This scene comes across to readers as being very eerie. The women can also be seen to be much alike to The Moirae; which in Greek Mythology determined the course of peoples lives. The act of them knitting represents them almost weaving together the fate of Charlie Marlow. If this is true, Joseph Conrad may want to use this idea, to make the reader think will the book have a posotive or negative outcome.

  11. Emma says:

    Page 2: “Light came out of this river since–you say Knights? Yes; but it is like a running blaze on a plain, like a flash of lightning in the clouds.”

    He describes the river Thames as having a light which died out before the Roman’s discovered England. He might be referring to before the river became polluted, and was clean and clear, enough to support life in the days of “knights”. A more simple and peaceful way of living, which when the Roman’s invaded changed because of the city being built up. This way of living is like a “running blaze” in that this type of civilisation dies out to make way for the invading strangers way of life.

    This description of what happened along the river Thames also leads off to talking about the river Congo, and that perhaps it isn’t such a good thing to try and change someones way of life. That maybe this “heart of darkness” along the river Congo isn’t such a bad thing, and how our society could have been viewed from their point of view as a once clean, light, vibrant river that was ruined and made dark by people who thought that their way of doing things was better.

    Would you agree that from the African people’s point of view our lands could be “the heart of darkness” because our invasion was so cold and forceful, and that we only saw their land as “the heart of darkness” because it was something unknown and thus to be frightened of??

  12. Philippa Kennedy says:

    Page 2, Column 1

    “Imagine him here – the very end of the world, a sea the colour of lead, a sky the colour of smoke.”

    I personally think this quote is meant to show how polluted the world had become at that time as when you think of the sky and the sea, you would normally think of them as blue rather than grey-black coloured.
    This quotation may also show that because people’s ideas about Africa were polluted and they called it the “heart of darkness” because of their polluted views. Perhaps they could not see Africa in its true colours because they may have been prejudiced against the natives, hence when Marlow is on the boat and the others shoot at the “enemies”.
    This quotation may also show that Marlow is one of the very few people who has stopped the world from going totally colourless as seems to be one of the minority who can see the bigger picture – in colour.

    * Not sure I totally grasped the concept here on what we were meant to write about but I had a go! *

  13. Rhys says:

    “The smell of mud, of primeval mud, by Jove! was in my nostrils, the high stillness of primeval forest was before my eyes; there were shiny patches on the black creek. The moon had spread over everything a thin layer of silver–over the rank grass, over the mud, upon the wall of matted vegetation standing higher than the wall of a temple, over the great river I could see through a somber gap glittering, glittering, as it flowed broadly by without a murmur.”

    Although this quotation is quite long I feel that it is of significance regarding the task. Firstly it links to light and colour frequently – take for instance ‘shiny,’ ‘silver’ and ‘glittering.’ This adopts a positive attitude and leads us to believe that the ‘forest’ is something to be desired. The forest is described as ‘primeval’ – literally meaning that it has been there from the beginnings of the Earth. I feel that this concept holds extreme importance, the fact that it has remained the same for so long probably means that no one has settled on it. Notice at the beginning of the novel it says ‘there were many blank spaces on the earth, and when I saw one that looked particularly inviting on a map. I would put my finger on it and say, “When I grow up I will go there.” I think that the ‘primeval forest’ possibly is one of the ‘blank spaces,’ it clearly hasn’t altered since his childhood. Furthermore the forest will probably appeal to him, no one has settled on it and therefore he could claim it as his own.

    Moreover I feel that this quotation also links to civilisation, it’s through this that things alter – without developments throughout society everything would remain the same. I think that this quote is trying to get across the idea that civilisation had made things worse. By describing the unaffected land optimistically through using words like ‘glittering’ – gives the impression that everything was perfect to begin with. Nonetheless earlier in the novel the author expresses how the area as a whole ‘had become a place of darkness.’ The verb ‘became’ is essential here in my opinion – it suggest that it was a gradual process, I feel that here the author is attempting to blame human action for the negativity that’s there now.

  14. Mr Heald says:

    Wow – this is coming along really well. Those of you who haven’t posted yet, please don’t be put off. Any contribution is better than none – just have a go. Don’t worry, Philippa – you’ve got the idea.

    Anyway, I’ve made the tea (poached tuna steaks with ginger and spring onions in white wine, with spiced red cabbage & mushrooms, mashed potatoes and kohl robi with parsnips), and now it’s time to go and bath Katie, get read her some stories and get her to bed. I’ve been working all day marking your coursework so I haven’t seen much of her, but I’ll be back later.

    I hope there will have been some more contributions to enjoy by then.

    See you later.

  15. Luke says:

    “Once a white man in an unbuttoned uniform, camping on the path with an armed escort of lank Zanzibaris, very hospitable and festive–not to say drunk. Was looking after the upkeep of the road, he declared. Can’t say I saw any road or any upkeep, unless the body of a middle-aged negro, with a bullet-hole in the forehead, upon which I absolutely stumbled three miles farther on, may be considered as a permanent improvement”

    Conrad narrates the story in such a way that each character introduced in the novel is known by the reader as either caucasoid or negroid. This could express that the white man represents something far different to what the black man does, in a similar way that light and darkness contrast. It is seen in various points in the novel, for example the incident where a french warship was “firing into a continent” (white man’s doing) compared to the black men “building a railway”. It appears therefore that the black men (the word “black” itself implying darkness) are actually the creators and the white men (light has always traditionally been seen as the omniscient creator) are the destroyers. The characteristic opinion that a white man such as Marlow “should” have would have been that the black man was the enemy, the destroyer. This creates a sense that the book is making the reader aware of the misconceptions that the white “settlers” had (in impartial terms they were invaders) and the lies they were told.

    I believe the idea of a white man wearing “uniform” is an important part of the phrase. It shows that the white man has power and authority, and the word “unbuttoned” may imply that he is not deserving of it, wears it as if it gives him the authority, rather than he being the one who earned it. Marlow then narrates how he stumbled on a body of a “dead middle-aged negro” on later on. The sarcastic comment he makes about it being an “improvement” could be another representation of the misconceptions the white men had. This part of the extract also shows the opinion expressed that the white men were the destroyers rather than the creators. In this instance however, the mention of upkeep could suggest that the white men were “supposed” to be creator but ignored their true duties, playing the devil rather than god.

  16. Catherine McCallum says:

    “And at last, in its curved and imperceptible fall, the sun sank low, and from glowing white changed to a dull red without rays and without heat, as if about to go out suddenly, stricken to death by the touch of that gloom brooding over a crowd of men.”

    This description of a sunset personifies the sun, referring to it as being ‘stricken by death;’ a violent metaphor, which is not in keeping with the general idea of a sunset being a beautiful phenomenon, often associated with romance. The ‘glowing white’ of the sun portrays a beauty and purity that is gives the characters a constant security and light throughout the day, particularly significant as the characters are sailors. However when the sun sets this comfort is destroyed, as the sun is described to be ‘without heat,’ which is replaced by red. This may remind readers of violence and blood particularly with the mentioning of death here; perhaps the author is proposing that the danger signified by red is also a feature of the night which threatens the characters, forever ‘brooding over’ them while the sun fails to shine. Furthermore by describing the sunset as ‘imperceptible,’ the author not only shows it is a gradual occurrence, but this may suggest that the characters cannot perceive why they must be subject to the night , when sailing is made harder without any guiding light and the danger suggested here is a threat to them.

  17. Adam says:

    ‘I’ve seen the devil of violence, and the devil of greed, and the devil of hot desire; but, by all the stars! these were strong, lusty, red-eyed devils, that swayed and drove men–men, I tell you.’

    (Yes, I picked the easiest quote of the whole book…)

    Well basically ‘red’ is the colour associated with evil, especially the devil, and so consequently is the colour adopted for dressing up as a devil at Halloween. The idea that their eyes are red not only gives them the appearance of being evil, but also suggests that all they see is evil.

  18. Philippa Kennedy says:

    just thought i’d add a bit of trivia to adam’s comment…

    The colour red is partly associated with evil/ the devil as in the book of Revelation in the Bible:

    “Then the angel carried me away by the Spirit to the desert. There I saw a oman sitting on a red beast. It was covered with names insulting to God written on it, and it had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was dressed in purple and RED…” Rev. 17 v 3-4a

    The woman that this passage talks about is known as the Spirit of Babylon and she is called “Mother of all prostitutes and evil things of the earth.”

    Just thought it was interesting and may provoke some more comments…

  19. Philippa Kennedy says:

    sorry… should be a woman sat on the red beast…. not an oman

  20. Mr Heald says:

    Those beasts in Revelation are so weird that it really wouldn’t surprise me to find Oman sitting on one. And I wonder how you share out 10 horns between 7 heads?

    Anyhow, you are of course right to point out the tendency of red to be associated with evil. So what do you make of the quotation early on (p3 col 2)when Marlow sees the map of Africa on the wall of the Company office and describes it as “marked with all the colors of a rainbow. There was a vast amount of red–good to see at any time, because one knows that some real work is done in there … ?”

  21. Philippa Kennedy says:

    Well… i suppose it doesn’t say that the horns are necessarily on the heads… so there’s possibly one on each head and three on the body or tail?

    Anyway… in the quotation where he says “because one knows that some real work is done in there…”, it could mean that Marlow knows what really happens there and it is not “Godly” i suppose you could say. It could be that they are treating the natives evily either through words or actions.

    Also, Marlow could be referring to the “vast amount of red” as blood because the red areas of the map could be the places where the battles are taking place. However, this does not seem to quite fit with Marlow’s character as he said that the red is “good to see at any time” but from what we have read, I do not think that Marlow is the sort of character to enjoy hearing or taking part in torturing or treating anybody badly. Although, this quotation could mean that he thinks his “side” is winning the battle.

    I have the feeling that that’s a lot of twaddle what I just wrote :S

  22. Mr Heald says:

    Not twaddle at all. Thoughtful interpretation.

    However (there’s always a however, isn’t there? Unless there’s a ‘but’), you have perhaps fallen into a bit of a trap that I mentioned early on, which is not taking sufficient account of the context (which is why I asked for page references, and suggest you look up the quotations given).

    You may remember that I’ve mentioned a similar point in relation to analysis of poetry from the Anthology. While it is great fun and often really illuminating to develop varied metaphorical or symbolic interpretations, it’s important to make sure you’re aware of any straightforward literal meaning first, and when Marlow refers to a ‘vast amount of red’ he is referring to the colour used to show those areas under British rule. Does that change the way you look at the quotation?

  23. Philippa Kennedy says:

    Aaaaaaah…. yes it does…. I forgot that little but important detail

    But its getting late and my brain is physically hurting for some reason …

    probably from the very nearly car-crash last night….


    so I’m not going to make it hurt any more…

    good night x

  24. Tom says:

    I think i might do that one, i just hope adam doesn’t mind too much, me stealing his quotation. Feel free to do a better job than me.

    ‘On one end a large shining map, marked with all the colors of a rainbow. There was a vast amount of red–good to see at any time, because one knows that some real work is done in there’

    The description of the colonization map of Africa that Marlow gives us could simply be just a means for Conrad to show us the timing of the novel and the area which the novel is set, a simple device so we know the time and setting of the novel. The red, being seen as the colour of ‘evil and the devil’, is symbolistic of Great Britain, and outside of this novel, has no significance other than a colour being selected for Great Britain to appear on the map, though red does seem to be a colour regularly associated with Britain. However, Conrad may be using this to show us his attitude towards the ‘colonization’ going on within Africa, and how it is an act of evil, not an advantage to Africans but an act of greed by Great Britain, and other Europian countries alike. Greed is seen to be one of the seven (evil) deadly sins and is condemned in the Bible and is generally seen as an evil trait.
    Also, i think Conrad uses this to show us Marlow’s position in the story, and his attitude to the events that are happening in his time. He seems very patriotic and proud when he tells us it is ‘good to see’ the presence of Britain in Africa and that he is positively sure that his country would be doing ‘some real work’ there. However, this could also be to show that Marlow supports the evil acts of ‘civilizing’ the Africans, and that the representative colour of red on the map, of both the British Empire and evil, is a good thing and is needed to be done. This leads me to think that Marlow is not the typical all-good, innocent protagonist that we usually see in novels.

  25. Rhys says:

    Think i might do that one, i just hope Tom doesn’t mind too much, me stealing his quotation. Feel free to do a better job than me.

    ‘On one end a large shining map, marked with all the colors of a rainbow.’

    My earlier post concentrated on words like ‘glistening’ – Tom’s quote appealed to me, basically because it had the word ‘shining’ in it. I noticed a clear link here – the author seems to use words repeatedly which have similar meanings – in fact a search on brings up shining when you type in ‘glistening’ and vice-versa. This I feel holds some significance, primarily since the author seems to use light to convey positivity – this was the case in my other ‘attempt’ at least also.

    I know it’s brief – The Murphy has preoccupied me with hundreds of maths questions… oh joy!

  26. Mr Heald says:

    For some reason Daniel Collins couldn’t post his comment direct so he emailed it to me. Here it is:

    “And at last, in its curved and imperceptible fall, the sun sank low, and from glowing white changed to a dull red without rays and without heat, as if about to go out suddenly, stricken to death by the touch of that gloom brooding over a crowd of men.” – page 1 left colum

    Here the sun is described as turning from a “glowing white” to a “dull red” this change in colour might show the darkening of the world because of man making it a more “dull”, cold and evil place which is seen with the metaphor, in which, the gloom that is created by men is sickening the sun.

  27. Joe Martin says:

    ‘Imagine him here–the very end of the world, a sea the color of lead, a sky the color of smoke, a kind of ship about as rigid as a concertina–and going up this river with stores, or orders, or what you like.’ (page 2 line 12 left hand column)

    I think the author is referring to the British Isles as being the ends of the earth, this part is about the Romans invading England and coming from a highly civilised society and ending up in a cold dirty country where there are no fine houses, no wine to drink. When the author is talking about the sea the colour of lead this cannot be the pollution that London is surrounded by today as there wouldn’t be in those days. It is however referring to the dirty Thames where it joins the sea. Similarly where he says the sky the colour of smoke he is talking about London being dark and dingy in contrast to where they have come from.

  28. Mr Heald says:

    Good observation about pollution not being relevant due to the context, Joe. Any thoughts on the choice of words ‘lead’ and ‘smoke’ to refer to the colour of the sea and sky beyond the obvious sense of relative darkness you refer to?

  29. Philippa Kennedy says:

    When I was using the same quote as Joe to talk about pollution, I meant that overall, people’s judgements were polluted, not the earth, in case of confusion. Thinking back, another point may be that many people thought that the natives were dirty or “polluted” because of their darker skin.

    However, how do we know that the title of the book is just a term for the continent of Africa? It could also be that the hearts of most people who were around when Conrad was writing this book were darkened by their clouded views and stereotypes. He may have used this particular title as a metaphor to show the public what their hearts are really like.

    Another thing that I have since found out was that the British soldiers would have worn red uniforms. This may mean that some other colonies may have thought of them as “evil” forces. This could also relate back to a point in class about people thinking that the colonies were beneficial to the natives but they may have actually been harmful.
    Red is also a symbol of blood and may symbolise in this book how badly the colonists treated the natives. As we have seen in the book when Marlow is on the boat, the men shot into the bushes because they knew there were “enemies” (natives) around there. This could possibly show how the men on the boat were also unafraid for blood to be spilt unnecessarily.

  30. Mr Heald says:

    Hmm… I need to concentrate harder. I’d forgotten that you’d already used that quotation, Philippa. Bad form, Joe 😉

    You are absolutely right to point to the title having a significance that goes way beyond referring merely to the African continent.

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