Examining the theme of death in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness

Essay by surf100University, Bachelor'sB+, March 2008

download word file, 5 pages 3.0

"You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to." The English language is open to different pronunciations and interpretations. In this example, there are two pronunciations of the same word but which is correct? How does one say tomato? In my world, both are correct, they are just different ways of communicating. I believe this aspect of open interpretation can be applied to literature. Two people can read the same text and reach completely different conclusions, yet, both are correct. The importance of reading literature is finding a meaning relatable to oneself. After all, is that not part of the fun in reading literature, debating the unusual and diverse meanings behind text? Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness is one such piece of literature open to many different interpretations. In order to adequately capture the true meaning and purpose of the novel it must be read not only as an adventure story but also as an exploration into the human mind and human morality.

Heart of Darkness is "based on a simple symbolic quest, in which the various forms of "darkness" which Marlow encounters have as many possible meanings as the blue flower of Novalis." (Watt 363).One interpretation of this darkness is death and its relation to Marlow. Marlow's journey of self-discovery begins with a fascination with death, leading to his fear of death, which leads to an obsession of death, all driven by his struggle with faith in God.

At the beginning of the novel, Conrad relates that to Marlow, "the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale" (Conrad 5). This principle can be applied to many aspects of the novel, even the title. The title Heart of Darkness does not symbolize a heart filled with darkness or a dark heart. Rather it refers to...