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Symbolism in Heart of Darkness

Okay, some of this seems like a real stretch, but it was an English teacher who tried (fairly unsuccessfully) to convince us that this stuff is right, so...

(Oh, yes a note here: These are by no means the ONLY things that can be symbols or even the only things that the symbols can symbolize. This is just some basic info- if you have anything you think should be added, e-mail us down below, and we’ll probably add it.)

Black/White Images

Black natives with white souls are contrasted with White men with black souls- Black here represents evil or the knowledge of evil- the Black men don’t hide their evil from themselves or others behind a facade of good (white). Or something like that, anyway.

White string around the starving Black boy’s neck- In the field of dying blacks, the dude with the white little thingy around his neck- The white string being around his neck represents his being drawn into the white man’s world, the white string is a collar, a stranglehold.


These are fairly confusing, and most of them really seem a stretch, but once again, if they help w/ an essay, that’s what they’re here for...

Red- on Company map- blood, the killing performed in the British desire to “civilize” the natives and get ivory

Yellow- sickness, cowardice, un-civilization, corruption, decay; On Company map- uncivilized and contaminated by ivory trade (Sure, why not?)

Green- life, growth, new things (This makes sense- doesn’t seem TOO much a stretch.)

Blue- serenity, peace

Brown- coming closer to black, but not quite there

Black- knowledge of evil, loss of innocence

Gray- ambiguity, emotionless, puzzling

(Another little note: The various colors on the Company map not listed above- purple, etc.- are various stages of civilization.)

Paleness- death, weakness (Not exactly a color, but oh, well.)

Other Symbols

Blinding sunshine- the truth is so stark and painful; the Company works under the guise of enlightening the natives, and that blinds people from the truth- that they’re there to get ivory.

Candles- the brickmaker who didn’t make bricks had them- feeble light, status or wealth, worthless status

Grass- Marlow’s predecessor, Fresleven, ‘s skeleton was overgrown w/ grass when Marlow found it- represents how nature overcomes man, takes back what’s hers

Flies (the huge, buzzing kind)- Marlow’s reaction to Africa- it’s new, and he’s appalled by what he sees. (If anyone can find where this was, let us know- “our” copy of Heart of Darkness was taken back by “our” English teacher. They may have been at the station where Marlow met the Company’s Chief Accountant.)

Flies (the small, swarming kind)- acceptance, Africa is more comfortable for Marlow; callousness (Same as above, except that we have no idea where this was- either right after Kurtz’ death, or some time in Chapter 2 or 3...)

Ivory- greed, corruption, selfish ambition, lust for power, etc.

The jungle- knowledge, the truth, understanding of evil (Trees make up a forest, and trees are mostly green and brown- life, growth, new things, as well as the beginning to learn of evil- personal growth as Marlow sees the evil inherent to the human soul, or some nonsense like that.)

Pail- the one the “fat agent” fights the fire in the supply shed with- futility (Remember it- it had holes in it?)

Sealing wax- used to hold stuff together (No idea where that one is, but it sounds like it could maybe be important...)

Shoes- comfort, responsibility, protection (Consider the meaning in Marlow giving that Russian fellow a pair of shoes, and his throwing his blood-soaked ones into the river after the boat is attacked.)

Oil painting- Kurtz’ painting- black woman blindfolded carrying a torch- Reveals that the blacks had the truth, but the white men are blinding them to it in their attempt to get ivory. (The teacher said that it was Kurtz’s painting of his black mistress, but we don’t see how you can make that assumption.)

Rivets- hold things together- Marlow couldn’t get them from the Company, representing how the Company is letting Things Fall Apart; on a somewhat different topic- a way of controlling and manipulating Marlow, and through Marlow, Kurtz.

Water- loss of innocence, passage into knowledge and the world, rebirth

As stated before, this is by no means a definitive source of symbols- it is merely some basic stuff. We hope it helps.

Okay, enough of THAT- though more might be added later on-
Back to the main Essay Help Page.