Heart of Darkness

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Heart of Darkness Themes

Themes and Colors
Colonialism Theme Icon
The Hollowness of Civilization Theme Icon
The Lack of Truth Theme Icon
Work Theme Icon
Racism Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Heart of Darkness, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Marlow's story in Heart of Darkness takes place in the Belgian Congo, the most notorious European colony in Africa for its greed and brutalization of the native people. In its depiction of the monstrous wastefulness and casual cruelty of the colonial agents toward the African natives, Heart of Darkness reveals the utter hypocrisy of the entire colonial effort. In Europe, colonization of Africa was justified on the grounds that not only would it bring wealth…

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Heart of Darkness portrays a European civilization that is hopelessly and blindly corrupt. The novella depicts European society as hollow at the core: Marlow describes the white men he meets in Africa, from the General Manager to Kurtz, as empty, and refers to the unnamed European city as the "sepulchral city" (a sepulcher is a hollow tomb). Throughout the novella, Marlow argues that what Europeans call "civilization" is superficial, a mask created…

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Heart of Darkness plays with the genre of quest literature. In a quest, a hero passes through a series of difficult tests to find an object or person of importance, and in the process comes to a realization about the true nature of the world or human soul. Marlow seems to be on just such a quest, making his way past absurd and horrendous "stations" on his way up the Congo to find Kurtz

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In a world where truth is unknowable and men's hearts are filled with either greed or a primitive darkness that threatens to overwhelm them, Marlow seems to find comfort only in work. Marlow notes that he escaped the jungle's influence not because he had principles or high ideals, but because he had a job to do that kept him busy.

Work is perhaps the only thing in Heart of Darkness that Marlow views in an…

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Students and critics alike often argue about whether Heart of Darkness is a racist book. Some argue that the book depicts Europeans as superior to Africans, while others believe the novel attacks colonialism and therefore is not racist. There is the evidence in the book that supports both sides of the argument, which is another way of saying that the book's actual stance on the relationship between blacks and whites is not itself black and…

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