Heart of Darkness

by

Joseph Conrad

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Heart of Darkness: Personification 1 key example

Definition of Personification
Personification is a type of figurative language in which non-human things are described as having human attributes, as in the sentence, "The rain poured down on the wedding guests, indifferent... read full definition
Personification is a type of figurative language in which non-human things are described as having human attributes, as in the sentence, "The rain poured down... read full definition
Personification is a type of figurative language in which non-human things are described as having human attributes, as in the... read full definition
Part 1
Explanation and Analysis—The Jungle:

Throughout the novella, Marlow personifies the Congo rainforest in order to emphasize its immensity, mystery, and resilience to human activity. For instance, after he reaches the Central Station in Part 1, he comments:

The silent wilderness surrounding this cleared speck on the earth struck me as something great and invincible, like evil or truth, waiting patiently for the passing away of this fantastic invasion.

By personifying the forest as an “invincible” foe that is “waiting patiently” for the European invaders to die or move on, Marlow emphasizes how vast and unconquerable it is. He insists that colonizers like himself will never be able to truly control it, simply because it is far greater than they will ever be. In turn, this allows him to suggest that humans are powerless in comparison with nature’s grandeur—both the natural world itself (which can easily kill people through forces like river currents and disease) and the underlying human nature (“evil or truth”) that people can never change, no matter how hard they try. As he travels down the Congo River in Part 2, he uses more personification to make it clear that people are entirely at nature’s mercy:

The reaches opened before us and closed behind, as if the forest had stepped leisurely across the water to bar the way for our return. We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness.

Here, he personifies the forest by imagining it shut behind his boat, swallowing him and his companions as they travel upriver towards the Inner Station. The forest is so vast that, metaphorically speaking, it could cover the wide Congo River with a single step. The fact that this step is “leisurely” suggests that the jungle is so much more powerful than humans that it barely has to do any work to adapt to their presence. The Congo’s nature easily overwhelms people, who stand no chance of ever taming or overpowering it (like they do in less harsh environments). Marlow repeats this sentiment later in Part 2, when he personifies how the wilderness might react to Kurtz’s dazzling wealth:

It made me hold my breath in expectation of hearing the wilderness burst into a prodigious peal of laughter that would shake the fixed stars in their places.

Marlow personifies nature as bursting into laughter in order to show how insignificant Kurtz’s ambitious ivory-collecting project really is in the grand scheme of things. He also does this to foreshadow howKurtz’s greed will lead him to a senseless, wasteful, utterly unnecessary death in the near future. Even if Kurtz really is the greatest ivory trader in European history, Marlow suggests with these descriptions, he will still always remain completely insignificant when compared to the vast, rich jungle as a whole. Again, Conrad personifies the jungle primarily to highlight how arrogant and outmatched humans are in their attempts to control it.

Part 2
Explanation and Analysis—The Jungle:

Throughout the novella, Marlow personifies the Congo rainforest in order to emphasize its immensity, mystery, and resilience to human activity. For instance, after he reaches the Central Station in Part 1, he comments:

The silent wilderness surrounding this cleared speck on the earth struck me as something great and invincible, like evil or truth, waiting patiently for the passing away of this fantastic invasion.

By personifying the forest as an “invincible” foe that is “waiting patiently” for the European invaders to die or move on, Marlow emphasizes how vast and unconquerable it is. He insists that colonizers like himself will never be able to truly control it, simply because it is far greater than they will ever be. In turn, this allows him to suggest that humans are powerless in comparison with nature’s grandeur—both the natural world itself (which can easily kill people through forces like river currents and disease) and the underlying human nature (“evil or truth”) that people can never change, no matter how hard they try. As he travels down the Congo River in Part 2, he uses more personification to make it clear that people are entirely at nature’s mercy:

The reaches opened before us and closed behind, as if the forest had stepped leisurely across the water to bar the way for our return. We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness.

Here, he personifies the forest by imagining it shut behind his boat, swallowing him and his companions as they travel upriver towards the Inner Station. The forest is so vast that, metaphorically speaking, it could cover the wide Congo River with a single step. The fact that this step is “leisurely” suggests that the jungle is so much more powerful than humans that it barely has to do any work to adapt to their presence. The Congo’s nature easily overwhelms people, who stand no chance of ever taming or overpowering it (like they do in less harsh environments). Marlow repeats this sentiment later in Part 2, when he personifies how the wilderness might react to Kurtz’s dazzling wealth:

It made me hold my breath in expectation of hearing the wilderness burst into a prodigious peal of laughter that would shake the fixed stars in their places.

Marlow personifies nature as bursting into laughter in order to show how insignificant Kurtz’s ambitious ivory-collecting project really is in the grand scheme of things. He also does this to foreshadow howKurtz’s greed will lead him to a senseless, wasteful, utterly unnecessary death in the near future. Even if Kurtz really is the greatest ivory trader in European history, Marlow suggests with these descriptions, he will still always remain completely insignificant when compared to the vast, rich jungle as a whole. Again, Conrad personifies the jungle primarily to highlight how arrogant and outmatched humans are in their attempts to control it.

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