Heart of Darkness


Joseph Conrad

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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.
The Lack of Truth Theme Icon

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, the shining beacon of European civilization and morality in the midst of the dark jungle and the "flabby rapacious folly" of the other Belgian Company agents.

But Marlow's quest is a failure: Kurtz turns out to be the biggest monster of all. And with that failure Marlow learns that at the heart of everything there lies only darkness. In other words, you can't know other people, and you can't even really know yourself. There is no fundamental truth.

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The Lack of Truth ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of The Lack of Truth appears in each section of Heart of Darkness. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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The Lack of Truth Quotes in Heart of Darkness

Below you will find the important quotes in Heart of Darkness related to the theme of The Lack of Truth.
Part 1 Quotes
The word 'ivory' rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it. A taint of imbecile rapacity blew through it all, like a whiff from some corpse. By Jove! I've never seen anything so unreal in my life. And outside, 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.
Related Characters: Marlow (speaker)
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:
Do you see him? Do you see the story? Do you see anything? It seems I am trying to tell you a dream—making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream-sensation, that commingling of absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt, that notion of being captured by the incredible which is the very essence of dreams... [...] ...No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one's existence—that which makes its truth, its meaning—its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream—alone.
Related Characters: Marlow (speaker), Kurtz
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2 Quotes
It was very simple, and at the end of that moving appeal to every altruistic sentiment it blazed at you, luminous and terrifying like a flash of lightning in a serene sky: "Exterminate all the brutes!"
Related Characters: Marlow (speaker), Kurtz (speaker)
Related Literary Devices:
Page Number: 46
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3 Quotes
"The horror! The horror!"
Related Characters: Kurtz (speaker)
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:
"Mistah Kurtz—he dead."
Related Characters: The General Manager's servant (speaker), Kurtz
Page Number: 64
Explanation and Analysis:
I was within a hair's-breadth of the last opportunity for pronouncement, and I found with humiliation that probably I would have nothing to say. This is the reason why I affirm that Kurtz was a remarkable man. He had something to say. He said it. [. . .] He had summed up—he had judged. "The horror!" He was a remarkable man.
Related Characters: Marlow (speaker), Kurtz
Related Literary Devices:
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:
I heard a light sigh and then my heart stood still, stopped dead short by an exulting and terrible cry, by the cry of inconceivable triumph and of unspeakable pain. 'I knew it—I was sure!' . . . She knew. She was sure. I heard her weeping; she had hidden her face in her hands. It seemed to me that the house would collapse before I could escape, that the heavens would fall upon my head. But nothing happened. The heavens do not fall for such a trifle.
Related Characters: Marlow (speaker), Kurtz's Intended (speaker), Kurtz
Related Symbols: Women
Related Literary Devices:
Page Number: 71-72
Explanation and Analysis:
The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed sombre under an overcast sky—seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.
Related Characters: Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: Dark and White
Related Literary Devices:
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis: