Heart of Darkness Themes
by Joseph Conrad

The two themes this guide focuses on are that 1) Imperialism is touted as high idealism (civilizing savages for their own good), but is in fact just another face of savagery, and 2) by embracing or even just being exposed the darkness of savagery by any name can give a person hidden knowledge, or at least uncommon knowledge. These ideas are dealt with thoroughly with the analysis section, but following are some major points.

Kurtz embraces savagery to the point of becoming a god among the supposed savages themselves. He becomes the most enlightened character, but also suffers the most. Marlow, gains some of this understanding, but less than Kurtz, and consequently suffers less.

The Pilgrims and Cannibals highlight the hypocrisy of Imperialism: the pilgrims behave as savages, and the whole Company, in fact, is responsible for the mistreatment of the natives. They justify their abuse and murder of the indigenous people by labeling them slaves, enemies, and rebels.

Conrad's exploration of these themes is not undertaken in a preachy, absolute way: there are many shades of grey between the black and white of this novella.

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