Themes in Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness explores something truer, more fundamental, and distinctly less material than just a personal narrative. It is a night journey into the unconscious, and confrontation of an entity within the self. Certain circumstances of Marlow’s voyage, looked at in these terms, take on a new importance. The true night journey can occur only in sleep or in a waking dream of a profoundly intuitive mind. Marlow insists on the dreamlike quality of his narrative. "It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream - making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream - sensation." Even before leaving Brussels, Marlow felt as though he "was about to set off for center of the earth," not the center of a continent. The introspective voyager leaves his familiar rational world, is "cut off from the comprehension" of his surroundings, his steamer toils "along slowly on the edge of a black and incomprehensible frenzy." As the crisis approaches, the dreamer and his ship moves through a silence that "seemed unnatural, like a state of trance; then enter a deep fog." The approach to this Kurtz grubbing for ivory in the wretched bush was beset by as many dangers as though he had been an enchanted princess sleeping in a fabulous castle." Later, Marlow’s task is to try "to break the spell" of the wilderness that holds Kurtz entranced.