Joseph Conrad uses a multitude of elements of Gothic literature in Heart of Darkness to convey the problems associated with Imperialism and Colonialism. Through the extensive use of metaphors and vivid imagery, Conrad constructs Heart of Darkness with an atmosphere of mystery, horror, and gloom. By characterizing the African jungle as, “the heart of immense darkness,” Conrad utilizes dark imagery to create an atmosphere of mystery and gloom consistent with the atmosphere of most Gothic literature (Conrad 102). Furthermore, Conrad makes extensive use of metaphors and awkward imagery to construct Africa and the jungle as a nightmare, which is a standard theme of Gothic literature. In Heart of Darkness, Joseph uses conventions of Gothic literature to convey a feeling of uneasiness and horror as Marlow explores the depths of the African jungle, contributing to the suspense and mystery surrounding the journey to find Mr. Kurtz.
Joseph Conrad’s use of dark and nightmarish imagery to describe the African jungle and its inhabitants is the clearest Gothic convention used in Heart of Darkness. In Heart of Darkness, vivid imagery of the natives’ features and the forest’s vastness create distinct Gothic feelings in readers’ minds:
Dark human shapes could be made out in the distance, flitting indistinctly against the gloomy border of the forest, and near the river two bronze figures, leaning on tall spears, stood in the sunlight under fantastic head-dresses of spotted skins, warlike and still in statuesque repose. And from right to left along the lighted shore moved a wild and gorgeous apparition of a woman. (Conrad 79)
By making use of the imagery of shadows and the darkness of the forest, Conrad instills a fear of the unknown in his readers, which also contribute to the atmosphere of mystery and suspense built up by the rumors surrounding Mr. Kurtz. Heart of Darkness uses Gothic conventions such as mysterious themes and dark imagery to build up the suspense to the introduction of Mr. Kurtz and enhance the mysterious rumors surrounding him. Jennifer Lipka explains that, “the thematic notion of the nightmare and the dream are standard themes of the Gothic…. While Marlow repeatedly says he is living the nightmare of his choice, living a waking horrific dream, Conrad structurally wrote the story in language that is very dreamlike” (Lipka). By constructing the atmosphere of Heart of Darkness around the feel of a dream, Joseph Conrad uses Gothic themes to enhance the character of Mr. Kurtz and convey his own view of Africa as the unknown and dangerous. At the end of Heart of Darkness, Marlow even states that Africa is the heart of darkness that swallows everything and remains a mystery. Lipka furthers to explain that, “real horrors do fill the pages of Heart of Darkness, be they heads on stakes or the grove of death. Yet the message of the work is that the real horror has been internalized and lies within the heart, the heart of darkness. Marlow himself makes a distinction between the outside threat of danger and terror to the most extreme terror, which is a product of the mind” (Lipka). Conrad uses the Gothic themes of horror and gloom to convey his feeling that Africa is the heart of darkness. Heart of Darkness is a clear example of Gothic Literature because it utilizes Gothic themes such as nightmarish and dark imagery as well as mystery and suspense to enhance its characters and the overall message of the work.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Lexington: This Edition, 2013. Print.
Lipka, Jennifer. "The Horror! The Horror!: Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness as a Gothic Novel." Web. 8 March 2015.