The Congo River
Literally, the Congo River is the means by which the Europeans enter the region. It is also their
main method of transportation. Marlow equates the river with a coiled
snake. Thus, it is a symbol of danger; it lies in wait, ready to strike.
It should be noted that Marlow's journey upriver, into the heart of the Congo, is a very time-consuming and arduous. This suggests that the journey into
oneself is both a slow and difficult task.
Darkness is an important
symbol in the novel. Marlow's tale opens and closes in darkness, and many
of the novel's significant events happen in darkness as well. As a symbol
darkness represents the core of our being. It is what's left after we
throw off the illusions and comforts of civilization, a tremendous
emptiness. It is the symbolic equivalent of Kurt's message "The
horror! The horror!"
When Marlow first arrives at
Kurtz's station, he thinks he sees a line of ornamented posts surrounding the
main house. Upon closer inspection he realizes that the posts are topped
by human heads. These heads provide the most direct evidence of Kurtz's
"unsound" methods or, to some, his insanity. They also symbolize the
savage and brutal nature that lies within each of us.
Ivory is the main reason the
Europeans come to the Congo. It is a symbol of lust and greed. As
an object, ivory is something pure and beautiful, but the means of acquiring it
are very ugly. Ivory also operates as a symbol of whiteness or European
Literally, the Intended is
Kurtz's fianc´┐Że. As a symbol she represents all of the values and morals
that Europeans "intended" to bring to the Congo. Of course, their lust
for ivory makes any altruistic actions impossible.
Kurtz's painting, an image
of a blindfolded woman carrying a torch, is a significant symbol in the
story. Readers may be reminded of the blindfolded symbol of
justice. In this way, the painting can allude to the tremendous
injustices that take place at the hands of the Europeans. But the figure
also represents European colonization. The torch is the "light" of
culture that Europeans are supposedly bringing to the region, while the
blindfold represents the "blind" eye they must turn to accomplish their activities.