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11. The "darkness" of the title is the book's most pervasive symbol. In general, it refers to the incomprehensible and the unknowable; more specifically, it refers to that negative force, whatever it is, which stands opposed to the Victorian era's ideals of progress. Marlow finds this brute force in the jungles of the Congo, but he learns that it isn't restricted to the jungle. Certainly it exists where civilization and progress haven't yet penetrated, but it exists in advanced society, too. (Conrad associates images of darkness and gloom with the city of London.) Further, Marlow learns that the darkness exists not just externally, as a force, but also internally: we all carry the capability for reversion, for evil, somewhere within us.
Consequently, the "heart" of the title is a pun. On the one hand,
it means "center": the heart of darkness is the center of the
jungle, specifically the Inner Station where Kurtz dwells. But it also
means "the human heart": Kurtz is black hearted in the traditional
sense of the word-cruel, wicked. And since Marlow hints that we all have
darkness somewhere in our hearts, then perhaps the "heart of darkness"
refers, bleakly, to the human situation: striving toward the light of
progress, but pulled back by the power of darkness.
12. In using a narrator who's supposed to be spinning a tale aloud, not writing it down, Conrad imitates the methods of an oral story-teller. And so he adopts a number of techniques that were at the time unusual in a novel. For example, there are sudden jumps in time, flashbacks, as when Marlow, pursuing Kurtz on the riverbank, suddenly recalls the old woman with the cat in Brussels; or flashforwards, as when Marlow, describing the attack on the steamboat, suddenly jumps ahead of himself to tell about Kurtz, who at that point hasn't entered the story yet. There are pauses, hesitations, digressions, and repetitions that seem right for a speaking voice, but would have no place in a "written" work. In his digression on Kurtz (II, 5), Marlow mentions a girl: "even the girl herself-now-"; then he's silent for a long time; and then he begins, "Girl! What? Did I mention a girl?" Such a passage adds to the illusion of a speaking voice.
Conrad's so-called impressionism is an important part of his technique. He often relates a series of impressions before putting them together to decide what they mean. During the attack, Marlow sees the poleman lie flat on deck, then the fireman squat before his furnace, and then a number of little sticks in the air. Only then does he deduce, "Arrows, by Jove! We were being shot at!" (II, 4).