Heart of Darkness

Speech and Silence in Heart of Darkness College

In Heart of Darkness, both the content and the form of Marlow’s narration consistently draw attention to and undermine language. Through relating his journey into the Congo, Marlow considers the role of speech in creating the self, and alternates between rejecting language completely and acknowledging his own reliance on it. In Marlow’s tale, Africans embody an ideal of self-definition through physicality in contrast to the Europeans, whose incessant attempts at linguistic self-expression merely reveal their emptiness. As a consequence of this examination of the limitations of speech and his encounter with Kurtz, a man reduced solely to a voice, Marlow finds himself struggling with his own words as he strives to capture the truth of his experience for his listeners.

Although from the perspective of the reader, Marlow is quite a sedentary figure, who neither moves nor undertakes any action other than speaking, he contends that he understands himself best as a result of his labor. He explains, “I don’t like work—no man does—but I like what it is in the work, the chance to find yourself, not for others—what no man can ever know. They can only see the mere show, and never can tell what it really means” (239). While Marlow likens...

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