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Heart of Darkness Quotes About Imperialism and Racism

Heart of Darkness is a novella published in 1889 by Polish-English novelist Joseph Conrad. The book has been a timeless success and has been republished and translated into many languages.

Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 film Apocalypse Now, was inspired by Heart of Darkness. In 1998, the Modern Library ranked Heart of Darkness 67th on their list of the 100 best novels in English of the twentieth century. Many of these Heart of Darkness quotes touch on the stories main idea of the hypocrisy of imperialism.

Heart of Darkness makes several comments about imperialism and racism, specifically focusing on the idea that there is little difference between “civilised people” and “savages.” The story is narrated by Charles Marlow, who tells his tale of a trip up the Congo River into the Congo Free State in the Heart of Africa to his friends while aboard a boat anchored on the River Thames.

This setting is the perfect frame for Marlow’s story about his obsession with the successful ivory trader Kurtz. Conrad uses this to show the parallels between London (“the greatest town on earth”) and Africa as places of darkness. These Heart of Darkness quotes about the jungle, dreams, and hate will make you feel like you are right there with Marlow on his journey.

Heart of Darkness Quotes

Heart of Darkness quotes about the earth and jungle

1. The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil water-way leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed somber under an overcast sky–seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness. ― Joseph Conrad

2. I saw him open his mouth wide. . . as though he had wanted to swallow all the air, all the earth, all the men before him. ― Joseph Conrad

3. All that mysterious life of the wilderness that stirs in the forest, in the jungles, in the hearts of wild men. ― Joseph Conrad

4. The moon had spread over everything a thin layer of silver – over the rank grass, over the mud, upon the wall of matted vegetation standing higher than the wall of a temple, over the great river I could see through a somber gap glittering, glittering, as it flowed broadly by without a murmur. All this was great, expectant, mute, while the man jabbered about himself. ― Joseph Conrad

5. In the empty immensity of earth, sky, and water, there she was, incomprehensible, firing into a continent. ― Joseph Conrad

6. Avoid irritation more than exposure to the sun…In the tropics, one must before everything keep calm. ― Joseph Conrad

7. The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. ― Joseph Conrad

8. We live in the flicker — may it last as long as the old earth keeps rolling! But darkness was here yesterday. ― Joseph Conrad

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9. The sight of it made the earth seem unearthly. They were accustomed to look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster, but there– there you could look at a thing monstrous, beautiful, and free. ― Joseph Conrad

10. Beyond the fence the forest stood up spectrally in the moonlight, and through the dim stir, through the faint sounds of that lamentable courtyard, the silence of the land went home to one’s very heart – its mystery, its greatness, the amazing reality of its concealed life. ― Joseph Conrad

11. The earth for us is a place to live in, where we must put up with sights, with sounds, with smells, too, by Jove! – breathe dead hippo, so as to speak, and not be contaminated. ― Joseph Conrad

Heart of Darkness quotes about the dreams, the mind, and the soul

12. We live as we dream―alone. ― Joseph Conrad

13. It was written I should be loyal to the nightmare of my choice. ― Joseph Conrad

14. I don’t like work–no man does–but I like what is in the work–the chance to find yourself. Your own reality–for yourself not for others–what no other man can ever know. They can only see the mere show and never can tell what it really means. ― Joseph Conrad

15. While the dream disappears, the life continues painfully. ― Joseph Conrad

16. The mind of man is capable of anything―because everything is in it, all the past as well as the future. ― Joseph Conrad

17. But his soul was mad. Being alone in the wilderness, it had looked within itself and, by heavens I tell you, it had gone mad. ― Joseph Conrad

18. If anybody had ever struggled with a soul, I am the man. ― Joseph Conrad

19. They had behind them, to my mind, the terrific suggestiveness of words heard in dreams, of phrases spoken in nightmares. ― Joseph Conrad

20. But his soul was mad. Being alone in the wilderness, it had looked within itself and, by heavens I tell you, it had gone mad. ― Joseph Conrad

21. He struggled with himself, too. I saw it — I heard it. I saw the inconceivable mystery of a soul that knew no restraint, no faith, and no fear, yet struggling blindly with itself. ― Joseph Conrad

Short Heart of Darkness quotes that are packed with meaning and feeling

21. Your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. ― Joseph Conrad

22. We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness. ― Joseph Conrad

23. It echoed loudly within him because he was hollow at the core. ― Joseph Conrad

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24. I have a voice, too, and for good or evil mine is the speech that cannot be silenced. ― Joseph Conrad

25. Live rightly, die nobly. ― Joseph Conrad

26. His face was like the autumn sky, overcast one moment and bright the next. ― Joseph Conrad

27. The fascination of the abomination. ― Joseph Conrad

28. It was like a weary pilgrimage amongst hints for nightmares. ― Joseph Conrad

29. This was the unbounded power of eloquence—of words—of burning noble words. ― Joseph Conrad

30. A fool, what with sheer fright and fine sentiments, is always safe. ― Joseph Conrad

Angry and grim Heart of Darkness quotes about hate and death

31. You know I hate, detest, and can’t bear a lie, not because I am straighter than the rest of us, but simply because it appalls me. There is a taint of death, a flavor of mortality in lies – which is exactly what I hate and detest in the world ― what I want to forget. ― Joseph Conrad

32. Even extreme grief may ultimately vent itself in violence–but more generally takes the form of apathy. ― Joseph Conrad

33. I have wrestled with death. It is the most unexciting contest you can imagine. It takes place in an impalpable greyness, with nothing underfoot, with nothing around, without spectators, without clamor, without glory, without the great desire of victory, without the great fear of defeat, in a sickly atmosphere of tepid skepticism, without much belief in your own right, and still less in that of your adversary. ― Joseph Conrad

34. He has to live in the midst of the incomprehensible, which is also detestable. ― Joseph Conrad

35. I thought his memory was like the other memories of the dead that accumulate in every man’s life—a vague impress on the brain of shadows that had fallen on it in their swift and final passage. ― Joseph Conrad

36. His was an impenetrable darkness. I looked at him as you peer down at a man who is lying at the bottom of a precipice where the sun never shines. ― Joseph Conrad

37. One can’t live with one’s finger everlastingly on one’s pulse. ― Joseph Conrad

38. He hated all this, and somehow he couldn’t get away. ― Joseph Conrad

39. And this stillness of life did not in the least resemble a peace. It was the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention. It looked at you with a vengeful aspect. ― Joseph Conrad

40. No eloquence could have been so withering to one’s belief in mankind as his final burst of sincerity. ― Joseph Conrad

Heart of Darkness quotes about life, living, and emotions

41. Droll thing life is—that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself—that comes too late—a crop of inextinguishable regrets. ― Joseph Conrad

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42. Like a running blaze on a plain, like a flash of lightning in the clouds. We live in the flicker. ― Joseph Conrad

43. I couldn’t have felt more of lonely desolation somehow, had I been robbed of a belief or had missed my destiny in life. ― Joseph Conrad

44. It was not my strength that wanted nursing, it was my imagination that wanted soothing. ― Joseph Conrad

45. And perhaps in this is the whole difference; perhaps all the wisdom, and all truth, and all sincerity, are just compressed into that inappreciable moment of time in which we step over the threshold of the invisible. ― Joseph Conrad

46. I had no particular desire to enlighten them, but I had some difficulty in restraining myself from laughing in their faces, so full of stupid importance. ― Joseph Conrad

47. It made you feel very small, very lost, and yet it was not altogether depressing that feeling. After all, if you were small, the grimy beetle crawled on – which was just what you wanted it to do. ― Joseph Conrad

48. Besides holding our hearts together through long periods of separation, it had the effect of making us tolerant of each other’s yarns–and even convictions. ― Joseph Conrad

49. No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one’s existence—that which makes its truth, its meaning—its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. ― Joseph Conrad

50. I always went my own road and on my own legs where I had a mind to go. ― Joseph Conrad

Marlow encounters incidences of torture, cruelty, and near-slavery on his travels from the Outer Station to the Central Station before finally traveling up the river to the Inner Station. When he arrives at the Centreal Station he is informed that his steamboat has been damaged and spends months there getting it back into shape.

He and the manager have several conversations about Kurtz that lead Marlow to realize the manager of the dock resents the ivory trader, instead of admiring him. Once his boat is fixed, he proceeds to Kurtz station only to be attacked along the way.

Marlow learns that Kurtz is ill, and suspects that he is mad, based on his unsound methods and his relationship with the natives. Kurtz dies after giving Marlow papers about his missions, and Marlow himself falls gravely ill.

However he survives, and makes a journey to see Kurtz’s fiance. He tells her that Kurtz’s last word was her name, when in reality, the trader weakly yelled, “ The horror! The horror!”

If you have any other favorite quotes from Heart of Darkness that didn’t make the list, you can leave them in the comment section below.

Danielle Dahl, Lead Contributor
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