It is often said that when considering a work of great literature, the title of such work can be just as important as the context of the story. Authors time and again wait until they have completed the context of their work to give it a title as to make sure this chosen title is the best possible representation of their work. Stated equally as often is that the significance of some of these titles is easy to recognize while in other titles, the significance is only developed gradually. The latter is the case for Joseph Conrads Heart Of Darkness. The author implements the literary devices of contrast, repetition and point of view to successfully convey the meaning and symbolism of his title.
At first read through the short book, one may perceive the heart of darkness to simply be the wilderness in the center of Africa into which Marlow is headed. This in not incorrect, however the meaning of the title is multi-faceted, moving and morphing into other parts of its meaning as the story moves on. Under further scrutiny, the reader will notice Conrads drastic use of contrast. The contrasts include that between light and dark in the grove of death, black and white of the people, ultimately between civilization and the uncivilized wilderness these men are there to colonize. A distinct barrier is set around this uncivilized are as some deep, dark, brooding place where all bad part of humanity can stir. From this, the reader can establish that a second meaning on the heart of darkness referred to in the title is that out of civilized society, man is believed to live in some hellish arena, in this immense darkness.
Further showing this meaning as well as bringing in another is Conrads use of repetition in his book. The most noticeable repetition in the book is the use of the title or some close variation of it to describe certain places, events, and people. The use of such phrases when describing parts of the wilderness or those things in nature only reassured the previous meaning. The use of such phrases when referring to people, such as the cry of the natives and in certain references to Kurtz implies another, rather startling meaning: that the heart of darkness in not a part of the world, something someone can visit and touch and explain to other people; rather, this heart of darkness is something inside people. One may take this only to mean the savage people in the wilderness, surrounding Kurts Inner Station but there is more, which extends to all man. This is most clearly seen in the closing moments of the tale when the reader is returned to the boat from whence the story began. The tale is now over of Marlows enlightenment in the center of the world, but the journey that these men are on is not completed. As the tale is told, the men notice that Marlow has been talking all night and the dawn is now approaching, however with a dark, overcast sky. This darkness cast over the water ahead of them makes it seem as though they, too, are traveling into some immense darkness. These men are not free of that darkness, and neither is anyone else. Deep down, even human has a part of some greater savagery that is inescapable and even more incomprehensible.
The point of view in which the context of the short novel is conveyed is also important to the reader in establishing a meaning for the title. Beginning as a frame tale and moving into a first-person narrative and finally returning to the cruiser to end the frame is extremely powerful in conveying the meanings of Heart of Darkness. The frame introduces a separation in time that is ultimately gapped in the closing portions of the story. The gapping of the separation is important to conclude that the meanings are not simply applicable only to those of a certain place at a certain time. The meanings of the title span all geographical limits as well as all bounds of time.
The main part of the context being told in the first-person by Marlow is also instrumental in conveying exactly what the author means. Marlows interpretation of things and impressions of places and people contribute to the perception of the reader, who is bound by what he is told. To be told the story in an omniscient point of view, for example, may give the reader too much freedom to interpret the symbolic nature of the title, possibly perverting it into something not intended by the author. The first person also includes the changes and enlightenments undergone by Marlow. These too are important to the significance of the title.
The title of a book can either add to or take away from the overall meaning of a book, and even then, the significance of the title may only be fully realized after one is completed with the work. Joseph Conrads choice of Heart of Darkness is shown to be one that adds and important meaning to the story as it is developed through the writers use of contrast, repetition and point of view.