Foreshadowing in Heart of Darkness

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

In literature, authors often give hints about what is going to happen in the story using foreshadowing. In this lesson, you'll learn about foreshadowing in Joseph Conrad's ''Heart of Darkness.''

Foreshadowing

Have you ever looked back after something has happened, and realized that you could have seen it coming? Maybe you saw on the weather that it was below freezing, and then later you slip on a patch of ice. In literature, this hint at what's coming is called foreshadowing. It's a common literary device, and one that can be easier to see when re-reading a book, after you know what's going to happen. One novel that uses foreshadowing is Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.

France

We start to get foreshadowing very early on in the book during the portion of Marlow's narrative that takes place in France. The house where he goes to sign his paperwork is dark and quiet, and it makes him uneasy. This foreshadows the way he will feel in the Congo, and the theme of darkness that Marlow encounters there.

We also see some foreshadowing in a comment from the Company clerk. Marlow tells us, 'I expressed casually my surprise at him not going out there' and the clerk responded, 'I am not such a fool as I look, quoth Plato to his disciples.' This comment illustrates the clerk's attitude about the Congo, and it foreshadows the dangers and poor conditions Marlow will face there.

The Doctor

Later in the same trip to France, Marlow visits the Company doctor. The doctor's purpose is to declare Marlow fit to travel, but it is what he says outside of this that works as foreshadowing. He measures Marlow's head, saying 'I always ask leave, in the interests of science, to measure the crania of those going out there' but comments that really, 'the changes take place inside, you know.' He then asks Marlow, 'Ever any madness in your family?'

Marlow dismisses this and never mentions it again, but it serves to foreshadow the effect that the Congo has on people. Both Marlow and (especially) Kurtz feel the maddening effects of the Congo, and do things that they would not do in other places, such as Kurtz killing the natives and putting their heads on spikes.

Foreshadowing in Dialogue

Prevailing Attitudes

The place where we see a lot of foreshadowing is in Marlow's conversations with people at the different trade stations. Most of this centers around Kurtz, and foreshadowing what Marlow will encounter when he finally meets Kurtz near the end of the novel.

One example occurs at the trading post before Central Station. Marlow hears about Kurtz from the Company accountant there: 'One day he remarked, without lifting his head, 'In the interior you will no doubt meet Mr. Kurtz.' On my asking who Mr. Kurtz was, he said he was a first-class agent; and...he added slowly, laying down his pen, 'He is a very remarkable person.''

This attitude foreshadows what Marlow will encounter at the Central and Inner Stations. Many people are in awe of Kurtz and have a huge amount of respect and admiration for him, and it's with the accountant that we first get a hint of this.

Hints of Disaster

Later, we get another, more cryptic, hint about Kurtz. Marlow is talking to the brickmaker of Central Station about getting rivets when the conversation suddenly turns to the hippo that wanders around the river. It is often shot at, but always walks away unscathed. The brickmaker says, ''That animal has a charmed life...but you can say this only of brutes in this country. No man--you apprehend me?--no man here bears a charmed life.''

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