Heart of Darkness Setting Analysis Video

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  • 0:00 What Is Setting?
  • 1:00 What Settings Can Be Found?
  • 3:29 So, What's With All…
  • 4:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Melissa Rohen

Melissa has taught college English and has a master's degree in English and Composition.

In this lesson, you will learn about the settings in Joseph Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness.' We will explore three main settings used in this story and then analyze them for any deeper meaning.

What Is Setting?

First, let's talk about setting. What is it? Think about your favorite place to be. Perhaps it's in a fishing boat on a quiet pond. Or maybe in the middle of a movie theater watching your favorite actor or actress take on a new role. What does that place look like? Is it lit by bright sunlight, or is it dim and dark? How does the air feel around you? Sun-baked and warm or chilled by the air conditioner? Can you smell the popcorn in the bucket? All of these experiences - the sight, the feel, the smell - make up what we call the setting. The setting is the location, place, or environment of a story. It often has some significance or purpose relating to the plot, characters, or themes of a story.

In the Lord of the Rings, the setting is often the wilds of Mordor. In the Harry Potter series, the setting is often the Great Hall at Hogwarts. In Batman, the setting is Gotham.

What Settings Can Be Found?

In Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, our main character, Marlow, is telling story. While aboard a boat on the river Thames, Marlow talks about a journey he was sent on by the Company into the wilds of Africa. His task was to find a man named Kurtz who had been sent to find ivory for the Company, but instead disappeared deep into the Congo.

There are three main settings in this story:

  1. The Thames River, or more specifically, aboard the boat the Nellie
  2. Africa
  3. The Congo River

At the start of the story, we see Marlow aboard a small boat sailing down the Thames River in England with a group of men. It's the end of the day, and they're relaxing on the deck of the Nellie. Marlow describes the setting as bright and brilliant. It is a place of light and beauty.

As the sun sets, the setting changes, and Marlow describes the approach of darkness using words like 'sombre,' 'brooding,' and 'dull.' Night is coming, and the world is getting darker. The 'greatest city in the world' is losing its brilliant beauty to the darkness. The sight stirs Marlow to comment that this place was once dark all the time.

What does this mean? Well, Marlow loves the bright brilliance of the Thames but wants his companions to know it was not always such a brilliant, lively place. It was once shrouded in darkness before civilization made it bright. This is an allusion, or a brief and indirect reference, to how England was once primitive as well as to other places in the world that may still be in primitive darkness. Other places like Africa.

As Marlow tells his story, he describes Africa as a dark place. Even though it is day, Marlow uses harsh words like 'scar,' 'mournful,' and 'gloomy' to help visualize the setting. He describes the land as 'grim,' 'monotonous,' and even 'evil.' There is no beauty, only harshness. This is a stark contrast to his earlier description of the Thames in England, isn't it? Where England is brilliant and beautiful, Africa is full of primitive darkness.

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