The Symbol of Ivory in Heart of Darkness

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In Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad often uses vague,"muted"

descriptions, leaving a melange of possible meanings in the reader's lap.

One exception to this trend is Conrad's symbolic use of ivory. Within the

frame of the story, his references to ivory can obviously be seen as a

representation of the white man's greed. Towards the end of the book ivory

comes to symbolize the oozing evil that drips from the heart of darkness.

It isn't long before Conrad makes a commentary on the greed of the

whites. By the thirty-seventh page via Marlow associates them with a "false

religion." He says that the men at the Central Station are, "like a lot of

faithless pilgrims bewitched inside a rotten fence. Pilgrims are usually

people who travel to a holy place, so why the choice of words? Conrad

further explains in the following lines when he says, "The word 'ivory'

rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were

praying to it." In their rapacity the "pilgrims" have placed ivory as their

God, a realization that has greater meaning towards the end of the book.

The significance of ivory begins to move away from avarice and

takes on a purely evil connotation as Marlow approaches those hearts of

darkness: the Inner Station and Kurtz. Kurtz's relationship with ivory

seems to have been reiterated by every company member through the course of

the story. Of course Kurtz "harvested" more ivory than all the other

stations combined, and therefore it almost seems appropriate that Conrad

would use extensive ivory imagery in describing Kurtz. Earlier, during his

digression on Kurtz, Marlow says, "The wilderness had patted him on the

head, and, behold, it was like a ball-an ivory ball". By the time that

Kurtz is carried out on a stretcher the evil has so overtaken him that, "I

could see the cage of his ribs all astir, the bones of his arms...
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