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Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness


by Joseph Conrad

Analysis: Allusions

When authors refer to other great works, people, and events, it’s usually not accidental. Put on your super-sleuth hat and figure out why.

Literature, Philosophy, and Mythology

The Bible: Matthew 23:27-28 – "a whited sepulchre" (1.22)
Moirae (Greek Fates): "two women…knitting black wool" (1.23), "knitting old woman" (3.27)
Plato (1.26)
Dante: the Divine Comedy – "some Inferno" (1.38)
King Arthur: "round table" (1.52)
Bunyan: The Pilgrim’s Progress – "faithless pilgrims…with their absurd long staves in their hands" (1.54)
The Devil: "with a forked little beard and a hooked nose" (1.56), "A black figure…it had horns" (3.29), "that Shadow" (3.29)
Astrea, Greek goddess of justice: "a woman, draped and blindfolded, carrying a lighted torch" (1.57)
Goethe: Faust – "Mephistopheles" (1.61)
"Sleeping Beauty": The enchanted forest – "a state of trance" (2.13), "an enchanted princess sleeping in a fabulous castle" (2.15)
Jupiter, Roman king of gods: "the thunderbolts of that pitiful Jupiter" (3.11)
Poe: "A Descent into the Maelstrom" – "I had peeped over the edge" (3.48)
Wells: The Island of Dr. Moreau – "a danger it is unable to comprehend" (3.49)
Dickens: A Christmas Carol – Marley’s face – "he seemed to stare at me out of the glassy panel." (3.51)

Historical References

Sir Francis Drake: the Golden Hind (1.6)
Sir John Franklin: the Erebus, the Terror (1.6)
East India Company: "commissioned ‘generals’ of East India" (1.6)
Ravenna, Italy: Roman naval base (1.11)
Buddha (1.13), (3.87)
Freiesleben, Johannes, A Danish captain, Conrad’s predecessor in command of the Florida, was killed on 29 January 1890 at Tchumberi in a dispute over hens: "Fresleven" (1.21)
Roman gladiators: "Ave! [...] Morturi te salutant" (1.25), ("Hail! [...] Those who are about to die salute you.")
El Dorado: "Eldorado Exploring Expedition" (1.72)
Towson, J.T., published two volumes of navigation tables: "Towson" (2.9), (2.37)
International Association for the Exploration and Civilizing of Africa, of which King Leopold was the president: "International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs" (2.29)
Government of Tambov, Russia (2.35)
Latin maxim "Fiat justitia, ruat coelum" or "Let justice be done, though the heavens fall": "The heavens do not fall for such a trifle." (3.86)

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