Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness is not an easy story to try to sum up in a few words. Despite this story's length, there are many themes to be explored, and a very rich use of symbolism. One of the main subjects in this story is the idea of imperialism - the creating of an empire. There are two main characters in this book. Marlow, who seems to be the hero of the story, is an independent thinker, and a very capable man. Kurtz is the chief of the inner station, whose job is to manage the trade that occurs there. On Marlow's journey, he realizes what Kurtz's idea of Imperialism is really about. In fact, it is quite hypocritical. Marlow observes that the African natives are being forced to work for the Company. The natives are being tortured, and treated cruelly. It seems as though the Africans are merely treated as objects. However, the workers of the Company justify their maltreatment of the natives as a project of civilization. .
Another notable feature of Heart of Darkness is the abundance use of symbolism. Fog seemed to be used heavily when something bad was about to happen. Fog is a good symbol, because not only does it obscure vision, but it also distorts. It gives someone just enough information to begin making decisions, but it is difficult to judge the accuracy of that information. For example, in Marlow's case, when his steamer sees the woodpile with the sign, "wood for you", a blanket of fog rolls in and they hear what sounds like tribal yelling. Marlow is unsure if they are going to attack the ship or if they are just mourning cries. Instead of being cautious and staying behind, Marlow decides to move on. As soon as the fog lifts they are attacked. Another strong symbol is Marlow's term for Brussels as the "Whited Sepulchre". Much can be inferred from this, as sepulchre itself means, grave of a dead body. Brussels is the headquarters for the Company. The phrase whited sepulchre actually comes from the bible, in the book of Matthew.