For many novels an author's choice of title has an impact on the reader's understanding or reaction to the story because it ties in with key events, characters or places in the novel. A title can also help to convey a certain theme or motif and Heart of Darkness is no exception. In this novella the title reveals the motif of darkness that is strong throughout the story; " absolutely everything in the book is cloaked in darkness" (Spark Notes, "Themes, Motifs and Symbols"). For this motif, darkness has different meanings for different parts of the book, and these different interpretations can be directly related to the title, thereby changing what it represents. There are three major meanings for the title that are repeated throughout the novella: the first focuses on the Congo as a place of darkness. The second is centered on Europe and imperialism, and the figurative darkness of it; lastly, the main interpretation of darkness is directly related to Kurtz and the complete darkness of his heart and soul. All three of these interpretations are seen repeatedly throughout the novel and help to convey Conrad's thoughts and opinions about the human potential for evil and the possible darkness of the soul. .
When one begins looking at the Congo as a symbol of darkness in this novella, it is clear that it truly is a place of literal and figurative obscurity. In the very beginning of the novella Marlow states how the Congo and Africa have changed in his lifetime "it had got filled since my boyhood with rivers and lakes and names. It had ceased to be a blank space of delightful mystery- a white patch for a boy to dream gloriously over. It had become a place of darkness" (Conrad 11). In the context of this statement darkness represents the experiences of Marlow in the Congo and the horrors that he encountered. When Marlow begins travelling down the river into the Congo, he states, "we penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness" (Conrad 58).