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Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

Joseph Conrad’s use of light and darkness to represent good and evil in the Heart of Darkness helps in developing the theme and the plot of the novel. Conrad uses the symbol of light and darkness repetitively throughout the novel in order to disclose his insight to the reader; Conrad uses light and darkness when referring to the Thames and Congo river, the skin color and hearts of the whites and blacks, and the black mistress and the Intended. Conrad’s use of light and darkness is evident from the opening of the novel.

The tory opens on the tranquil Thames River aboard the cruising yawl called the Nellie. All is calm on the water as the lights of London twinkle around the boat. The Thames River, which is seen as calm, civil’ and bright, is an obvious contrast to the Congo River that Marlow navigates in Africa. The Congo is full of darkness and fractiousness. Ironically, the bright Thames is described similarly to the dark Congo. In the closing lines of the novel, the Thames seems to be flowing “into the heart of an immense darkness”( ).

During he onset of the novel, in which none of Marlow’s story is disclosed, the narrator is ignorant to the horrors of European imperialism, and he subsequently describes the Thames as bright and lit. However, during the closing of the novel, in which the startling cruelty of the Europeans is divulged, the narrator describes the Thames as strikingly different: immensely dark. Through the use of lightness and darkness Conrad inveighs that regardless of where the white man exists, in civilized London or deepest Africa, he seems to bring darkness: inhumanity to his fellow man.

Conrad uses light and darkness in context of the color of skin of the whites and blacks, as well as the corresponding good and evil of their hearts. In contrast to the greed and cruelty of the white men in Africa, who voraciously and recklessly seize ivory at any cost to human life, Conrad depicts the black natives as having more self-control. The Manager is starving the cannibals on board Marlow’s steamer to death, and although they eagerly eye the body of the dead helmsman and also the physique of the plump Russian, they restrain their native urges and do not attack the living or the dead.

In a similar manner, the savages’ along the Congo do not attack the steamer bearing the greedy Europeans even though they know the intent is to be evil and destructive. It is only a white man’s command, at the urging of Kurtz, that the natives attack the steamer. It is intentionally ironic that the black man in the novel has a purer (light) heart than the white man, whose heart is callous, cruel and baleful (dark). The two women in Kurtz’s life are also described with the use of light and darkness.

Kurtz’s black mistress in Africa is very demonstrative, wearing bright clothing nd jewelry and acting in a loud, wild manner, clearly displaying strong emotions. In contrast, Kurtz’s Intended in Belgium is fair, mild-tempered, and draped in black. The brightness and passion of Kurtz’s black mistress are revealed from her bright attire while the passiveness of Kurtz’s intended is evident from her dark clothing. However, despite their differences in appearance and temperament, the love they feel for Kurtz is very similar.

The white Intended’s attire of black shows her bond with the black woman, while he black mistress’s bright clothing and jewelry display this common bond as well; inherent in both is a love for Kurtz. The use of the symbols of light and darkness assist in developing many major themes in the Heart of Darkness. Many of these themes, if not grasped by the reader through the use of symbols and other literary devices, generate a misinterpretation of the novel. Therefore, the allegations deeming Conrad racist are merely the result of ignorant readers who do not comprehend the style of writing which he employs.

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