Asher Kohn Light and Dark Imagery in Heart of Darkness
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad is a novel about a man named Marlow and his journey into the depths of the African Congo. Marlow is in search of a man named Kurtz, an ivory trader. Though Marlow’s physical journey seems rather simple, it takes him further into his own heart and soul then into the Congo. The setting, symbols and characters each contain light and dark images, these images shape central theme of the novel.
Conrad uses light and dark imagery to help create the setting for the story; light represents civilization while darkness suggests the uncivilized. The novel opens on the deck of a boat called the Nellie, as we are introduced to the passengers we are told how the sun is slowly fading, and soon darkness will engulf the area. This image is Conrad’s first use of light and darkness; he uses it to foreshadow the ultimate darkness Marlow will face. Conrad is warning his readers to be careful, lest they let down their guard and allow the darkness to come them. The other character in the book, Kurtz, is taken over by the evil embodied in the darkness. During Kurtz’s journey into the heart of darkness the isolation, darkness and power all made him lose control of himself and allowed the darkness to take over.
Every aspect in Conrad’s book has a deep meaning, which can then be linked to the light and dark imagery. In the novel there are two rivers, the Thames and the Congo. The Thames is described as light and peaceful while the Congo is given a more bleak description. Conrad’s intentions are very clear. The river Thames is the river that brings you into Europe, civilization, while the Congo brings you into the jungle or darkness.
Another important symbol in the story is the ivory. The ivory has a two-fold meaning and is a central theme in the novel. Ivory is taken from the tusks of male elephants; they live in a pristine area untouched by humans. However, once the white man places a high price on the ivory, the ivory turns from good to evil. Conrad uses the ivory as a representation of the greed and corruption that is in the white mans soul. In the case of Kurtz this same greed and corruption overtook his soul, and caused his death.
Each character has a special role in the novel; Kurtz and Marlow are the most important, through these two characters we are able to see how good and evil balance each other out. Marlow’s journey into the heart of darkness can also be seen as a journey into his own soul. He was in search of the darkest of objects, the ivory. Unlike Kurtz, Marlow was able to withstand the darkness from controlling him. Kurtz soul became the darkness and caused him to forget everything else there was to life. His last words were not that of love but rather of hate, “The horrors the horrors.”
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad is a story about a man named Marlow and his Journey into the African Congo. By reading the novel and understanding all the imagery Conrad has inserted, we can get a better understanding of the journey Marlow took through his soul. Conrad uses light and dark imagery in the setting, symbols and characters to help us understand the kind of people Marlow and Kurtz were, and to get a better understanding of The Congo.