Abigail Shockey
Mrs. Marteney
AP Lit
3 December 2018
Light and Dark in Heart of Darkness
In the novel Heart of Darkness, the symbols of light and dark imagery are used to represent civilization and the eternal meaning of good versus evil. This theme is further developed through the characters Marlow and Kurtz along with contrast to civilized European life and the savage African world. This is done by the author’s use of many simple examples of colors, objects, and surroundings that revealed complex ideas and deeper meanings to the metaphors of light and dark. The symbols of light and dark are symbolic with the contribution to the novel’s overall meaning and significance.
The author, Conrad, uses images of light and dark to comment on the good and evil that harbors in each character’s heart in the novel. He develops the idea that every man is fully capable of committing horrible actions. In Marlow’s journey to the Congo, Conrad reveals the horrors of imperialism upon the Africans by European influence. In the beginning, Marlow is made a symbol of light in the midst of the dark imperialistic times and he believed that he possessed the light that he would bestow to the people in Africa. Marlow associated light with reality and believed that it was a concrete expression of a man’s most natural state. On the other hand, the darkness in the novel was used to represent the illiteracy, inability, ignorance, blindness, and death that the characters dealt with, especially in Africa, and how the darkness changed their morals. Furthermore, Marlow and Kurtz believed that the African people lived in darkness, but at the end of the novel, it was revealed that it was the white men in Europe who imperialized Africa that lived in pure blind darkness. Imperialism took a big toll on the Africans abused because the white men simply believed that they were giving light upon the savages. Conrad revealed the devastating effects that this corrupt imperialism caused as the natives were chained up and treated as slaves for the exploitation of resources from the savage lands. The darkness of greed consumed the so-called light bestowers, with Kurtz being one of the most guilty with his immense greed for ivory which destroyed him.
In comparison to Kurtz’s avaricious ways, Marlow’s experience in the ‘dark’ continent of Africa also consumed him. This can be shown at the beginning where Marlow was considered full of light and goodness, but by the end of the novel, he lied to Kurtz’ intended, revealing how isolation, imperialism, greed, and darkness consumed him while on his journey. His exposure to Kurtz changed Marlow. The darkness of these surroundings corrupted European men to go mad and commit inhumane actions. Kurtz died in Africa due to his inability to escape the darkness that had consumed him. The quote, “I know the sunlight can be made to lie too…” (Conrad 136) was included in the novel to show how there is nothing that can be totally pure, just as light cannot be completely pure. Conrad was describing how no single person is perfect: neither Kurtz nor Marlow. Therefore, even light cannot be completely trusted because it masks what truth lies in its blinding luminescence.
In the Heart of Darkness, the imagery of darkness constantly prevailing over light shows a continual theme of foreboding and despair. The somber tone of the novel intensifies with elaborate imagery to detail the metaphors of light versus dark. This theme becomes well-established throughout the novel as the white men live in the Congo for the duration of the book. The darkness consumed these men so much that Marlow commented on how light could not even touch Kurtz. This shows the magnitude of darkness outweighing the good in their hearts. At the end of the book, it can be seen that the darkness conquered Marlow as well because he had said, “But with every word spoken the room was growing darker, and only her forehead, smooth and white, remained illumined by the inextinguishable light of belief and love” (Conrad 141). This quote took place after Marlow had lied to Kurtz’ intended, and the room became dark as a metaphor for Marlow’s heart becoming increasingly dark not only after living in the Congo with Kurtz but after his death as well.
In conclusion, in the novel Heart of Darkness, the symbols light and dark are used to represent the civilized life versus savagery. The theme of foreboding darkness reveals the innate evil dwelling that conquers men as a result of being submerged in dark times. Conrad uses convoluted metaphors and imagery to convey his complex meanings and ideas to further develop the plot and characterization. The characters Marlow and Kurtz are both consumed by the evil that surrounded Africa after the imperialists invaded. Marlow’s adventure into the Congo evidently changed his character and his morals as the reader learned that nothing can be completely pure or completely horrible. This novel serves as a guide to the deeper understandings of the true horrors that harbor inside of men and how the effects of corrupt imperialism can consume people. Overall, the symbols of light and dark provide for the reader a real insight on the development of the notions of good versus evil and light versus dark. Therefore, the literary work, Heart of Darkness, stands out as a complex venture into the heart of man.