The Metaphors of Conrad's Heart of Darkness Essays

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The Metaphors of Heart of Darkness

    Within the text of Heart of Darkness, the reader is presented with many metaphors. Those that recur, and are most arresting and notable, are light and dark, nature and Kurtz and Marlow. The repeated use of light and dark imagery represents civilization and primitiveness, and of course the eternal meaning of good and evil. However, the more in depth the reader goes the more complex it becomes. Complex also are the meanings behind the metaphors of nature included within the text. It represents a challenge for the colonists, often also signifying decay and degeneration. Finally Kurtz and Marlow represent imperialism and the colonists. All these metaphors come together and contribute not only to the effect for the reader, but also to the overall meaning.


From the very moment Marlow speaks the reader is presented with light and dark imagery. It should be noted, however, that darkness seems to dominate. The light and dark, being binary oppositions, come to represent other binary oppositions, such as civilized and uncivilized, and of course good and evil. The primitive 'savages' are described as dark, both literally in regards to skin tone, but also in attitude and inwardly. Marlow calls the natives at the first station "black shadows of disease and starvation" (Conrad 20). A little further into the text, Marlow is horrified by what he is seeing, by the darkness he and the reader are being presented with. These are both excellent examples of the negativity towards the natives throughout the book. So, the darkness of the natives is a metaphor for their supposed incivility, evilness and primitiveness. However, if the reader looks a little deeper, they can see that this darkness also ...

... middle of paper ... Search for the Unconscious. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1987.

Conrad, Joseph Heart of Darkness. 3rd ed. New York: Norton, 1997

Csicseri, Coreen. "Themes and Structure of Heart of Darkness." Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad 6 December 1998.

Available:  <> (2 May 2001).

Dunson, David. "The symbol of the Wilderness in Heart of Darkness." 3 November 1999.

Available  <> (2 may 2001).

Harkness, Bruce. Conrad's Heart of Darkness and the Critics. Belmont, Cal.: Wadsworth, 1965.

Joseph Conrad: Heart of Darkness, A Case Study in Contemporary Criticism , ed. Ross C. Murfin. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989.

Rosmarin, Adena. "Darkening the Reader: Criticism and Heart of Darkness." ed. Ross C. Murfin. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989.


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