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Essay on Light and Dark in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness

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Light and Dark in Heart of Darkness

 
    In fictional literature, books are often given creative and catchy titles in lieu of non-ambiguous ones.  If one were to take the phrase "heart of darkness" literally, one might find oneself poring over medical journals in a fruitless search to determine what disease causes the heart to take on a grayish or dark hue.  One would be completely mistaken, wouldn't one?  As it is, Joseph Conrad's phrase "heart of darkness" is a concept representing the contrast of darkness and light in the characters, the mood, the conflicts, and the theme. 

The first example of the contrasting light and darkness in the novella is to be found in the main characters.  Marlow is a philosophical English seaman who exemplifies the virtuous protagonist.  He is an idealist, trying to bring European imperialism to Africa.  Kurtz is also an English seaman who maintains an idealistic attitude towards the purity of European presence in Africa.  Kurtz, however, works for an ivory company at the Inner Station on the Congo, and his actions are somewhat less virtuous than his beliefs. 

This contrast between darkness and light is first portrayed through these characters at the outset of Marlow's journey upriver.  At this point in the story, Marlow describes himself as "something like an emissary of light, something like a lower sort of apostle," and he finds a type of negative savior in Kurtz (Conrad 19). Then, as Marlow completes his journey and attempts to take Kurtz back downstream where he can be treated and cured and then assimilated back into "civilized" society, Marlow instead discovers that Kurtz is drawn irresistibly back toward the jungle because "it had taken him, loved him, e...


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...ss." Heart of Darkness and The Secret Sharer. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1994. 1-137.

Guerand, Albert J.  Conrad the Novelist.  Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, January 1958.

Hillman, James. "Notes on White Supremacy: Essaying an Archetypal Account of Historical Events," Spring (1986): 29-57.

Hyland, Peter. "The Little Women in the Heart of Darkness." Conradiana 20.1 (1988): 3-11.

Karl, Frederick Robert.  A Reader's Guide to Joseph Conrad.  Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, September 1997.

McLynn, Frank. Hearts of Darkness: The European Exploration of Africa. New York: Carol & Gey, 1992.

Conrad, Joseph.  Heart of Darkness 3rd Ed.  Ed. Robert Kimbrough. New York:  Norton Critical, 1988.

Patrick Brantlinger, "Heart of Darkness: Anti-Imperialism, Racism, or Impressionism?" Criticism (Fall, 1985) 364. 


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