Heart of Darkness

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Heart of Darkness

Life in London set a cushion for its citizens, “with solid pavement under your feet, surrounded by kind neighbors ready to cheer you or to fall you, stepping delicately between the butcher and the policeman, in the holy terror of scandal and gallows and lunatic asylums.” On the other hand, once a man enters the Congo, he is all alone. No policeman, no “warning voice of a kind neighbor,” -- no one. Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness sets Marlow on a journey in the Congo, where he realizes the environment he comes from is not reality, but an illusion hiding true human nature. His arrival at the First Station is his first exposure to the Congo where a horrid reality and naïve mentality is revealed -- a comparison of darkness and light.

The chosen passage falls in the beginning of the narrative to set a picture of what to expect at upcoming stations. Marlow leaves London, his home, and his Aunt to travel to his first stop on the Congo River; the First Station. Here, Marlow begins to realize the unspeakable horror that exists. “Six black men advanced in file… I could see every rib, the joints of their limbs were like knots in a rope; each had an iron collar on his neck, and all were connected together with a chain whose bights swung between them.” Marlow disapproved of what he saw and chose to avoid the six men. After his encounter with the “gang,” he meets the Chief Accountant, a well-dressed, tidy man, whom he admires. “I respected his collars… his appearance was certainly that of a hairdresser’s dummy; but in the great demoralization of the land he kept up his appearance. That’s backbone. (Pg. 227)” Despite the dehumanization surrounding them, there still stands a man who can present himself “properly”. The first chapter of the novel is framed to present life in London, then contrasting it with a picture of the savage Congo, and finishing by showing that civilized life can still exist in the jungle.

Diction plays two pertinent roles in the passage: to produce imagery and to label objects or people. Diction reflects the extent of the contrasting light and darkness of the station that the imagery creates. In the midst of “mounds of turned-up earth by the shore… a waste of excavations,” Marlow notes “a blinding sunlight drowned all this at times in a sudden recrudescence of glare.

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