Opposition of Black and White in Heart of Darkness

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The Opposition of Black and White in Heart of Darkness

In Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad explores the psychological “heart of darkness” within all of humanity. The text looks at the European societies false illumination of civilization, of which obscures the internal darkness, in relation to the psychological environment in which human’s are placed. Conrad sets up the opposition of black and white to display the superficial pretense of light in the European society, and the true heart of darkness which is present within all of humanity.

From the start of Marlow’s journey into the African Congo it is apparent that he is a product of the colonialist European society, which is where the first oppositions of black and white evolve. Marlow understands the premise behind colonialism, but is unprepared for the savagery and the wilderness of the heart of darkness. This is most apparent when Marlow encounters the “grove of death”, where many natives are sick and dying, yet Marlow, although confronted, is unable to deal with this foreign situation. He encounters a young boy with a piece of white European yarn around his neck. In this instance white is usually associated with purity, and innocence, yet Conrad challenges many of these assumptions, with the white piece of thread used as a symbol of the evil of colonialist practices. The white thread remains a constant reminder which forms a contrast to the black child, it looks out of place and artificial, and thus, is symbolic of the colonialist practices. Marlow responds to the situation with questions - "Why? Where did he get it?" (27) - showed that he had not yet come into an understanding of the effects of imperialism on the wilderness. This is further emphasized when he giv...

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...e false “light” of the European society.

Works Cited and Consulted

Adelman, Gary. Heart of Darkness: Search for the Unconscious. Boston: Little & Brown, 1987.

Bradley, Candice. "Africa and Africans in Conrad's Heart of Darkness." (24 Jan. 1996). Online Internet. 3 October 1998.


Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Ed. Robert Kimbrough. 17th ed. New York: Norton, 1988.

Levenson, Michael. "The Value of Facts in the Heart of Darkness." Nineteenth-Century Fiction 40 (1985):351-80.

Rosmarin, Adena. "Darkening the Reader: Reader Response Criticism and Heart of Darkness." Joseph Conrad Heart of Darkness:

A Case Study in Contemporary Criticism. Ed. Ross C. Murfin. New York: St. Martin's, 1989.

Watt, Ian. Conrad in the Nineteenth Century. San Diego: U. of California P, 1979. 168-200, 249-53.
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