Oppositions in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness

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Oppositions in Heart of Darkness

Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness is full of oppositions. The most obvious is the juxtaposition of darkness and light, which are both present from the very beginning, in imagery and in metaphor. The novella is a puzzling mixture of anti-imperialism and racism, civilization and savagery, idealism and nihilism. How can they be reconciled? The final scene, in which Marlow confronts Kurtz's Intended, might be expected to provide resolution. However, it seems, instead, merely to focus the dilemmas in the book, rather than solving them.

Throughout the first part of his interview with Kurtz's Intended, Marlow talks about saving her from the darkness:

"Yes, I know," I said with something like despair in my heart, but bowing my head before the faith that was in her, before that great and saving illusion that shone with an unearthly glow in the darkness, in the triumphant darkness from which I could not have defended her-from which I could not even defend myself." (93)

The Intended believes wholeheartedly in Kurtz, as well as in the greatness of civilization and imperialism. As Marlow now knows well, her ideals are nothing but illusion; however, he acknowledges and protects them. He has a somewhat sexist view of women; as he has stated previously in his narrative, he believes that women cannot deal with reality and thus need illusions in order to survive. It is noteworthy, however, that even though this observation comes before the interview with the Intended in the sequence of narration, the story is being told after the interview has happened, and thus it is not unreasonable to suppose that Marlow's opinion of women has been formed from this very inci...

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

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Ed. Ross C Murfin. Second ed. New York: Bedford Books, 1996.

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

Professor's Comments: Very well done--subtle and perceptive and well-argued. A very sophisticated and beautifully written paper as a whole.

I wish you'd included the details of the setting, but mainly, see question on p. 4 [Well--acknowledge that her "certainty" only exists, and is only "unextinguishable", because it's blind illusion. Do you think that's what Conrad offers us as a source of hope?] : you stop just short of moving out to Conrad, and what he may offer us by way of "certainty" and even hope in the midst of all the fogginess.
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