Symbolism in Conrad's Heart Of Darkness

Satisfactory Essays
Joseph Conrad’s use of light and darkness to represent good and evil in the Heart of Darkness helps in developing the theme and the plot of the novel. Conrad uses the symbol of light and darkness repetitively throughout the novel in order to disclose his insight to the reader; Conrad uses light and darkness when referring to the Thames and
Congo river, the skin color and hearts of the whites and blacks, and the black mistress and the Intended.
Conrad’s use of light and darkness is evident from the opening of the novel. The story opens on the tranquil Thames River aboard the cruising yawl called the Nellie. All is calm on the water as the lights of London twinkle around the boat. The Thames River, which is seen as calm, ‘civil’ and bright, is an obvious contrast to the Congo River that
Marlow navigates in Africa. The Congo is full of darkness and fractiousness. Ironically, the bright Thames is described similarly to the dark Congo. In the closing lines of the novel, the Thames seems to be flowing "into the heart of an immense darkness”( ). During the onset of the novel, in which none of Marlow’s story is disclosed, the narrator is ignorant to the horrors of European imperialism, and he subsequently describes the
Thames as bright and lit. However, during the closing of the novel, in which the startling cruelty of the Europeans is divulged, the narrator describes the Thames as strikingly different: immensely dark. Through the use of lightness and darkness Conrad inveighs that regardless of where the white man exists, in civilized London or deepest Africa, he seems to bring darkness: inhumanity to his fellow man.

Conrad uses light and darkness in context of the color of skin of the whites and blacks, as well as the corresponding good and evil of their hearts. In contrast to the greed and cruelty of the white men in Africa, who voraciously and recklessly seize ivory at any cost to human life, Conrad depicts the black natives as having more self-control. The
Manager is starving the cannibals on board Marlow's steamer to death, and although they eagerly eye the body of the dead helmsman and also the physique of the plump Russian, they restrain their native urges and do not attack the living or the dead. In a similar manner, the ‘savages’ along the Congo do not attack the steamer bearing the greedy
Europeans even though they know the intent is to be evil and destructive. It is only a white
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