In Joseph Conrad's novel, Heart of Darkness the environment is often symbolic as well as literal. The novel contains both the "frame" narrator, an anonymous member of the "Nellie", representing the dominant society, and more importantly the primary narrator, Marlow, who too, is a product of the dominant society. For the novel's narrator, Marlow, the journey up the Congo River to the 'heart of darkness' is reminiscent of Guido's journey into hell in Dante's Inferno, with these literary allusion always present, through forms of intense imagery. The landscape takes on a hellish nature and the wilderness is personified. Death is omnipresent and this is reflected in the death imagery used to describe the cities of Brussels and London, the Congo region and Kurtz' station. The hypocrisy of 'society' and 'civilization' is reflected in the author's description of the "sepulchral city".
The novel begins with the narrator, Marlow, and some of the ship's crew waiting at dusk for the tide to change so that their "cruising yawl" the 'Nellie" may enter the London harbour. The frame narrator expresses quite optimistic views on colonialism especially pertaining to London, which is described as the greatest city on earth, yet these opinions are then challenged by both marlow and the use of imagery. The coastline is described as being shrouded in "diaphanous folds" of fog...
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...cityscape provide a physical setting which serves to reflect the psychological state of the narrator, Marlow and the evils of life, as well as forgrounding the journey of the narrator - mentally, emotionally, and intellectually. The environment particularly that of the Congo and of Brussels, reflect death, hypocrisy and even human's "profound heart of darkness".
Conrad, J. (1995). Heart of Darkness. London: Penguin Group.
Maes-Jelinek, H. Notes on Heart of Darkness
Jean-Aubry, George. Joseph Conrad: Life and Letters. Vol. 1. New York: Page, 1966.
Ed. Marvin. Conrad: Collection of Critical Essays. Mudrick. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1972.
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