Joseph Conrad's repeated use of darkness in his novel Heart of Darkness has been widely interpreted. Readers have arrived at many different conclusions about the use of darkness throughout the novel. The critics themselves cannot agree what the darkness means.
The critics draw different conclusions about the use of darkness. For some critics, the use of darkness is seen as an intentional literary device. For example, Gary Adelman and Michael Levenson discuss the use of darkness and comment upon Conrad's purpose. Gary Adelman suggests that Conrad used darkness as a means to tie together various elements of the novel. Adelman says, "the most elaborate of Conrad's devices for controlling several dimensions of his story is his metaphorical use of darkness" (85-86). Adelman talks about how "[d]arkness characterizes the hero's psychological state at each stage of his journey" (86). In Adelman's opinion, "it functions as a symbol of Marlow's self-enlightenment and political awareness" (86). According to Adelman, it is important to "interpret its various meanings" (86) in order to understand the "scope of Conrad's vision and the design of the novel" (86). He points to the fact that darkness is first associated with England and imperialism through the gloom that hangs over London and the tribute that is made to British imperialism. When Marlow starts talking about the Roman conquest of Britain, however, the darkness is associated with "savagery, disease, and solitude that threaten the colonizer" (86). As Marlow's journey progresses, darkness is associated with "savagery, cannibalism and human sacrifice" (87). Marlow, according to Adelman, "is described as journeying … into the d...
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...a racist attitude.
A. Darkness is used to portray Africa and the native people; suggesting a racist attitude to some critics.
1. Gary Adelman defends Conrad against racist accusations, suggesting that he was not aware of the racial implications of his symbolism.
2. The portrayal of Africa as a place of darkness is understandable considering the commonly held perception of the country at the time Heart of Darkness was written.
III. The critics cannot agree why Conrad reversed what darkness was associated with.
A. Throughout the novel darkness is associated with one thing and then reversed and associated with something else.
1. Gary Adelman suggests that the purpose of reversal in association is to engage the reader.
2. Ian Watt sees the reversal of association as a technique for breaking down commonly held beliefs.
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