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Heart of Darkness
Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad is a fictional novel with an overflow of symbolism. Throughout the entire novel Conrad uses a plethora of simple colors, objects, and places in order to clarify very complex meanings. By doing this, Conrad is able to lure the reader into a world unlike his or her own: the Congo River, located in central Africa. Although the interpretation of these symbols is so elaborate, the simplicity of each makes it somewhat easy to overlook. A few examples of the many symbols found in Conrad’s novel include the jungle, as well as the colors of white and black, better known as the colors of life and death.
In Heart of Darkness, the images of black and white have the usual connotations of evil and good. These pigments are found throughout the entire book. Ironically, although black, the native Africans seem to represent a sort of good by doing what they feel is right. On the other hand, the white foreigners carry themselves with some kind of evil as they exploit the great kindness of the blacks. I guess you could say that the white men were filled with a black hatred inside. Another example is found when Marlow enters the Belgian company’s office. Sitting in the office are two women dressed almost completely in black. Marlow is no beginning to understand the seriousness of the journey he is going to make. Even his predecessor dies because of a quarrel over two black hens. The usage of black is almost too much to handle. Another example that I also
remembered from the movie was how Kurtz’s pictures were always placed within
a dark ebony back round. Another ironic example is the continued description
of the white ivory. Its beautiful white shine makes it look righteous, even though it really demonstrates a great evil as the elephants were being destroyed along with other people.
Other colors were of importance as well to truly understand the symbolic nature of the story. The plaid patches and trimmings on the Russian’s harlequin clothes portray his ever-changing moods and foolish, light-hearted behavior. By simply using a description of clothing, Conrad is able to show us how he tends to stay out of trouble with his befriending nature. The color yellow will usually symbolize some sort of corruption or decay. We first read about yellow as it marks the area of Congo on the map in the Brussels office.
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Certain objects and places can be considered as symbolic features as well. The amazingly thick jungle in Congo seems to bring about some sort of truth or reality. The explorers or ivory hunters are stepping out of their perfect little world full of riches and wealth, and are entering a place where none of that matters. They find themselves in horrible situation where harsh reality is kicking in. Within the jungle, a tall, dense grass is mentioned a multitude of times. Many of the huts or houses are almost buried in the greens. The working men have to wade through it while burning every bit of their energy. This symbol was also taken from the scriptures of the bible. The bible states, "… they are like the grass: in the morning, it flourisheth; in the evening, it is cut down and withereth." Basically this passage is saying that the men’s wickedness, as well as their goodness, is temporary. Like grass, it can grow tremendously, but soon fade only to rise again.
The last of the many symbols I will write about is something that is mainly only described at the very beginning and end of the book. At the very start of the story some type of large buzzing insects are stabbing the dying agent in the accountant’s otherwise immaculate office. These flies portray the undergoing of operations by the ivory company’s representatives. The size of the flies represent Marlow’s reaction to the Congo conditions. He is beginning to realize how immensely dangerous the mission he has accepted is going to be. Towards the final words of the novel, we read of a swarm of small flies streaming upon everything as Kurtz utters his last words. This greatly contrasts the previous insects. One swarm enters in the story’s beginning and the other at the end. Perhaps the flies indicate the kind of irritation being felt by Marlow due to the annoyances he comes across in the Congo. At first, his problems seem bigger than life; later, however, they diminish because of the growth in experience and character of captain Marlow.
The sign of a true great writer is the use and manipulation of symbolic meanings. Canrad could have told us the sort of mood or meaning he was attempting to portray at each point in the book, but rather, he decided to use simple objects and colors to show us what he was trying to get across. By letting the reader try to figure out what is being said the story can entail many meanings not even thought of by the author. The reader is able to view the story as he or she pleases. This makes for a much more enjoyable reading experience. A much more enjoyable reading experience leads to fame and fortune for the writer and publisher. Joseph Conrad’s usage of symbolism will grant him that fame and fortune.