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Heart Of Darkness 7 Essay, Research Paper

Heart of Darkness

Marlow’s journey to darkness

People are not always what they seem. Those appear to be the most civilized may in fact prove to be quite barbaric and savage. Those who appear sweet and kind can prove that unbeknownst to them they are hiding beneath their angelic faces and innocent smiles a heart of stone with no feelings, no compassion and no love. Throughout Marlow’s journey into the dark jungles of Africa we come to realize that Marlow’s heart is cold and dark and hidden deep within himself. Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is actually the story of Marlow’s journey and self realization of his own heart of Darkness. From the very beginning of the story that Marlow tells his civilized friends, there are signs of the misfortunes and chaos that Marlow is about to step into. Conrad uses the symbolism of light vs. dark to create the foreshadowing and ominous future ahead for Marlow.

In Heart of Darkness, there is a real contrast between what is light and what is

dark. These contrasts work within the reality of what is considered civilized and

uncivilized. The light representing civilization or the civilized side of the world and

the dark representing the uncivilized or savage side of the world. Throughout the

book, there are several references to these two contrasts. In Conrad’s novel, black

and white have the usual connotations of evil and good. The setting, in the dark jungles of Africa also plays a critical role in describing how Marlow feels about the entire adventure he endured. From the very start of the novel, there are signs of what is to come. The colors of items and objects help to foreshadow the tragedy that is to come to Marlow. There are a couple of instances in particular that elude to the difficult future Marlow will


The most interesting events of foreshadowing occurs when Marlow arrives at the Belgian company’s office. The women are knitting black wool. This is perhaps a symbolic sign of what is to come. Another symbolic omen is that his predecessor, the previous riverboat captain, had died in a quarrel over two black hens, meaning he was killed by savage natives. This again foreshadows the evil Marlow is soon to encounter. The significance of these two events is that the black represents evil. There are many other elements that Marlow encounters at the Belgian office. Another interesting one involves the mood of the office. He describes it as “dead.” Also, the description of a map that he sees in the office is of great interest. He describes the map as being “marked with all the colours of a rainbow,” except his destination. He describes it as “yellow,” which can be associated with corruption, decay, and most importantly ivory. He also says he is

venturing into the “dead centre” of the yellow patch. Marlow then goes on to say

That “the river was there-facinating-deadly-like a snake.” This reference also creates

a dark image which in turn establishes an evil connotation. The snake is also a

symbol of evil. This reference has its roots in the Bible when the snake, or serpent,

entices Eve to eat the forbidden fruit.

As Marlow explores the outer post, he comes across many disturbing but excellent examples of civilized and uncivilized cultures and the colors that are used to represent them. While wondering around, he runs across a work camp. The condition of the “black shapes” is one of great despair. He describes them as people who have withdrawn from the work camps in order to die. He says they are “half affected within the dim light.” This reference continues to support the idea of light being good and dark being evil. As the workers retreat into the light to die from the dark caves, they feel relief from their pain. Marlow also calls these people “black shadows of disease and Starvation.” This quote reinforces the idea that blacks and the dark images they project are uncivilized and nothing to be wishing for.

Throughout the rest of the novel there are countless numbers of how the coloured, the uncivilized savages contrast with the whites, the civilized Europeans. Many of them become evident in the struggle Marlow faces in trying to reach Kurtz. Marlow speaks of the “wild yellings, hand clapping, feet stomping, bodies swaying, eyes rolling, and beating drums” in his voyage to reach Kurtz. Marlow speaks of all the dangerous situations he encounters. Marlow also discusses a conversation he overhears while on the deck of his boat “one evening.” The two men he overhears talk about the dark images of death. The uncle tells the nephew of the ominous manner in which the crew that is

now dieing was greeted onto the land. He says the native had a “short flipper” arm that “took in the forest, the creek, the mud, and the river-seemed to beckon with a dishonoring flourish before the sunlit face of the land,” he goes on to say that it “lurked with death and hidden evil, to the profound darkness of the heart.” This statement once again reinforces the idea of dark being evil with the emphasizes of the death of the crew that was entrapped in it. Marlow overhears how the savages harbor these great misfortunes to the white men. This passage also reflects the idea of a civilized and an uncivilized people. The heart of darkness is referring to the natives and their home, the Congo.

The images in the final chapter are perhaps some of the most illuminating in the area of defining light with civilization and dark with the uncivilized. When Marlow finally reaches the camp where Kurtz is to be located, he finds a reality that is not civilized. The first sign he encounters is the broken roof on Kurtz’s house. It has a “black hole.” This is a sign of the uncivilized. At first, one may represent the hole as representing living in the open, the wild, but Marlow refers to it as a black hole. A black hole in contrast represents the unknown the unconquered, and therefore the uncivilized. Also, Marlow encounters “black heads” on Kurtz’s fence. These once again represent the idea of savegery with the color black. He also describes them as “black, dried, sunken, with closed eyelids.” This is once again a representation of dark colors being assocaited with all that is ugly, bad, and uncivilized. He also shows the savagery of the black natives when describing how they protect the yellow ivory. He claims they are armed to kill. However, one must remember that the ivory is once again for the whites. With the success of the mission, Marlow and Kurtz head back in a desperate attempt to beat Kurtz’s death in the Congo. While leaving the Kurtz’s camp, Marlow screeches the whistle on the boat to scare off the savages who begin to collect on shore. After doing this, all the natives, except the beautiful one, run. Once again Marlow shows how the whistle of a civilized world scares off the savages. And once again, the beautiful native remains behind not scared by the horn. This again shows how Marlow views the native as being civilized. The ending of the novel also proves to continue to contrast between light and dark, especially when speaking of the savages Marlow encounters when attempting to save Kurtz.

Therefore, the ultimate contrast of light and dark occurs with the death of Kurtz on the boat after he is saved and being brought back down “The brown current (that) ran swiftly out of the heart of darkness…” This quote being perhaps the ultimate description of the savagery and uncivilization of the Congo as Marlow and Kurtz try to quickly escape the savagery and death of the Congo. In the end, the affinity between the two men becomes a symbolic unity. Marlow and Kurtz are the light and dark selves of a single person. Marlow is what Kurtz might have been, and Kurtz is what Marlow might have become.

With their escape and these words comes the title of the book, Heart of Darkness.

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