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Heart Of Darkness Essay, Research Paper

In just the opening pages of ?Heart of Darkness?, Conrad?s aptitude as a writer becomes abundantly clear, for the subliminal nature of his writing is constantly sustained. Conrad begins Marlow?s journey into the heart of darkness on the Thames, on the yawl, ?Nellie? with a short prologue, which contains subtle use of imagery and a brilliant evocation of the atmosphere that prepares a reader for the prevailing themes of the novel. Each setting in the novel is in fact a microcosm of the larger construction of ?Heart of Darkness?, and a reader is continually reminded by the repetition of the phrase ?brooding gloom?, the noun ?haze, and the adjective ?dark? that the novel is full mystery and exploration through the impenetrable darkness, as it were.

As a reader transgresses through the novel, he or she is continually taken back to the paradoxical title, ?Heart of Darkness?. The title in itself is very suggestive, for the noun ?heart? is, in a literal sense, characteristic of pure substance, and is very distinct, and on a metaphorical level it conveys that the novel works on an emotional scale. On the other hand, the adjective ?darkness? displays something much more inconclusive and equivocal, just like Marlow. Therefore, a reader?s first expectations are rather inexpressible because one is put a half-state, where the clear literal meaning of ?heart? is set against the ambiguity of the ?darkness?. The ?darkness? in the novel works on both the characters and the readers, where it highlights the states of confusion and incomprehension of the mind. It seems upon ?darkness?, things become ?less brilliant but more profound?.

Our expectations about the novel are flooded with ideas of the unknown, a journey into ?darkness? in search of mystery and adventure. However, these expectations are soon depleted amongst the first lines of the novel, where a reader learns that the journey is taking place on the Thames, on a cruising yawl, ?Nellie?. Everything seems to be still and calm, where there is not even a ?flutter of the sails?, and everything is ?at rest?, while the crewmembers ?wait for the turn of the tide?. The opening evokes a very static atmosphere, where nothing seems to be getting accomplished. A reader first recognises the bathos of the novel, at this moment, as the seemingly mysterious and adventurous aspect to the novel, suggested by the title, and the nouns ?mist? and ?haze?, which are pathetic fallacy for obscurity and indistinctness, has not been carried through into the text.

Throughout the opening pages, Conrad pays close attention to detail, and his subtle handling of the labyrinthine imagery that surfaces from the first few lines of the novel, fabricate the scene extremely well. Conrad evokes images of death and decay through phrases such as ?mournful gloom?, nouns such as ?dark?, and definite nouns such as ?Gravesend?. Conrad operates in this manner with deliberate intent, so to prepare the reader for the human savagery and despair that is to follow in the heart of the Congo. From this Conrad establishes for a reader the characteristics of darkness ? its is night, the unknown, the impenetrable, the primitive, the evil. This consequently builds certain preconceptions in the mind of a reader, for one is made to foresee the rooted evil amongst the black savages in the Congo. It is under this art of Conrad?s that the reader is made to judge and contemplate the unknown. Yet when Marlow reaches Africa the previously accepted associations with black and ?dark? are inverted. ?White? is above all ivory, the beautiful luxury of civilised man, which is the root of all evil in the darkness.

In the opening, a reader is given the following description of Marlow: ?Marlow sat cross-legged right aft, leaning against the mizzen-mast. He had sunken cheeks, a yellow complexion, a straight back, an ascetic aspect, and with his arms dropped, the palms of hands outwards, resembled an idol?. This description builds a false dawn for the reader as one is made to believe that Marlow is wise, mystical, and has a clear insight. In fact, it is only until the first few pages that the truth is revealed, when the narrator warns us that we are about to hear of one of Marlow?s ?inconclusive experiences?. It is through Marlow?s indecisiveness that the novel achieves its air of ambiguity, and in a sense, imbedded into the text is the manner in which Marlow?s ?experiences? should be interpreted:

?But Marlow was not typical?and to him the meaning of an episode was not like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which bought it out only as a glow brings out a haze, in the likeness of one of these misty halos that sometimes are made visible by the spectral illumination of moonshine.?

This means that by paying close attention to the ?surface reality? of Marlow?s story, an inner meaning should emerge.

Conrad?s technique of raising the expectation?s of a reader is often achieved through his use of hyperbolas. For example, he uses the phrase, ?an interminable waterway?, to describe the Thames, which aids in giving the novel a form of undeserved mysticism and adventure. This is furthermore demonstrated through the following quotation: ?The old river?a waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth?into the heart of an immense darkness?. The manner in which the narrator chooses to describe the Thames is not merely coincidental. There is a subtle suggestion that Marlow is uniting the Thames, and the other great river of the story, the Congo, for the languages he adopts to describe the ?old river? is rather glorified, and would seem more appropriate describing a river in an exotic country, such as the Congo. Marlow juxtaposes the Thames and the Congo to remind a reader that our own civilised country, where nature is ?the shackled form of a conquered monster?, was once a darkness ?monstrous and free? and we were once the savages, like the primitives of the Congo. Therefore, a reader is already made to question imperialism and its consequences, for we are given an insight into how civilisation can model societies into producing the ?biggest, and the greatest, town[s] on earth?, where the sea is the colour of ?lead?, and the sky, the ?colour of smoke?. The message of the novel in just the opening pages seems to be that sometimes, man is ?fit for nothing but placid staring? rather than ?toying architecturally with?bones?. This quotation serves as a perfect metaphor in demonstrating that there is no real incentive one can acquire from exploration because as the noun ?bone? symobolises, it only ends up in aggregated murder on a mass scale. The verb ?toying? also suggests that imperialism involves playing with death, when there is no strong moral in doing so. This allows a reader to ponder on the morals of imposing foreign rule upon a country, and whether it is aimed at benefiting society, or in making the explorers themselves better off. In a sense, this question is answered, as Conrad presents a reader with the example of Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Franklin. History reveals that their exploration was aimed not only at claiming newfound land, but to bring back booty for themselves, rather than exploring for the benefit of humanity. In a sense, Conrad writing can be seen as prophetically stylistic, as he provides an historic example of the lucrative explorations of Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Franklin, with their ?round flanks full of treasure?, and hence prepares the reader for the journey into the ?wilderness? of the Congo. Already interwoven into the pages, therefore, is the prospect that as Marlow?s narration progresses into the heart of the Congo, a reader will be able to recognise that the ?hunters for gold or pursuers of fame? that have control over the Congo and its people, are not philanthropists but are interested in squeezing the last ?trickle of ivory? from the Congo?s natural resources. This arouses a reader?s expectation into feeling that the ?Heart of Darkness? deals with the close relationship between entrepreneurship ? lucre and conspiracy, and colonialisation.

The opening of Conrad?s ?Heart of Darkness? gives a reader an insight how the novel may progress, but one can never be entirely sure what way Conrad is turning, and the manner in which we are to interpret his writing. A reader finds that not only is the setting of the novel filled with darkness, but also, the mind of a reader is often left dark, with hardly any light or insight. So, one has to expect that as well as a physical journey, an adventure, the ?Heart of Darkness? will also be a psychological and mystical journey.


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