English Literature AP
11 March 2013
The Role of Ambiguity in Heart of Darkness
In the world of art, a piece is hardly admired solely for accurately representing a subject, rather, the best works of art are appreciated for their creative, unique, symbolic depiction of reality. The photo of a group soldiers standing dirty in the aftermath of a battle is not significant for the identity of the individuals but for the horror, sacrifice, and brotherhood emphasized in their situation. The beauty of such an image is in its ambiguity – in the way that one sees his very own image in the blank, unknown faces of the picture. This feature allows the observer to directly relate the content of the image with his or her own life. In the novel, Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad utilizes strategic ambiguity in his characters and setting to impact the reader on the deepest, personal level.
Conrad structures his setting in a way that removes its identity and emphasizes its essence. Better said, as one journeys with Marlow deeper into the dense jungle, the setting becomes less of a Belgian-colonized Congo and more of a savage, chaotic, murky labyrinth. In an art gallery, Conrad’s setting would more likely be represented as obscure modern art than a realistic portrait of Victorian Age exploration. Upon his vast canvas, Conrad splashes a messy array of black, white, and grey rather than deep, vibrant, organized colors. Likewise, in Marlow’s travels, his vision of the jungle obscures itself into a bleak blur of dark shades contrasted by the bright white of imperialism. Marlow himself describes the landscape as having “a treacherous appeal to the lurking death, to the hidden evil, to the profound darkness of its heart.” Conrad doesn’t have Marlow speak explicitly against the people, dangers, and perils of the jungle but merely characterizes its darkness. Contrarily, behind this dark arboreal curtain, the ivory trade stands out in full contrast....
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