Heart of Darkness: The Multiple Meanings of Darkness

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The Multiple Meanings of Darkness depicted in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness, originally published in 1899, is centered around an anonymous narrator retelling the story of a man named Marlow’s journey as an ivory transporter down the Congo River in Africa. Marlow, through his aunt, lands a job as a pilot on a steamboat under the control of a Belgian business referred to as the Company. On this voyage Marlow is on a mission to meet Kurtz, a man whom has become quite infamous among the natives and the Europeans. Marlow’s interest in Kurtz and his prestigious yet mysterious reputation grows as the novel progresses. Marlow begins his travels through Africa and encounters a large amount of brutality and carelessness at many of the Company’s stations. Many of the regions natives have been forced to work for the Company and are being mistreated. They are extremely overworked and neglected by the people of the Company. The violence and cruelty that occur are quite different from the natural beauty of the majestic jungle surrounding the settlements of the white men. This contrast makes the settlements appear as small areas among the widespread darkness. This example of darkness is not the only one explored throughout Conrad’s 1989 novel Heart of Darkness. Throughout the novel it is evident that there are multiple meanings of the word darkness being presented. Some are very obvious such as skin color, literal environmental darkness, and violence. However there are other occurrences such as mapping, and the psychological darkness that Conrad incorporates artfully into the novel. I will use this paper in order to explore the multiple meanings of darkness f Conrad provides throughout the entirety of Heart of Darkness. The setting of Heart of Darkness takes place along the Congo River in Africa. Chinua Achebe’s article titled An Image of Africa refers to Conrad’s novel saying, “Heart of Darkness projects the image of Africa as the other world” (783). On his journey in Africa, Marlow comes into contact with many of the regions natives. One of the meanings of darkness presented in the novel refers to skin color. The natives of Africa have a darker skin tone compared to the white European men. The natives are described as being savages, which is why the Europeans view themselves as being superior. The treatment of these natives is often demeaning and cruel. In various passages they are referred to as exemplifying savagery with animalistic behaviors. There is often conflict between the white Company men and the African natives. Throughout the novel, skin color is used effectively as a tool of symbolism, specifically when it comes to darkness. I find the description of these natives to be rather racist in terms of skin color. This passage below from the novel Heart of Darkness is an example of the negative views on race that the Europeans had against the natives. "[…] But these men could by no stretch of imagination be called enemies. They were called criminals and the outraged law, like the bursting shells, had come to them, an insoluble mystery from over the sea. All their meager breasts panted together, the violently dilated nostrils quivered, the eyes stared stonily up-hill. They passed me within six inches, without a glance, with that complete, deathlike indifference of unhappy savages." (Conrad 117) This excerpt from the novel describes how the natives were treated as slaves. The Company saw them as a threat and decided to chain them up making them become battered and weak. They were perceived as uncivilized and evil because of the darkness of their skin color. The natives in Heart of Darkness are treated as objects rather than actual people.

The overall theme of darkness is portrayed in the natural setting throughout the novel. Conrad is able to develop this darkness through the ominous and gloomy descriptions of the characters and setting. His portrayals convey a sense of...
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