Imagery, Symbolism and Motif in 'Heart of Darkness'

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In this extract taken from the Novella, Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad explores many elements. Conrad uses a framing narrative; Marlow’s narrative is framed by another narrative, in which the reader listens to Marlow’s story told through one of those listening. The narrator remains unnamed as do the other listeners. The narration is told in the first-person plural, letting the reader know what each of the four listeners are thinking and feeling. It could be interpreted that the anonymity of the narrator represents the conventional perspective of an outsider, someone not involved. One of the key aspects in the Novella is the way in which Conrad explores the depths of imagery, motif and symbolism. Arguably the biggest motif explored in Heart of Darkness is that of ‘Light’ and ‘Darkness’. Conrad’s use of ‘light’ and ‘darkness’ imagery is reflected through devices such as setting and atmosphere. The extract begins rich with imagery as Marlow talks of the “Light” that “came out of this river”, emphasising the idea that through invasion, the Romans diminished the “darkness that was here yesterday” in their brief “flicker” of light. This almost suggests what is to come, not only of the invasion of the natives but the impact that it will have on their own minds. Conrad mentions “a military camp lost in the wilderness” alongside “Knights” and “Romans”. All of these could be interpreted as a symbol of the invasion that is to come. The foreshadowing is mostly shown through Conrad’s use of imagery, which is consistently dark and threatening. It could be interpreted that the motifs of ‘light’ and ‘darkness’ signify what is to come later on in the novella. The foreshadowing associations to invasion link with one of the main themes at the centre of Heart of Darkness, Imperialism. It seems almost a dark subject amongst the story which is reflected in Conrad’s use of vivid descriptions and imagery. Africa was known as “The Dark Continent” in the Victorian era, Marlow refers to...
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