Dark vs.: Light
“Between us there was, as I have already said somewhere, the bond of the sea. Besides holding our hearts together through long periods of separation, it had the effect of making us tolerant of each other’s yarns—and even convictions.” (Conrad 1) In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Marlow is a sailor who is telling his story to his fellow boatmen when traveling to a port in Africa up the Congo River. When talking to the people he encounters one name keeps popping up, Kurtz, who is called a protégé. The Europeans trying to colonize Africa is considered a joke to Marlow because of how they are being treated basically like slaves instead of savages. Marlow is their because he has to pick up a steamboat for his journey to the ports in Africa. While waiting for his boat, which was sunken by natives, he learns more about Kurtz and becomes fascinated. Eventually at the end of the story Marlow finds Kurtz, Kurtz becomes crazy and begins living in the wild, and attempts to bring him back to Europe but dies on the boat. He gives Marlow some personal documents and states his last words as “Exterminate all the brutes!” “The horror! The horror! “This confused Marlow and he never really knew what this meant. Marlow gives the report to Kurtz “cousin” and the rest to his fiancé, who he lies to stating his last words to him, was her name. Joseph Conrad uses a substantial amount of imagery to convey meaning in this novel, some including: the darkness, the river, ivory, and the savage wife. "Sunlight can be made to lie, too" (Conrad 50). The darkness is not just a side effect of night time in the novel; the fog in the story is a side effect in the darkness making it a somewhat unclear path. The fog represents a decision. Marlow can only tell somewhat of what he is doing but can’t judge if he made the right one until its too late. Since Marlow’s boat always ends up being in the “darkness”, he has no way of judging neither where he is going nor where he will end up. This can be related back to life itself because someone can see somewhat where they might go but the path isn’t 100% defined a person may not know it’s right or wrong until it’s too late. Though it may just seem Marlow is just heading up the river on his steamboat, the river is also an important symbol in the story. The river is shaped as a snake, which is no coincidence. The river represents evil, because of it being the evil snake. Just like the story of Adam and Eve when the evil snake told them to eat the forbidden fruit. When the river leads to temptation of the goods and land ahead it’s a test of temptation, which most of the crew ends up giving into. When Marlow is traveling up the river he has no idea what to expect. When he is coming back down the river however with Kurtz, he is more eased. “The word ‘ivory’ rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it. A taint of imbecile rapacity blew through it all, like a whiff from some corpse. By Jove! I’ve never seen anything so unreal in my life. And outside, the silent wilderness surrounding this cleared speck on the earth struck me as something great and invincible, like evil or truth, waiting patiently for the passing away of this fantastic invasion.” (Conrad 43) Ivory in the story represents greed and a lost “ambition” of the Europeans. The hunger for wealth escalates so quickly, they even start to sacrifice their own people. [Marlow with the doctor]: "As we sat over our vermouths he glorified the Company's business, and by-and-by I expressed casually my surprise at him not going out there. He became very cool and collected all at once. "I am not such a fool as I look, quoth Plato to his disciples," he said sententiously, emptied his glass with great resolution, and we rose." (Conrad 25) The doctor in the story represents strong will of though. He is the most reasonable and down to earth person when it comes too being real world about decisions, but he is curious he wants to notice a change in people’s heads to see if a change happens after dealing with the African people. The purpose seems illogical, but the doctor thinks otherwise. He is willing to do what it takes to come up with an answer. Joseph Conrad uses many seemingly simple items in his story into bigger items. With the river being evil, ivory being greed, the doctor being curiosity, and darkness being uncertainty, Conrad incorporates all these to convey meaning in his novel.