The Heart of Darkness: The Ultimate Choice of Man
A single word holds the potential to have multiple connotations. Stringing these subjective words into a novel may have a catastrophic effect on the readers. However, a story’s ability to comprise of several different interpretations provides deeper insight and depth. In Joseph Conrad’s novel, The Heart of Darkness, there are various viewpoints one may take throughout the main character Marlow’s journey. But Conrad’s artful use of dualistic symbolism is arguably the most crucial because it highlights the underlying theme, which stresses the dual nature of man and his choice to control his actions.
During the entirety of the book, dualism is constantly utilized to contrast separate entities, such as wilderness and civilization. Some may argue the two are merely classifications of environments but in actuality, they represent the effect that order or lack of can have on people. Civilizations consist of laws and rules to uphold man’s morals to ensure a working and efficient society. But as mentioned in the novel, Marlow says, “And [London] also…has been one of the dark place of the earth…I was thinking of very old times, when the Romans first came here…Oh yes – [they] did it. Did it very well, too, no doubt and without thinking much about it either, except afterwards to brag of what he had gone through in his time, perhaps. They were men enough to face the darkness”(67-69). London, a symbol of enlightenment, is also once a “dark place of the earth” until Romans force civilization upon the land. The city is an example stressing how civilization is a learned habit and is not an innate characteristic of humanity. To maintain a stable and harmonious community, it appears necessary to establish a code of ethics to enforce stability on its people. But if defined in this sense, imperialism is clearly a hypocritical attempt to justify exploitations of the indigenous and primitive states of man and nature alike. The Company in The Heart of Darkness insists it will colonize the people, but this reasoning is extremely ironic because the damage that the jungle has on the white man’s soul exceeds the physical pain of the black men’s toil. Near the beginning of the trip, Marlow distinguishes the feeling of the jungle and says, “In some inland post feel the savagery, the utter savagery, had close round him – all that mysterious life of the wilderness that stirs in the forest, in the jungles, in the hearts of wild men… He has to live in the midst of the incomprehensible, which is also detestable. And it has a fascination, too, that goes to work upon him”(69). Even if the wilderness is constantly described as dark and savage, it holds a fascination upon civilized men. This is partly due to the incomprehensibility of the wilderness that imposes itself as an ominous, omnipotent force testing one’s ability to hold onto sanity. Once people enter the wild, their primitive impulses are revealed since they are free to do as they desire without fear of consequence. The jungle is referred to as “the heart of darkness” not because it unleashes the evil of civilized men, but because it mirrors the darkness already apparent in every being. As Marlow progresses deeper into the jungle, he says, “The earth seemed unearthly. We are accustomed to look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster, but there – there you could look at a thing monstrous and free. It was unearthly, and the men were – No, they were not inhuman…but if you were man enough you would admit to yourself that there was in you just the faintest trace of a response to the terrible frankness… Principles won’t do. Acquisitions, clothes, pretty rags – rages that would fly off at the first good shake. No; you want a deliberate belief”(108-109). Society may restrain savage tendencies, yet it cannot eliminate them. Primeval tendencies are always lurking, and the superficial morals of civilization are much more unstable than it seems at first...
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