Heart Of Darkness Essay, Research Paper
When considering Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, the formalistic approach would seem to be the logical choice for criticism. The story lends itself very well to this approach by virtue of its light and dark contrast, Conrads metaphore for good and evil. As the title suggests there will be a reference to darkness, which not only means an evil but also ignorance in man. The book encompasses many evils but also demonstrates a complete reversal in the good and evil concept; this will be explored thoughtful of not only the light and dark theme, but also metaphors using this relationship. Before analyzing the book it might be helpful to know a few facts about its author, and perhaps gain insight as to why he would choose his themes.
Joseph Conrad born Jozef Teodor Konrad Nalecz Korzeniowski December 3, 1857 in Poland. Conrad was an only child, his father was a political activist, and when Conrad was four his father was arrested. His mother passed when he was seven and his father when he was ten. He was then passed off to his uncle. There was not much stability to Conrad’s youth; a childhood surrounded by turmoil could easily provoke him to consider human nature in the context of good and evil. It is not the intention to burden the reader with a lengthy account of Conrad’s youth, however the above facts should be enough to offer an some explanation as to Conrad’s view. As a young man, Conrad did participate in a journey to the Congo. This afforded him the opportunity to a similar view as the characters in the book.
The first point about the light and dark contrast can be made without an introduction to the characters. This can be accomplished with geography alone. The civilized world, portrayed as England, would then represent the light or good. Being civilized does not necessarily mean you are good, but in this representation it is in the beginning portrayed as the good. The Congo in counter point is the uncivilized and as a result it is the dark. This light and dark theme starts in this manner, however it will start to slowly reverse itself so at the end of the book the opposite will be offered. The wild and untamed jungle the will become the light, and the well ordered civilization will become the dark.
To continue the light and dark relationship would require the introduction of some characters. The story is narrated by two people, one of whom remains nameless. The other, a man named Charlie Marlow. It is the Marlow character that the book revolves around, and also the first character to use the light ands dark relationship. Marlow alludes to a map he saw as a child, and then one he sees as an adult, “True, by this time it was not a blank space any more. It had got filled since my boyhood with rivers and lakes and names. It had ceased to be a blank space of delightful mystery – a white patch for a boy to dream gloriously over. It had become a place of darkness.”(22) The third character is a man named Kurtz, whom Marlow is sent to bring back to civilization. Kurtz is a pivotal character that portrays the reversal of the light and dark concept. He was once a man in civilization, and thus light, and good, but after many years in the dark Congo, and had become corrupt, and bad or dark.
The symbolic use of light and dark to represent good and evil is present throughout the book. Conrad expands on this theme to allow a small item such as a pair of shoes to join in the representation of good, by the virtue that shoes are of the civilized, and the civilized are good. Again a concept to be held before the reversal and which by comparison would have the bare foot natives of dark skin color be the dark or evil. But upon examination, why would bare foot be bad, if it were the normal then it would be neither good nor evil. These people that are dark in color have been referred to as savages, and in this case removed from civilization. Marlow describes some of the natives as a bronze color , still a reference too darker than white. These are the very same people that shoot arrows at Marlows boat, while he is on route to rescue Kurtz. Throughout this journey it would seam that it is a journey by the civilized world through the uncivilized world. The civilized light if you will in an attempt to light the uncivilized darkness. The purpose to remove the white ivory, the purest sample of white, and yet it leads the plunder the Dark Continent. To this point, the white people appear to be the thieves, and the dark people just protecting their land against the invaders. It would appear than perhaps the light – dark theme is taking a reversal on this point.
Another interesting point can be made by way of Marlow’s comment that he would go into the accountant’s office to avoid chaos. This refers to the first station Marlow is at and he views it as complete disarray except for the order in the accountant’s office. Marlow also equates the accountant’s appearance with a sense of order and civilization. Yes he respected him, and his starched collars. It would also seem that Conrad uses order to show a progression toward darkness. For example as Marlow proceeds from one station to the next the degree of organization lessons. When Marlow needs rivets for the repair of his boat he recalls that they are in plentiful supply at the last station, but he had none at his present location. This is a small problem Marlow thought he will just send a note and have some brought forth. This turns into a major stumbling block for Marlow, as the rivets were not transferred, this is another point toward darkness, a reminder if you will that being consumed by darkness makes everything more difficult.
Along with color to represent good and evil, Conrad uses vision or the lack there of, to convey a sense of evil. In one instance Marlow describes the Congo River as a large coiling snake leading into the interior of the darkness, which would indicate a limited amount of vision. The snake a long time symbol of darkness and deceit. For example during the journey on the river at many junctures Marlow cannot see past the bends in the river, much like being blinded by darkness, or kept from enlightenment. Along these lines are the dark jungle banks which the bronze natives hide ready to attack. Perhaps yet another is the dense fog rendering no visibility at all. A virtual surround of darkness in which Marlow is rendered powerless, and cannot move his boat. Nor is he able to discern the dangers that lie past the sides of his boat.
Encompassing the story as a whole, the symbolism perhaps is referring to the darkness of man, and how man will proceed to any lengths to secure a profit. He will leave the whiteness of the civilized world, and enter the darkness of the uncivilized world in the name of a good bottom line. The story is engulfed by Colonialism and the justification of the acts in order to bring back the ivory.
Another fascinating character in the book is the man Marlow is in search of, namelingly Mr. Kurtz. Kurtz is portrayed as starting out as a civilized man, and then due to his exposure to the darkness, becomes converted to the dark ways. Kurtz is in charge of a station in the interior of the African darkness, his mission is to remove as much of the ivory as he can. It seams that by the time Marlow is going after him that he has already been consumed by the darkness. Conrad uses Marlow to portray the seemingly good-hearted man that gets caught up in the conflict of making money or keeping his moral ethics. It is no accident then, that Marlow would be going to save the darkened Kurtz. As well as Kurtz entrusting Marlow with his personal papers, in this manner Kurtz can haunt Marlow even after death. This would keep just a small dark cloud over Marlow. It is during this journey that the reader becomes aware that perhaps all is not what it seems, Conrad is exposing the white men as being dark and the natives as being light. It becomes apparent that the civilized are not really civilized at all and the uncivilized are really the civilized. Take for example the accountant training the native woman to wash and starch his shirts, is this an act to show the native how to be civilized, no this has nothing to due with a native being civilized, one, it is enslaving a native, which is not a civilized concept, and, two from the natives prospective the shirts have nothing what ever to due with civilization. A much stronger example would be the native heads on sticks that surround Kurtz’s station. How civilized is having native heads on sticks? Anyone that could extinguish humans for the purpose of lawn ornaments, in an attempt to demonstrate his god like qualities has reached the darkest of the dark.
In has been said that Conrad is trying to give insight into the dark souls of men. The light and dark issues are not isolated to Marlow and Kurtz, nor are they incommon to just the men that traveled to the Congo. These issues apply to the company, the colonists, and in some respects to the natives. Stepping from the novel however, these issues can be found to apply to all, and their application would seem to be timeless. Their abuses of people, and power, along with the constant quest for riches would seem to be a never ending constant which is so well contrasted by a story of a man and his steamboat, and the adventure it was on.