The Symbolism Of Darkness In

“Heart Of Darkness” Essay, Research Paper

Darkness…What does it mean?

In Joseph Conrad’s novel, Heart of Darkness, the meaning of the word “darkness” changed throughout the story to symbolize different things. Conrad used this term in ways to identify social and intellectual elements in order to help the reader get a feel of his outlook and his own opinions of the world. The two most noticeable interpretations of “darkness” were how it symbolized racism in the world and it also symbolized the enormous impact that an uncivilized world can have on a civilized person.

Symbolism of racism was the first thing that stood out while reading this story. This idea came from the way that Joseph Conrad wrote about the whites, – who were considered “civilized”, and how they treated the blacks – who were considered “uncivilized”, in Africa. During the settlement and colonization of Africa, the whites thought themselves to be superior to any human who was different from their color (i.e. Natives). This is well shown when Marlow described his first impression of Africa, when he saw the “Black shapes crouched…The work was going on…this was the place where some of the helpers had withdrawn to die…they were nothing earthly now, nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation, lying confusedly in the greenish gloom (www.Barron’” These Natives were not “helpers”, but slaves who were forced to work under the order of the white settlers.

Another good example of racism in this story was the descriptive monologue that Marlow gave about an incident he faced. “And while I had to lack after the savage who was a fireman…to look at him was edifying as seeing a dog in a parody of breeches and a feather hat, walking on his hind legs…he was useful and had been instructed (” As a result, it seemed that no matter how educated the Natives became, they were still seen as being a lesser people to the whites.

From racism, the idea of civilization vs. uncivilized life came about. Conrad used the “light and dark” difference regarding this. The light represented civilization – the civilized or “good” side of the world. And the dark represented the uncivilized and savage or “evil” side of the world. In the United States, as a nation, people live in a civilized culture. There are “police, bakers, and firemen.” There are laws mad to protect citizens and protect this country. The laws are to be abided by or consequences will be paid. There is very little to worry about. Now, imagine a world where there are no laws – no rules to follow. Imagine a world where there are no “police, bakers, and firemen.” Chaos comes to mind. “In he unconscious mind of each of us, slumber infinite capacities for reversion and crime. And our best chance for survival, moral survival, lies in frankly recognizing these capacities (Conrad H.O.D. 9).” No matter how civilized people are, if they were to be removed from all civilization, and placed into this wilderness of the world, the evil and darkness of their hearts would show through.

Kurtz was a superb example of this idea. He was a civilized man who was put into uncivilized surroundings. He had intentions of civilizing a savage and uncivilized culture in which he did not realize, at the time, was much larger than what he could handle. He left for Africa coming from a civilized world and a “light” heart. But as soon as he was put into this new and savage world, he headed for a downward spiral into the darkness. This uncivilized wilderness brought out the darkness in Kurtz’s heart. His sudden change from laws, rules, and civilization to a culture in which he was free to do what he wanted with no restrictions, unleashed the greed and darkness of his heart, which ultimately cause his to become “crazy” and evil. By lifting the restraints of society, Kurtz did not know how to handle this world. This was his downfall.

Kurtz points up one of the morals of Marlow’s tale: if you aren’t aware of

the darkness within you, you won’t know how to fight it if you ever need to (” He was used as an example that could represent any human in this world. He illustrated that no matter how strong someone’s beliefs and morals are, once they are placed into a world of no rules and regulations, the greediness and their own savage self will shine through.

In this story, darkness was not only shown through the disturbing acts of racism, but was also shown as an unforgiving force that eventually drove all of the characters to drop the holds of society and civilization and showed through their actions. “Conrad implied that every man has a heart of darkness that is usually drowned out by the light of civilization. (http://www.*.com/)” Everybody, some time in their lives, will discover this darkness that plagues their soul.

1) Barron’s Booknotes. “Heart of Darkness”. Online. February 1, 2001

2) Spark Notes. “Heart of Darkness”. Online. January 30, 2001

3) Conrad, Joseph Heart of Darkness. Doubleday & Company, Inc. Copyright 1910

4) ChuckIII’s College Resources. “Heart of Darkness”. Online. January 30, 2001



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