Joseph Conrad Heart Of Darkness Essay, Research Paper
Joseph Conrad s Use of Light and Dark in His Writings
Many books are written by an author purely for informational, recreational, or monetary reasons, but some books are written to demonstrate a point. Joseph Conrad s book Heart of Darkness is one such book. If the book is examined only superficially, a tragic story of the African jungle is seen, but when the paragraphs are picked apart, a deeper meaning arises. Joseph Conrad uses the theme of light and dark to contrast the civilized with the savage in Heart of Darkness. The next 5 pages analyze Conrad s use of light and dark in Heart of Darkness. First, they explain how Conrad s past and experiences affected his writing. Then, they show how light versus dark is used to contrast the civilized and the savage. Finally, they will examine Conrad s use of light and dark in Heart of Darkness to contrast the civilized and the savage.
Joseph Conrad s past experiences contributed greatly to his literary style. He was born December third, 1857. His childhood was unstable; Conrad s parents came from families that sacrificed property, liberty, and life in the futile struggle for independence. (Gillon-3) His father, Apollo, joined a radical patriotic group which was working for another uprising. (Gillon-4) Apollo was jailed, and then was exiled to Vologda, in northern Russia. Joseph and his mother, Evelina were allowed to go with Apollo. During this time, Joseph s mother died because of Russian officials refusal to treat her with care. The remaining two Conrads moved to southern Russia. Conrad had few friends because his family was exiled, his mother was dead, and he spent much of his early years with his depressed father. The mood of hopelessness and resignation became a pervasive quality of his work. (Gillon-5) He was a seaman for his early years, therefore, all of his stories have a connection to the sea. He moved to England and took all the appropriate tests to become a captain. On April twenty-ninth, 1890, he accepted the position of first mate on a Congo steamer. Joseph thought that the experience in the jungle would be romantic, (Gillon-16) but, Instead of romance, Conrad found the horror of the jungle and its savage laws, the utter degradation of man isolated in the wilderness. (Gillon-17) According to Adam Gillon, the author of the Twayne book concerning Conrad, His concern was now with his own fate and that of humanity. Conrad the sailor was dead out of his misery and disenchantment Conrad the writer was born. (Gillon-17)
In Conrad s first influential novel, The Nigger of the Narcissus, the central idea of light and dark first arises. The sailing ship Narcissus is caught in a storm, and the only black mate aboard, James Wait, has a symbolic meaning. He is the stopping point on the ship, because none of the sailors trust him. He, as his name suggests, always waits before acting. Wait is a jinx (Gillon-39) and the ship will not reach land safely until Jim (James) dies. (Gillon-39) the images of light indicate the simple, good life of a seaman, while those of darkness are associated with the evil and mystery of the jungle, the corruption of the life on the land. (Gillon-25) In this case, black, or dark is bad, and the white, or light is good.
In Heart of Darkness, Conrad again uses light and dark to symbolize good and evil, except the roles are reversed. It is whiteness that is truly sinister and evil, for it symbolizes the immoral scramble for loot by the unscrupulous and unfeeling Belgian traders in ivory and human flesh; the whiteness of ivory is also contrasted with the blackness of the natives whose lives must be destroyed for its sake. (Gillon-25)
Many other authors use the theme of light and dark, especially Shakespeare, whom Conrad admired. In Macbeth, for example, much of the play is filled with the struggle between light and darkness. The darkness symbolizes Macbeth, who asks for darkness to hide his desires in Act I, and then darkness shrouds the night of the murder. The light in the first two acts is King Duncan, but the struggle went in favor of darkness. This struggle occurs in every act of the play. Conrad admired Shakespeare, who exercised an abiding influence (Gillon-5) on Conrad.Two central themes occur in Conrad s most famous book, Heart of Darkness. The first is the struggle between the white people and the native tribes, which plays into the next theme, that of light versus dark.
From the very start, Marlow (the main character in Heart of Darkness), creates a feeling of darkness.
At last, in its curved and imperceptible fall, the sun sank low, and from glowing white changed to a dull red without rays and without heat, as if about to go out suddenly, stricken to death by the touch of that gloom brooding over a crowd of men. (Conrad-28)
The story is told one evening (Conrad-28)
He then starts out by telling a story of his adventures in the Congo while waiting for the tide to turn on the Thames River outside of London. Marlow s use of a modern city is the first glimpse of what he considers civilized and more importantly, uncivilized. Marlow begins by speaking of the occupants of the boat. He explains that the owner of the boat is an accountant and a lawyer. This fact alludes to the idea of what might be considered civilized. He talks about the lights that are reflected in the water. This also creates the idea that he considers himself and the passengers of the boat civilized. The fact that these lights, which represent good, emanate from a great civilization, London also represent good coming from light. However, he ponders the thought that this also has been one of the dark places of the earth. (Conrad-29) By this he explains he means that the Romans, who were considered to be civilized, once came to conquer the wild, untamed British Isles nineteen hundred years ago. He creates a sense of fear with thee words.
In Heart of Darkness, there is a real contrast between what is light and what is dark. These contrasts work within the reality of what is considered civilized and uncivilized. The light representing civilization or the civilized side of the world and the dark representing the uncivilized or savage side of the world. Throughout the book, there are several references to these two contrasts. In Conrad’s novel, black and white have the unusual connotations of evil and good. The setting also plays a critical role in describing how Marlow feels about the entire adventure he endured. From the very start of the novel, there are signs of what is to come. The colors of items and objects help to foreshadow the tragedy that is to come to Marlow.
Further along in the novel there are many more examples of the contrast between light and dark. The ending of the novel also proves to continue to contrast between light and dark, especially when speaking of the savages Marlow encounters when attempting to save Kurtz. The ultimate contrast of light and dark occurs with the death of Kurtz on the boat after he is saved and being brought back down, The brown current (that) ran swiftly out of the heart of darkness. (Conrad-109) This quote brings closure for the book and also provides its title, Heart of Darkness. In Heart of Darkness, there is a real contrast between what is light and what is dark. These contrasts work within a reality of civilized and savage. It appears that light represents the civilized, and dark represents the uncivilized, but truly, white is evil, and the dark is innocent and virtuous.
1. Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Middlesex, England: Penguin Publishers,
2. Gillon, Adam. (1982). Joseph Conrad. Twayne s English Author Series:
Number 333. Kinley E. Roby, ed. Boston: Twayne.
3. Joseph Conrad. The Encarta 1998 Encyclopedia Online. Microsoft, 1998.
4. Kunitz, Stanley J. Joseph Conrad. Twentieth Century Authors: Vol. T. New
York: H.W. Wilson Company, 1942. 307-9
5. Stape, J.H.. The Cambridge Companion to Joseph Conrad. Cambridge: Cambridge
6. Taylor, Derek. Conrad s HEART OF DARKNESS. The Explicator. No.4
Summer 1998: 195-8.
A. Background information about novels
B. Thesis- Joseph Conrad uses light and darkness to contrast the civilized and the savage
C. Outline argument
II. Background information on Conrad and its influence
A. Early life
III. The use of light and dark
A. The Nigger of the Narcissus
B. Heart of Darkness
C. Other authors
IV. Conrad s use of light and dark to contrast civilization and savage in Heart of Darkness.
A. Examples from the Twayne book
B. Examples from Heart of Darkness.
A. Re-state thesis
B. END IT!