Light In The Darkness By James Conrad

Essay, Research Paper Author James Conrad, in his short story ?Heart of Darkness,? uses light in an attempt to symbolize the civilization of the European world and those things

Essay, Research Paper

Author James Conrad, in his short story ?Heart of Darkness,? uses light in

an attempt to symbolize the civilization of the European world and those things

which, by appearances, are generally accepted as ?good.? To emphasize the

acceptability of good or light, it is often contrasted to the symbolization of

darkness, which Conrad shows as uncivilized, savage or bad. Conrad uses the

character?s reactions to light, bright or otherwise colorful things and events

to encourage the reader to concur that these symbols represent the civilization

he?s left in Europe and the goodness of that civilization. The use of light as

good is seen early in the story when the narrator comments on the setting sun.

He says the ?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? (345). The narrator is comparing the light

to life and the darkness to the gloom and death that follows. As Marlow begins

recounting his arduous trip through the Congo, he reflects upon times past ?

other rivers that, once uncivilized and dark, are now teeming with civilization

and brightness. He states, ?Light came out of this river since ? you say

Knights?? But darkness was here yesterday? (346). Here, Marlow is referring

to the Thames as at one time being uncivilized and dark, but since the time of

the Knights? exploration and resulting development of the river?s banks and

surrounding land, is now referred to as good, or light. Marlow also refers to

the light reflecting on the water. The reader gets a sense that Conrad is trying

to relay that the passengers of the ?Nellie? represent civilization for the

voyages they undertake. Conrad later compares Marlow?s boyhood idealism of

adventure and spirit with light. He does this as Marlow is reminiscing about his

childhood and says ?[I would] lose myself in all the glories of exploration?

(348). No longer a boy, Marlow discovers ?a white patch for a boy to dream

gloriously over"?(348) has now been charted on the map and becomes ?a

place of darkness? (348). Conrad effectively symbolizes youthful innocence and

adventurous spirit with lightness through this comparison of uncharted and

charted maps. As Marlow seeks to take refuge from the heat in the shaded area at

the Company?s station, Conrad shows again the symbol of light as representing

civilization. This time it is ?a bit of white worsted? (356) tied about the

neck of one of the dying criminals. The reader is left to think that the

criminal may be coveting the civilization he assisted to create in the Congo,

and thus giving his life to the cause, by wearing this representative whiteness.

One of the most obvious representations of light as civilization and goodness is

seen when Marlow first meets the Company?s chief accountant. This man?s

clothes are immaculately clean and white. Marlow respects and admires him. The

respect Marlow feels for the accountant is not one of respecting the man, so

much as the accountant?s ability to keep ?up his appearance? (356) and

thus his civilized manners in the midst of the uncivilized surroundings. Marlow

justifies the ill treatment of this man?s female worker for the purpose of

keeping civilization at the forefront of the minds of those he serves and those

served by him through his representative cleanliness and whiteness of his

clothes. Conrad also employs the use of light as representative of civilization

and goodness when Marlow meets the young man that left a stack of firewood down

river from Kurtz?s camp. Marlow describes the young man as wearing clothes

covered with ?bright? patches. He comments ?the sunshine made him look

extremely gay and wonderfully neat withal? (385). Marlow goes on to describe

the man?s physical characteristics and alluding to the civilized look and

character this man carries even though he was living an uncivilized existence in

the Congo for the past two years. It?s ironic the goal resulting from the

white men?s conquering of the savages, and thus becoming savage-like

themselves, is to secure ivory, an item held to be white and pure. Perhaps the

most telling symbolization of light within the story is Kurtz?s argument in

his diary that whites ?must necessarily appear to them [savages] in the nature

of supernatural beings?. By the simple exercise of our will we can exert a

power for good practically unbounded? (383). This statement lays the basic

principle for all other references to light as representing civilization of the

European world and those things, which by appearances, are generally accepted as

good. Here, Kurtz is referring to the accepted savagery of the civilized white

men simply because they are of fairer skin than the natives. Kurtz is indicating

the natives are uncivilized and thus justifiably treated as worthless beings,

and that not only are the white men civilized, but viewed as the ultimate good

and light ? a ?deity? (383).