Juxtaposition is one of the many literary element used in emphasis of a concept or an idea. In the novel Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad juxtaposes the motifs of light and dark to emphasize the wickedness present throughout the book. Through juxtaposition, Conrad not only emphasizes the darkness in Africa but also intensifies the dark hearts of the Europeans. The major darkness in the novel is the land of Africa itself. When Marlow first makes his way upstream with his crew, he describes the land of Africa as a dark place, saying that the river was “an empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest.
The air was warm, thick, heavy, sluggish. There was no joy in the brilliance of sunshine” (30). He uses lightness words like “brilliance” and “sunshine” to intensify this darkness. Also, Conrad even depicts Africa as the “heart of darkness”.
He says, “we penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness. It was very quiet there. At night sometimes the roll of drums behind the curtain of trees would run up the river and remain sustained faintly, as if hovering in the air high over our heads, till the first break of day” (31).
Africa is full of darkness and it all happens at night, before the sun rises and brightens up the world again. “I looked around, and I don’t know why, but I assure you that never, never before, did this land, this river, this jungle, the very arch of this blazing sky, appear to me so hopeless and so dark, so impenetrable to human thought, so pitiless to human weakness” (51), describes Marlow. Here, the darkness is portrayed as gloom, not the darkness of evil. Even the “blazing” sky looked hopeless.
By juxtaposing the words “blazing” and “dark”, Conrad emphasizes that the glum of the land defeated its bright and sunny sky. Through the use of juxtaposition, the darkness of the land of Africa is emphasized and intensified. Conrad also uses juxtaposition of the character of the accountant to emphasize the darkness not only in the Africans but also in the Europeans. When Marlow meets the accountant, he states “I met a white man, in such an unexpected elegance of getup that in the first moment I took him for a sort of vision. I saw a high starched collar, white cuffs, a light alpaca jacket, snowy trousers, a clear necktie, and varnished boots” (15). Marlow describes the white accountant as some kind of a miracle. The white man was elegant and had decent clothing among all the madness happening around them.
However, from how Marlow describes what happened in the accountant’s office, this accountant is not a kind man. Marlow accounts that “when a truckle bed with a sick man was put in there, he exhibited a gentle annoyance. ‘The groans of this sick person,’ he said, ‘distract my attention. And without that it is extremely difficult to guard against clerical errors in this climate.’” (15). He complains about the dying sick man and how this man is distracting him from his work. By juxtaposing the white European with his dark behavior, Conrad shows the evilness of humans. Mr. Kurtz is a mysterious character in the novel, containing both the dark devil and the real Kurtz. The first description of Kurtz occurs in the part where Marlow describes the outlook of a brochure. He says, “it was very simple, and at the end of that moving appeal to every altruistic sentiment it blazed at you, luminous and terrifying, like a flash of lightning in a serene sky: ‘Exterminate all the brutes!’” (46).
This is a description of the brochure Kurtz is writing for the “International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs” (45). The first part of the brochure, the part written before Kurtz have gone mad, is typed up with the use of a typewriter. Then on the bottom of the page, the words “Exterminate all the brutes!” was scribbled on hastily. Even when Kurtz was on the verge of death, he was living immersed in darkness. “His was an impenetrable darkness. I looked at him as you peer down at a man who is lying at the bottom of a precipice where the sun never shines” (64). Conrad straight up uses the words “impenetrable darkness” to describe Kurtz. At the end of the quote, he said “where the sun never shines”. The sun is used to emphasize the darkness of Kurtz’s heart because it never shines. It was dark, it is dark, and will be dark unless a miracle occurs and causes the “sun” to shine down in the “precipice”.
The character of Kurtz is probably the darkest character in the novel and this is shown by the juxtaposition. Marlow, the frame narrator, starts and ends his story by saying that the darkness isn’t just in Africa. In the beginning of Marlow’s story, he talks about how we are living in a constant flicker of lightness among the darkness. By starting the story with “Light came out of this river since – you say knights? Yes; but it is like a running blaze on a plain, like a flash of lightning in the clouds. We live in the flicker – may it last as long as the old earth keeps rolling! But darkness was here yesterday” (3), it can be seen and foreshadowed that there are darkness no matter where you go. This is even before he describes Africa, showing that Africa isn’t the only heart of darkness. These “flickers” intensifies the darkness when it drapes over us.
The nameless narrator ends the novel by saying, “the offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed somber under an overcast sky – seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness” (72). After starting out the story with a description of the darkness in the world, the nameless narrator ends the novel with the descriptions of the darkness in Europe. This narrator describes that there was a storm when the Nellie made its way down the Thames River, not only literal but also metaphorical. The metaphorical storm reflects the darkness of the hearts of the Europeans. By using light and bright words, Conrad intensifies the evil and the despair in the novel Heart of Darkness. 2nd sentence. 3rd sentence.