Light, Darkness, and the Nature of Man Novel Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Categories: Heart Of Darkness

Joseph Conrad‘s novella, Heart of Darkness, tells a story about a journey experienced by Marlow, the main character, and how the different symbolizations of light and darkness change his viewpoints on the true nature of mankind Joseph Conrad grew up in Polish Ukraine. Conrad’s father, Apollo, was arrested on suspicions of involvement with revolutionary activities. From then on, the family was thrown into exile. Conrad's mother died of tuberculosis in 1865. At age eleven Joseph Conrad was left an orphan.

There is a group of men aboard an English ship that is sitting on the Thames. The group includes a Lawyer, an Accountant, a Captain, and the main character Marlowf Marlow is a stationary man, very unusual for a seaman. He is not understood because he does not fit into a neat category in the same manner the others do. Marlow mentions colonization, and says that the taking of the earth is not something to examine too closely because it is horrible.

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Marlow then moves into a narration of a life experience in Africa, which forced him to become a fresh water sailor and gave him a glimpse of colonization. Marlow has always had a passion for travel and exploration, Marlow decides he wants to be the skipper of a steamship that travels up and down the river in Africa. His aunt has a connection in the administration department of a seafaring/exploration company and manages to get Marlow and appointment, because one of the steamboat captains was killed in a skirmish with the natives.

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When Marlow arrives at the office, the atmosphere is extremely dim. The doctor who performs his physical asks if there is a history of insanity in Marlow's family, and tells him that nothing could persuade him to attend the company down the Congo The next day Marlow embarks on his journey into the heart of darkness. TheAfrican shores he observes look welcoming The Voice of the serf heard now and then was a positive pleasure, like the speech of a brotherf It was something natural, that had its reason, that had a meaningmfor a time I would feel I belonged to a world of straightforward facts,.. (Heart of Darkness, 78) When he arrives he comes across a very well-dressed man who is known as the Accountant.

After ten days Marlow departs on hisjourney into the Congo, where he will work for a man named Kurtz. Marlow come across many villages, and black men who are working, They are never described as humans. Now and then a boat from shore gave one a momentary contact with reality, It was paddled by black fellows, You could see from afar their eyeballs glistening. They shouted, sang; thier bodies streamed with perspiration, they had faces like grotesque masks < these chaps; but they had bone, muscle. and a wild vitality, an intense energy of movement, that was as natural and true as the surf along the shore. (Heart of Darkenss, 7B) Marlow finally arrives at the station, where he meets the manager, The ship that Marlow is supposed to sail is broken. When his ship has been repaired he sets out for Kurtz‘s station with the Pilgrims, the cannibals, and the manager. Marlow finally gets to meet Kurtz but finds he is ill. Kurtz can be described as a murderer and a thief. Kurtz also allows himself to be worshipped as a god. There is no trace of Kurtz’ former good looks or health. Marlow says that Kurtz‘ head is as bald as an ivory ball and that he resembles an animated image of death carved out of old ivory. Kurtz dies a few days later, with Marlow having attended him to the end. Throughout the narrative Marlow characterizes events in terms of light and darkness. In the beginning Marlow compares the light with civility and reality. Marlow uses darkness to depict savagery.

These two aspects are major themes in the Heart of DarknessAs Marlow proceeds deeper into the heart of the African jungle he begins to thing that savagery is just an early form of civilization, and that Thames seemed to lead into the heart of immense darkness. (book) Marlow associates light with knowledge and truth; darkness with mystery and seductive evil. When Marlow realizes that his aunt‘s acquaintances had misrepresented him to the Chief of the Inner Station, Marlow says, light dawned upon me , as to point out that light represents knowledge and truth. Another way light is associated with this story is when Marlow describes the knights who went out from the Thames to bring light into the darkness of the world. He states they were bearers of a spark from the sacred fire. (book) As he walks deeper in the jungle he observes the natives and relates the African jungle savagery to his own reality. Marlow has different contrasting experiences in the sunshine and in the shade, Contemplating this he remarks : I've seen the devil violence, the devil of greed, and the devil of hot desire; but, by all the stars! These were strong lusty, red-eyed devils, that swayed and drove men - men, 1 tell you, But as I stood on the hillside, l foresaw in the blinding sunshine of that land I would become aquatinted with a flabby, pretending, weak-eyed devil of a rapacious and pitiless folly. How insidious he could be, too, I was only to find out several months later. ( Heart of Darkness, 81) Marlow walks over to the shade and watches the natives in their natural habitat: the darkness. Marlow describes, Black shapes crouched, lay, sat between trees, leaning against trunks, clinging to the earth, half-coming out, half eifaced with the dim light, in all the attitudes of pain, abandonment, and despair. (Heart of Darkness, 82) The dimness is symbolic of his half-awareness, When Marlow leaves the shade he runs into one of the colonialist: I saw a high starched collar, white cuffs, a light alpaca jacket, snowy trousers, a clear silk neck tie, and varnished boots, (Heart of Darkness,83) Again light and darkness is contrasted as Marlow runs into the man dressed in light colors. As Marlow learns of Krurtz‘s activities his perception of civilization changes. What he thinks is rational and good, he decides is irrational and evil. At first Marlow blames Kurtz's cannibalistic brutality on the dark mysterious forces of the jungle: onever, never before, did this land, this river, this jungle, the very arch of the blazing sky, appear to me so hopeless and so dark, so impenetrable to human thought, so pitiless to human weakness. (book) Marlow slowly becomes aware that Kurtz’s actions reflect the true human nature.

He comes to understand that Kurtz's society isjust a less civilized version of his civilization, and Kurtz’s actions a reflection of the evil in the hearts of all men, When you have to attend to the menial tasks, to the mere incidents of the surface, the reality - the reality, i tell you - fades. The inner truth is hidden - luckily, luckily. But I felt it all the same. (book) Another type of symbolism is the comparison of Marlow and Kurtz. Marlow and Kurtz are the light and the dark selves of the same individual. Marlow is what Kunz might have been, and Kurtz is what Marlow could have become. Marlow comes up with some conclusions about the nature of man the in the Heart of Darkness. He believes that men are evil and inhuman. Marlow describes humans as being dark, inhuman shapes. Dark human shapes could be made out in the distance. flitting indistinctly against the gloomy boarder of the forrest. (pg, 141) Marlow has a specific person in mind when he thinks of the evil nature of humans: Kurtz. He says Kurtz has a dark nature to him. He could be very terrible. You can'tjudge Mr, Kunz as you would an ordinary man. (pg. 135) In the book it gives details of how Kurtz is a thief and a murderer. This is known by the skulls Kurtz has on stakes. There is also another person from which Marlow can base his beliefs on. This man is more evil than Kurtz. The manager thought that Marlow should have been hanged. You ought to be hanged. (pg. 135) The manager wanted Marlow killed after the death of Kurtz. The only thing the manager cared about was the ivory. Overall Marlow believes that white men are cruel. They are inhuman and have no respect for others, What led Marlow to believe this were Kurtz and the manager. Through out the book Kunz and the manager show how inhuman and evil they are by torturing and murdering other human beings. Marlow and Kunz are two opposite examples of human nature. Kurtz represents what every man will become if left to his own evil desires without a civilized environment. Marlow represents the civilized soul that has not been drawn back into savagery. The book implies that every man has a heart of darkness that is usually drowned out by the light of civilization. However, when removed from civilized society, the true human nature will be unleashed. The purpose of Heart of Darkness is to point out that civilization is superficial and that it is much less stable than society may think.


Updated: Dec 12, 2023
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Light, Darkness, and the Nature of Man Novel Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. (2022, Jul 13). Retrieved from

Light, Darkness, and the Nature of Man Novel Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad essay
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