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The Theme of Darkness in Conrad's Heart of Darkness Essays

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The Theme of Darkness in Conrad's Heart of Darkness
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It has been said that although Conrad may not have been 'the greatest novelist, he was certainly the greatest artist every to write a novel';. I feel that this is an apt description of Conrad's writing style in Heart of Darkness (1902), as he paints many verbal pictures by using expressive words and many figurative descriptions of places and people. An extensive use of words relating to colour, is evident throughout the novella. The idea of darkness (and light) is emphasized from the title of the novella, and continues to play an important role throughout in the story .

My opinion is that Conrad felt that using 'darkness'; as a recurring theme throughout the story would be an effective tool because of the many connotations of darkness. Darkness can, for example, represents evil, the unknown, mystery, sadness or fear. Also important is the way darkness and light can be used to represent two opposite emotions or concepts. Light vs. dark can, for example, represent good vs. evil, the civilized vs. the uncivilized, illusion vs. reality or assumption vs. fact.

We know from the start of the novella that the darkness that Conrad refers to is symbolic, because, while the silent narrator aboard The Nellie comments on the many lights emanating from the shore, the lighthouse, the other boats and the setting sun, Marlowe comments that they themselves are in 'one of the dark places of the earth';. Therefore we know that Marlowe has his own opinion and explanation of what the darkness is, and if we assume that this story is autobiographical, and Marlowe is a mouthpiece for Conrad, then this explanation actually indicates Conrad's personal views on what the darkness is.

Nigerian novelist, Chinua Achebe attacked Heart of Darkness as racist. He felt that Conrad used the darkness to symbolise the negative character of Africa, and objected to the novel as a manifestation of 'white racism over Africa'; (Achebe, 1975). I do not agree with this view of the novella as a purely racist piece of literature. I feel that, although Conrad did live in a time when some forms of racial prejudice were so commonplace that they seemed almost natural, he wrote the novella essentially as 'an expose of imperialist rapacity and violence'; (Cedric Watts). Several times throughout the novella he refers to co...


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...ces to light when describing her appearance indicates that her civilisation is part of her. As the room grows darker, they delve deeper and deeper into the truth. Eventually, Marlowe lies to her about Kurtz's last words because he feels that she would never have been able to deal with the truth, that 'it would have been too dark, too dark altogether';.

Conrad wrote the novella Heart of Darkness because through his story he shows how two sides of the world could be as different as white and black. Africa was dark ? much more natural and closer to the moment of creation than the West, which had tried to progress by creating it's own light ? religion, social beliefs and technology. Marlowe's journey led him to Kurtz, who existed at the very heart of darkness because he had succumbed to it's conquering power, and, in Western terms, regressed to the level of the natives in the land. He shows his belief in the triumph of darkness over light by using the word 'darkness'; it in the title of the book. This shows that he believes that the way the Western World existed in the time of the writing of the novella was very unstable, and would only sink further into darkness as time passed.


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