“Heart of Darkness” Analysis Essay
In the story “Heart of darkness,” by Joseph Conrad, the meaning of light and dark appears to be changing throughout the entire story as a symbol of a number of things. Conrad use of this words appear to be his way of identifying social and intellectual elements so as to assist his audience get a feel of both his outlook and his take on the world around him. However, the most conspicuous interpretation of his use of these words is its symbolism of racism at the time when this story was penned and its symbolism of the impact on a civilized person that an uncivilized world might have on such a person.
The first thing that follows a candid analysis of this book is the symbolism of racism which is represented by darkness in the book. In this regard, one only need to look at the way Conrad portray the whites whom he considers civilized, and their treatment of blacks, whom according to him are unsophisticated and therefore in dire need of emancipation from the shackles of backwardness. During their occupation in Africa, the whites behaved in a manner that suggested that they were superior to all other races and more so the blacks. This is best illustrated in Marlow’s initial impression of Africa, where all what he saw was the “Black shapes crouched…. nothing but black shadows of diseases and starvation, lying confusedly in the greenish gloom (63).” Another classic example of racisms in the book can be found in the Marlow’s monologue in which he describes a certain incidence that he vividly remembers. In this incident, Marlow says of an encounter with a black man, “to look at him was edifying as seeing a dog in a parody of breeches and a feather hat, walking on his hind legs (125).” This leaves no doubt that the blacks were seen as lesser beings irrespective of their education, if any, by the white masters.
Other than racism, Conrad also uses light and dark to bring-out the idea of civilization and uncivilized life in the African context. In this regard, the light symbolizes civilization which in this book is synonymous not only with the whites but also with the goodness in life. The dark on the other hand represents the uncivilized life which the author goes to great height to associate with all things evil. According to Conrad this wickedness in the dark or uncivilized world is best seen in the absence of police, judiciary, firemen and several other agents of civilization that were lacking in Africa. It is his contention that a person placed in a place devoid of civilization and all its agents has no option but to degenerate into some demagogue irrespective of his or her sophistication. Put in the context of this book, whenever a person is placed in a world of darkness or without regulations or rules, the greediness in him or her is sure to overpower the light or the goodness in him or her. An example of this can be found in Kurtz who left Europe a morally upright person only to degenerate into some evil-incarnate after a short stint in Africa. In a nutshell, what Conrad wants to put across with his light and dark allegory is the diabolical racism of yester-years and the “heart of darkness” in each of us that can only be drown out by civilization and that can also be aroused when we are placed in a world without rules or regulations.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness and selected Short Fictions. New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2008