Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”: Conrad’s Use of a Significant Symbol
Joseph Conrad used diverse symbols to write the novel “Heart of Darkness”. The symbols included colors, characters or objects that represented abstract concepts or ideas. The passage that shows Conrad’s use of symbols relates to the concept of light and darkness. Heart of Darkness is centered on European expansion into Africa. It also highlights the horrors that followed the expansionism of European countries to Africa. Conrad’s unnamed narrator noted, “The tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed somber under an overcast sky. It seemed to lead to the heart of an immense darkness” (Conrad and OPrey 216). The quotation shows the author’s focus on light and darkness.
The focus began with the comparison of Marlow with Kurtz. The symbol of light and darkness also mirrors British imperialism with the ancient Roman Empire. This supports the author’s juxtaposition of white and black, and light and darkness. The novel is intriguing because of the duality drawn by the author. According to the author, light is not emblematic of pure or goodness. It is also not emblematic of enlightenment. In numerous instances in the novel, readers witness situations in which darkness overpowers light. These situations include the setting of the sun and the introduction of ivory trade following the discovery of the white ivory. According to the author, River Thames drains into the heart of darkness because of the fact that it mixes with rivers from the African continent once its drains into the ocean. Conrad’s use of darkness and light was important for the representation of evil and good. It also helped in the development of the plot and theme of the novel. The symbol helps readers connect the events that occur when there is darkness and light. Light and darkness are used in reference to Africa and Europe. Readers should comprehend that though the expansionists presented themselves as good crusaders, they were leaving the darkness that was taking over their continent. The symbol implies that there is as much darkness in Europe as there is in Africa. Readers are required to imagine the waters of the River Thames flowing into the same ocean with the waters of the rivers flowing out of Congo.
Quotation That Epitomizes the Significance of a Minor Character of “Heart of Darkness”
One of the minor characters in the novel who played a significant role was Kurtz’s African mistress. The significance of the character is epitomized in Marlow’s description of the mistress as “a wild and gorgeous apparition of a woman. She walked with measured steps, draped in striped and fringed cloths, treading the earth proudly with a slight jingle and flash of barbarous ornaments” (Conrad and OPrey 167). Marlow also noted that she was savage and superb, wild eyed and magnificent; there was something ominous and stately in her deliberate process” (Conrad and OPrey 167).
The description shows the significant of the mistress to the development of the story. The statement also shows that the mistress does not play the single role of a person. She is an actual incarnation of the African continent and its dark mysteries. Marlow’s description of the mistress supports the idea that Africa is a continent that is characterized with dark mysteries. According to Marlow, the mistress is native, savage and dark, which is a representation of European’s idea of Africa. She was also described as a gorgeous woman who is full of life (Ali 4). This is an indication that the African continent has the life that has vanished from Europe. The author introduced the African mistress with an intention of comparing her with Kurtz’s Intended. The anticipated message by the author was the differences between the African and European continents. This was conveyed through the development of Kurtz’s mistress as a native character who carried all sorts of charm, decorations and beads. The characterization corresponded with her function as Kurtz’s mistress and avatar of Africa. Though the mistress was full of life, she experienced danger, mystery and dark events. Conversely, her European counterpart was presented as a pale character. Even though she was presented as a major character, she seemed detached from the reality. The divergence between the two continents is further described through the differences between the two female characters. The two characters are a representation of women and fertility. However, Kurtz’s Intended is thought to be infertile. Conversely, her counterpart, the mistress, is superb and gorgeous. She also symbolizes the image of a continent that has a passionate and tenebrous soul. In this case, Conrad used the European Kurtz’s Intended and African Kurtz’s mistress to show that Europe was in a state of infertility. Kurtz’s African mistress was used to advance the message that Europe was in a state of slow death.
Ali, Haydar. Sexism in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Henry Ford Community College. 2008. Print
Conrad, Joseph, and Paul OPrey. Heart of Darkness. Harmondsworth, Eng: Penguin Books, 1984. Print.