Heart of Darkness

Darkness and Light: the Illumination of Reality and Unreality in Heart of Darkness

Throughout his narrative in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Charlie Marlow characterizes events, ideas, and locations that he encounters in terms of light or darkness. Embedded in Marlow's parlance is an ongoing metaphor equating light with knowledge and civility and darkness with mystery and savagery. When he begins his narrative, Marlow equates light and, therefore, civility, with reality, believing it to be a tangible expression of man's natural state. Similarly, Marlow uses darkness to depict savagery as a vice having absconded with nature. But as he proceeds deeper into the heart of the African jungle and begins to understand savagery as a primitive form of civilization and, therefore, a reflection on his own reality, the metaphor shifts, until the narrator raises his head at the end of the novel to discover that the Thames seemed to 'lead into the heart of an immense darkness.'' The alteration of the light-dark metaphor corresponds with Marlow's cognizance that the only 'reality', 'truth', or 'light' about civilization is that it is, regardless of appearances, unreal, absurd, and shrouded in 'darkness'.

Marlow uses the contrast between darkness and light to...

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