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Much of Heart of Darkness is concerned with Marlow’s struggle to maintain his sense of morality as power conspiracies rage all around him and the mysterious figure of Kurtz piques his curiosity. Marlow’s desire to do good grows increasingly futile as he is plunged into a world where no absolute goodness exists and the best he can do is choose between a selection of nightmares. Eventually, we see that the characters become unable to distinguish between good and evil. Conrad illustrates this moral ambiguity with light and darkness imagery that often blends together, yet is imbued with an overall inevitably sinister shade.
Questions About Good vs. Evil
Does Conrad seem to have clear definitions of what constitutes good and evil? What actions does he portray as good or evil?
Light and dark imagery pervade Heart of Darkness. On what different levels do you see this imagery working?
What abstract concepts might light represent? How about darkness? Do light and dark follow the convention of light representing goodness and dark representing evil?
What is the "heart of darkness" of the novel’s title? Think in terms of abstract concepts as well as of places and characters.
Chew on This
Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.
Conrad’s use of light and dark imagery works on several different levels – the physical, the psychological, the racial, and the moral.
Conrad often uses light, not as a symbol for goodness or enlightenment, but as a foil to a darkness that it eventually collapses into and is tainted by.