The word darkness can have different meanings depending on the circumstances. In the society, various activities are done on a daily basis, and if they do not comply with the set moral and ethical standards, then the residents are said to be in the dark. Darkness can mean the opposite of a civilized society. In a civilized state, cases of doing things in a traditional way or oppression may not exist in relation to a dark society, where slavery and racism exists. On the other hand, a heart can represent a central figure of a body part that is delicate but crucial in ones life. Therefore, the title given to Joseph Conrads works, the Heart of Darkness represents a society whose heart, an important component of ones life, has been constraint. They cannot make independent decisions because they have been suppressed and are under a particular authority that oppresses them. The paper will be focused on highlighting and explaining the different meanings of the word darkness in Joseph Conrads work, the Heart of Darkness.
Implications of darkness in Joseph Conrads work
Authors usually relate the titles of their work to the central theme or motifs. In The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, the novel is focused on the theme of darkness that is moral, spiritual and physical. The use of the word heart in the title represents the innermost feelings of the author while darkness is the vacuum or discoveries that Kurtz, an ivory trader was actually trapped in. However, even if Conrads works is centered around the theme of darkness, it may not be possible to define explicitly what exactly the word means given that it all revolves around darkness. Brussels, England, and Africa are described as being gloomy and at times dark even if the sun shines brightly. This means that darkness operates existentially and metaphorically instead of specifically. In the dark, it is only nocturnal who have the ability to see, implying that in an environment of darkness, it is not possible to recognize one another and learn the problems of the neighbors. There is no nay form of sympathy or even face to face communication as everybody will have to be comfortable with the status quo.
Conrads narrative revolves around Marlows visit to Congo, an African country in an attempt to rescue Kurtz. While in Congo, Marlow finds Kurtz with some black Africans in the inner dark parts on his way from the Central Station, who attacks his vessel. It is surprising that because of their ignorance, darkness, they could not allow Kurtz to leave them and join Marlow, making them attack the vessel. To the Africans, Kurtz was like a god to them and allowing him to depart was like making the biggest mistake of their lives. The dark country, in the Dark Continent, made the Africans remain ignorant of the foreign man by believing that he was everything and just by associating with him, their social status could be raised. They acted as his soldiers, and had to defend and protect him when necessary, and this can witness by their actions of attacking the vessel.
Some people who have not been to Africa may be hearing about it. Some think that Africa is a black continent because of the believe that all Africans are black and uncivilized, and Conrad might be one of them. However, the darkness may refer to the unrecognized opportunities or the ignorance of the residents. The story is focused on Africa during the colonial era when Africa was considered as a dark continent and racism was at its peak, implying that darkness may be a word that refers to the black people (Meisel 25). On the other hand, the whites, European colonies, were the light side of life and maybe that is why the Africans decided to be enlightened by being associated with Kurtz.
Another meaning of the word darkness as represented in Joseph Conrads work may mean the rotten soul. This is a soul that does not recognize other people because of the differences of race and color. During the colonial period, Africa was referred to as a black or dark continent and at its heart, in central Africa, the colonial administration even brought more darkness. They brought insanity, did not recognize Africans as individuals who should be respected and above all, they were cruel. It should also be noted that on his journey up the river, he was going towards its source, the heart.' The source of this liver can also be considered as the point that gave the dark men who attached Marlow. There is some insanity darkness in the narrators destination. He receives a dark treatment as he advances upriver. For instance, he is attacked by the locals and even his vessel damaged. There is also mistreatment of the Africans in the hands of the colonial administration as they are horribly mistreated. Throughout Joseph Conrads work, there is little that can be associated with light or prosperity, justifying the title, Heart of Darkness.
Marlows initial reference to Africa as the darkest region in the world and the terrible happenings that revolved around his life while in the black continent represents some form of darkness that developed in his minds. There is some ill motives darkness that is in every individual, only that it is yet to explode. Even if the colonialists came from a continent considered to be civilized, they had ill motives to the Africans as they focused on mistreating them and ensuring that they have remained their subjects. There was no any form of recognition to the Africans, and they could be exploited in their land. Additionally, even the ones referred to as the blacks in a dark continent also had a dark mentality. Their decision to attack Marlow is a form of injustice that should not be encouraged in a civilized society. It is important to recognize everybody as a human being who needs respect, and if ideological differences arise, there are diverse ways of solving them. For instance, Marlow managed to hear a conversation that was between his uncle and the manager.
I saw him extend his short flipper of an arm for a gesture that took in the forest, the creek, the mud, the riverseemed to beckon with a dishonoring flourish before the sunlit face of the land a treacherous appeal to the lurking death, to the hidden evil, to the profound darkness of its heart (Conrad 52).
From this quote, it is clear that the uncle is less concerned about what others do once they have been released from bondage. The significant thing about him is that the nephew is okay. From the beginning to the end of the novel, it is clear that people have different perception about life, and they have some form of darkness in their hearts. They should try their best in ensuring that they have acted ethically irrespective of circumstances with the objective of having a better society. If the society is full of darkness, then both the oppressor and the oppressed will suffer at some point. Characters like Kurtz could have ensured that they maintain their moral standards instead of being swayed by the environmental variables.
Marlows journey from the outer station, central station and finally to the inner station, made him learn a lot of issues in the Dark Continent. There are scenes of torture, to the local people and hypocrisy. Company workers believe that they are involved in trading activities, and the kind of treatment that the natives are subjected to is part of enlightening them by bringing some form of civilization (Achebe 20). It is surprising that even Kurtz does not trade, but rather takes precious ivory by force from the natives and believes that he is using extermination and suppression tactics to gain from them. He ruled the locals by use of intimidation and violence, and that was the source of his success. Kurtzs activities in Africa can be described as a form of subjecting them to darkness through his negative trading tactics of exploitation and extermination. Eventually, the Africans realized that they were being exploited, being in the darkness, and oppose his activities.
The word darkness can also refer to the mistreatment of Africans who are considered to be objects. Marlow believes that his helmsman is just a piece of machinery, and the African mistress of Kurtz is the best statuary that he had ever seen. The heart of darkness is the oppression of the blacks in their hearts, homeland. In the eyes of Marlow, Africans are just a backdrop or shadow human beings that he can use for economic advantages. The dehumanization that Africans were subjected to is even worse than that of the colonial administration and racism. Finally, darkness should not be an issue that is related to a continent but the heart. The populace should exercise justice and care for one another irrespective of race, origin or color. In the end, Marlow gives an example of developed and civilized countries in Europe such as England and describes the way some of its regions are as dark as Africa. Therefore, for darkness to come to an end, the society should avoid all forms of discrimination and dehumanization.
Achebe, Chinua. "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness."Tabula Rasa 20 (2014): 13-25.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Charlottesville: U of Virginia Library, 1996. Print.
Meisel, Perry. "Decentering" Heart of Darkness". Modern Language Studies(1978): 20-28.
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