Monday, April 4, 2011

Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad

A search for meaning in Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Finds a thread of social commentary and work ethic to unite this novel and gives it meaning, instead of being merely an exercise in cynicism.
Searching for continuity in Heart of Darkness can be a challenging task. One wonders whether Conrad is a social critic, scrutinizing western civilization, or merely a vivid pessimist, condemning mankind to a helpless dichotomy of facade and brutality. Upon close inspection, one recurring idea seems to sew a common thread through the darkness of Kurtz and Africa and the ignorance of the Intended and the European facade. This motif lies in Marlowe's work ethic. Although Marlowe often seems to contradict his own analysis of his story, these contradictions arrive at a consistent value emphasizing integrity, frankness, and intelligence.
Conrad uses Marlowe's imagery and objective observation to establish a criticism of "civilized" society. The very opening paragraphs create a dark image of London, the center of civilization during Conrad's time. "A haze rested on the low shores that ran out to sea in vanishing flatness. The air was dark above Gravesend, and farther back still seemed condensed into mournful gloom, brooding motionless over the biggest, and the greatest, town on earth" (Conrad 65). The dichotomy of dark imagery paired with the implication of "light" which civilization and London represent begin an extended Blakian contrary of light and dark with civilization and brutality. After further explication of the gloominess and "lurid glare" of London, Marlowe speaks his first words. "'And this also has been one of the dark places of the earth'" (67). Although it does not seem obvious at first, corroborative descriptions of civilization create a distasteful and critical depiction of it. The sun changes from "glowing white" to "dull red without rays and without heat, as if about to go out suddenly, stricken to death by the touch of that gloom brooding over a crowd of men" (66). Here again the contrary of light and dark surfaces as London, which typically spreads the "light" of civilization, extinguishes the light of the sun in a fit of darkness. Although this continually contradicting imagery of light and dark seems somewhat erratic at first, it serves to perpetuate the connected idea that civilization, or light, contains an intrinsic element of the savage, or the dark


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