The Metaphors Of Conrad's Heart Of Darkness

1449 words - 6 pages

The Metaphors of Heart of Darkness

    Within the text of Heart of Darkness, the reader is presented with many metaphors. Those that recur, and are most arresting and notable, are light and dark, nature and Kurtz and Marlow. The repeated use of light and dark imagery represents civilization and primitiveness, and of course the eternal meaning of good and evil. However, the more in depth the reader goes the more complex it becomes. Complex also are the meanings behind the metaphors of nature included within the text. It represents a challenge for the colonists, often also signifying decay and degeneration. Finally Kurtz and Marlow represent imperialism and the colonists. All these ...view middle of the document...

They weren't 'dark' until the coming of the 'light'. The reader is presented with conflicting and complex meanings, and is affected accordingly. They become sympathetic toward the natives, despite the fact that they are supposed to be evil and uncivilized. Similarly, the metaphor of light representing the white man's nature of civility and goodness is flawed. The white man is civilized, but is that really a good thing? The reader can see that although the white men are civilized, they are brutes that are interested only in capital gain. The ivory that they hoard is white too. Again, the contradictory nature of these metaphors produces interesting effects on the reader. They pity that which is dark, which is only in darkness because of the light. They pity that which they are not really supposed to pity, and they are being asked to all throughout the text. It can be seen then, that the darkness and lightness as metaphors in regards to the natives and the white men, creates effects for the reader that are only strengthened, as they get further through the text.


Darkness is also an important metaphor for disaster and misery. The old women knitting are using black wool. Marlow even mentions his uneasiness in regards to them, and how the older of the two "seemed uncanny and fateful", how they were "guarding the door of Darkness" (Conrad 14). They were an omen for the dark months ahead, warning him of what would happen should he continue. In a similar vein, Fresleven's death resulted because of a conflict in regard to black chickens. Every time something disastrous or doleful happens, it is preceded by some mention of darkness or blackness. This quality of the metaphor of darkness, to some extent allows the reader to predict what will happen later. We are well aware of Kurtz's inevitable and advancing death, never expecting for a moment that he will in fact live. Too much darkness surrounds him. The dark events in the text are a chain, which eventually lead to and explain Marlow's own known downfall. So, darkness is not only a metaphor for the natives, incivility and natural innocence - as previously mentioned - but also an omen and forbearer of doom. The reader is more or less aware of how the story will end from the beginning. This organization of the text allows the reader to focus more on the effects and meaning behind the story, than the story itself. Darkness, therefore, produces and stresses the effects for the reader.


Like darkness, nature as a metaphor is found throughout the text. Nature is an unwanted barrier, a challenge for the colonists. The frequent personification of the wilderness, saying that the "big trees were kings" (Conrad ) for example, make nature another entity or presence that the white men must face and fight before they can colonize. Like the natives, generally nature is viewed negatively. The recurrent imagery of grass, particularly associated with decay, is a wonderful example. The decaying machinery...

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