Light In The Darkness By James Conrad

Author James Conrad, in his short story "Heart of Darkness," uses light in
an attempt to symbolize the civilization of the European world and those things
which, by appearances, are generally accepted as "good." To emphasize the
acceptability of good or light, it is often contrasted to the symbolization of
darkness, which Conrad shows as uncivilized, savage or bad. Conrad uses the
character’s reactions to light, bright or otherwise colorful things and events
to encourage the reader to concur that these symbols represent the civilization
he’s left in Europe and the goodness of that civilization. The use of light as
good is seen early in the story when the narrator comments on the setting sun.

He says the "glowing white changed to a 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" (345). The narrator is comparing the light
to life and the darkness to the gloom and death that follows. As Marlow begins
recounting his arduous trip through the Congo, he reflects upon times past –
other rivers that, once uncivilized and dark, are now teeming with civilization
and brightness. He states, "Light came out of this river since – you say

Knights?... But darkness was here yesterday" (346). Here, Marlow is referring
to the Thames as at one time being uncivilized and dark, but since the time of
the Knights’ exploration and resulting development of the river’s banks and
surrounding land, is now referred to as good, or light. Marlow also refers to
the light reflecting on the water. The reader gets a sense that Conrad is trying
to relay that the passengers of the "Nellie" represent civilization for the
voyages they undertake. Conrad later compares Marlow’s boyhood idealism of
adventure and spirit with light. He does this as Marlow is reminiscing about his
childhood and says "[I would] lose myself in all the glories of exploration"
(348). No longer a boy, Marlow discovers "a white patch for a boy to dream
gloriously over""(348) has now been charted on the map and becomes "a
place of darkness" (348). Conrad effectively symbolizes youthful innocence and
adventurous spirit with lightness through this comparison of uncharted and
charted maps. As Marlow seeks to take refuge from the heat in the shaded area at
the Company’s station, Conrad shows again the symbol of light as representing
civilization. This time it is "a bit of white worsted" (356) tied about the
neck of one of the dying criminals. The reader is left to think that the
criminal may be coveting the civilization he assisted to create in the Congo,
and thus giving his life to the cause, by wearing this representative whiteness.

One of the most obvious representations of light as civilization and goodness is
seen when Marlow first meets the Company’s chief accountant. This man’s
clothes are immaculately clean and white. Marlow respects and admires him. The
respect Marlow feels for the accountant is not one of respecting the man, so
much as the accountant’s ability to keep "up his appearance" (356) and
thus his civilized manners in the midst of the uncivilized surroundings. Marlow
justifies the ill treatment of this man’s female worker for the purpose of
keeping civilization at the forefront of the minds of those he serves and those
served by him through his representative cleanliness and whiteness of his
clothes. Conrad also employs the use of light as representative of civilization
and goodness when Marlow meets the young man that left a stack of firewood down
river from Kurtz’s camp. Marlow describes the young man as wearing clothes
covered with "bright" patches. He comments "the sunshine made him look
extremely gay and wonderfully neat withal" (385). Marlow goes on to describe
the man’s physical characteristics and alluding to the civilized look and
character this man carries even though he was living an uncivilized existence in
the Congo for the past two years. It’s ironic the goal resulting from the
white men’s conquering of the savages, and thus becoming savage-like
themselves, is to secure ivory, an item held to be white and pure. Perhaps the
most telling symbolization of light within the story is Kurtz’s argument in
his diary that whites "must necessarily appear to them [savages] in the nature
of supernatural beings.... By the simple exercise of our will we can exert a
power for good practically unbounded" (383). This statement lays the basic
principle for all other references to light as representing civilization of the

European world and those