Black vs. White in Heart of Darkness
The warm glow of civilization comforts and protects us all, but is there something more? Is the heart of darkness lurking just below the surface, accessible to all but revealed to few? In Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad provides the reader with the image of black vs. white in an attempt to convey the idea of an ever-present heart of darkness.
Although the main plot of Conrad's tale is Marlow's journey into the African Congo, this merely sets the stage for a number of deeper themes. Marlow was a civilized man who believed in imperialism and the acquisition of wealth until he was faced with the horrors within the wilderness. The African jungle is a far cry from civilized Europe, and in many ways Marlow found himself at a loss as to what the proper course of action would be. Marlow was not raised to compete with brutal savagery and had always believed in using his logical mind to think his way out of any situation. This savagery first becomes apparent when Marlow encountered the shaded death grove early on in his journeys. Marlow saw the natives suffering immensely for what seemed to be nothing - their work seemed for naught - but he did not speak up or stop his trek.
This is also the first time that the reader gets a glimpse of the underlying oppositions within the text. Marlow glanced at one of the dying natives, one with a piece of white European yarn tied around his neck. In the area that is the Outer Station, the white Europeans had the natives - and vicariously the jungle nature, as the natives became symbols for the land surrounding each station - in a stranglehold. In this case, the color white, usually associated with purity or goodness, became a symbol for the evil that was imperialist colonialism. The black of the native's skin, bearing the color often associated with evil and inner darkness, is a stark contrast to the white of the yarn. The fact that Marlow responded with questions - "Why? Where did he get it?" (27) - showed that he had not yet come into an understanding of the effects of imperialism on the wilderness. Marlow responded to the sight of the dying natives by running away from the horror, and continued on his journey.
Proceeding on his journey, Marlow encountered the Accountant of the Outer Station, a man dressed entirely in neatly pressed white linen. This man was directly representative of the ideas that Marlow associated with the civilization from whence he came. Despite the conditions in the Congo, for all of its savage and problematic nature, the man had stayed clean and conscientious. Marlow stated that, in keeping clean and orderly, "the man had verily accomplished something" (28). The man, though he was the outward representation of the ability to stay civilized, was actually quite inhumane. His work kept him right in the heart of the goings on at the station, and his response to whites and natives alike was the same; he...