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Colonization: The Bringing Of Light Into The Darkness

1410 words - 6 pages

The theme of civilization versus savagery is central to Heart of Darkness. It is also closely related to the theme of light versus dark, or white versus black. Light and dark traditionally represent good and evil respectively, and civilization is generally viewed as good while savagery is normally seen as evil. This symbolism is not new however, these connotations have been present in society for centuries. We refer to the Middle Ages, when science and knowledge was suppressed, as the Dark Ages. According to Christianity, in the beginning of time all was dark and God created light. Conrad plays with this theme extensively, sometimes using the imagery in traditional ways and sometimes creating surprising and meaningful reversals. Through light and dark imagery the horrors of colonization are brought forth, while the theme of civilization versus savagery is emphasized.The opening scene of Heart of Darkness is saturated with light imagery used to represent the coming of the colonizers, and the civilization they are said to embody, into the darkness of Africa. This scene begins with the narrator on board The Nellie, a ship anchored on the Thames River outside of London at sunset. As the sun sets the light on the Thames is brilliant. The narrator patriotically recalls the great British sailors, from Sir Francis Drake to Sir John Franklin, who navigated this river in the past. His thoughts are full of nationalistic nostalgia as he reflects on these heroes who went out from the Thames to conquer the vast reaches of the world. Celebrated for having brought light into the darkness, these men bearing swords and figurative torches were the "bearers of a spark from a sacred fire" (Conrad 2207) of English civilization. The narrator also refers to the Thames as a gateway to civilization for the explorers as it connects London to Africa. These ambassadors bearing the "light of civilization" are acclaimed by the narrator as being "men enough to face the darkness," (Conrad 2208) referring to the taming of the savages in Africa. The narrator bears certain optimism; he thinks colonization is the key to make the world more cultivated. The narrator, along with the other men on the ship smugly believe that enlightenment will overcome backwardness; in terms of images, that light, as in enlightenment, is bound to conquer the darkness of ignorance and tribunal superstition.The narrators voice is broken by Marlow's sudden assertion that the very civilized land around them was once a primitive wilderness, "one of the dark places of the earth" (Conrad 2208). He imagines how portentous ancient England must have struck Roman conquerors. The savage land must have seemed horrible to any civilized Roman commander. Although Marlow seems to be rambling Conrad is actually foreshadowing what is about to take place later in the story. The tale Marlow tells will concern a modern-day colonizer, Mr. Kurtz, who evolves into a "devil driven by greed" (Conrad 2216) in the heart of...

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