The Journey into Hell in Heart of Darkness
In Joseph Conrad's novel, Heart of Darkness the environment is often symbolic as well as literal. The novel contains both the "frame" narrator, an anonymous member of the "Nellie", representing the dominant society, and more importantly the primary narrator, Marlow, who too, is a product of the dominant society. For the novel's narrator, Marlow, the journey up the Congo River to the 'heart of darkness' is reminiscent of Guido's journey into hell in Dante's Inferno, with these literary allusion always present, through forms of intense imagery. The landscape takes on a hellish nature and the wilderness is personified. Death is omnipresent and this is reflected in the death imagery used to describe the cities of Brussels and London, the Congo region and Kurtz' station. The hypocrisy of 'society' and 'civilization' is reflected in the author's description of the "sepulchral city".
The novel begins with the narrator, Marlow, and some of the ship's crew waiting at dusk for the tide to change so that their "cruising yawl" the 'Nellie" may enter the London harbour. The frame narrator expresses quite optimistic views on colonialism especially pertaining to London, which is described as the greatest city on earth, yet these opinions are then challenged by both marlow and the use of imagery. The coastline is described as being shrouded in "diaphanous folds" of fog. This is symbolic of Marlow's story whose "meaning (is) not inside, like a kernel, but outside, enveloping the tale bring it out only as a glow brings out a hazel" Marlow begins his story by saying that London and England were once places of "darkness". Darkness is used throughout the novel to symbolize savagery, death and the unknown. Marlow's observation is reinforced when London is described as a "brooding gloom". In thisinstance the physical description of the city serves to reinforce Marlow's theory, and refute the earlier judgments of the frame narrator.
Marlow tells of his quest for employment, that is, an unnamed city in Brussels, the "sepulchral city" that he visits to sign his contract. Conrad uses much death imagery to describe the physical appearance of the city. He describes it: as having the appearance of a "well kept alley in a cemetery". Marlow travels to the "dead centre" of the city. He observes "grass sprouting between the stones" just as grass sprouts between tombstones. This environmental imagery is symbolic of the hypocrisy that Marlow Witnesses, the exploitation that forms the basis of the "company" and the universality of death. All three interpretations of the applicability of the imagery are reasonable however, the death imagery also links to Marlow's apprehension. Marlow says that he "felt as if he had been let into some conspiracy". The death imagery associated with this, the first leg of Marlows journey on his way to his "farthest point of navigation and culminating point of (his) experience" is...