Light and Dark in Heart of Darkness
The brightest of lights can obscure vision while darkness can contain truths: one must not be distracted by the sheen of light, which conceals the deeper reality present in darkness. Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness illustrates this idea with the use of several symbols. White Europeans are used as symbols of self-deception, and objects with an alabaster quality are symbols of barriers to inner truth. Black is the foil of white; it represents the inner truth beneath the white surface reality. White people and objects represent the exterior reality that obscures the deeper truth present in darkness.
The Europeans in the novel represent those who hide from the truth within them and within reality. In Conrad's novel, most Europeans are portrayed as self-deceptive; they use societal customs to obscure the darkness and emptiness present within their souls. The chief accountant exemplifies the self-deceptive European. Marlow gives his impression of the accountant in this excerpt, "I took him [the accountant] for a sort of vision. I saw a high starched collar, white cuffs, a light alpaca jacket... He was amazing" (Conrad 84). The accountant later stated, "The groans of this sick person distract my attention [from his work]" (Conrad 85). The accountant is so centered on maintaining a proper European image and European work ethic that he impressed Marlow, but the accountant showed no compassion for his fellow man. The accountant's appearance belied the darkness in his soul. Similar to the accountant, the General Manager maintained an aura of white civilization to hide the emptiness and darkness that existed beneath his white surface. The manager paid proper wages to his employees and in proper time, but the wages did little good as his employees were practically starving. The manager fulfilled many of the rules of "proper" white society, but at times showed his true inhumanity. While white men tended to represent self-deception, white women represented those who cannot accept the truth of the world around them. Marlow's aunt believed that colonialism was great for the colonized people. She spoke of, "weaning those ignorant millions from their horrid ways", by way of colonization. She refused to admit the fact that colonialism was about money and not helping others. She refused to accept the darkness of reality. Another white woman that symbolized those who hide from reality was the Intended. The Intended was surrounded with an ashy halo that further illustrated her innocence. In the novel, the Intended held such high beliefs in her beloved Kurtz that she considered him almost perfect. She stated, "Men looked up to him-his goodness shone in every act" (Conrad 163). The Intended was too devoted to Kurtz to ever accept that he fell to evil. Conrad uses white objects in conjunction with white people to represent deception and surface realities.