Light and Dark in Heart of Darkness
In fictional literature, books are often given creative and catchy titles in lieu of non-ambiguous ones. If one were to take the phrase "heart of darkness" literally, one might find oneself poring over medical journals in a fruitless search to determine what disease causes the heart to take on a grayish or dark hue. One would be completely mistaken, wouldn't one? As it is, Joseph Conrad's phrase "heart of darkness" is a concept representing the contrast of darkness and light in the characters, the mood, the conflicts, and the theme.
The first example of the contrasting light and darkness in the novella is to be found in the main characters. Marlow is a philosophical English seaman who exemplifies the virtuous protagonist. He is an idealist, trying to bring European imperialism to Africa. Kurtz is also an English seaman who maintains an idealistic attitude towards the purity of European presence in Africa. Kurtz, however, works for an ivory company at the Inner Station on the Congo, and his actions are somewhat less virtuous than his beliefs.
This contrast between darkness and light is first portrayed through these characters at the outset of Marlow's journey upriver. At this point in the story, Marlow describes himself as "something like an emissary of light, something like a lower sort of apostle," and he finds a type of negative savior in Kurtz (Conrad 19). Then, as Marlow completes his journey and attempts to take Kurtz back downstream where he can be treated and cured and then assimilated back into "civilized" society, Marlow instead discovers that Kurtz is drawn irresistibly back toward the jungle because "it had taken him, loved him, embraced him, got into his veins, consumed his flesh, and sealed his soul to its own by the inconceivable ceremonies of some devilish initiation" (Conrad 84).
Still, even though Marlow peers into the dark soul of Kurtz and learns of the many atrocities that he has joyfully committed, Marlow's own "instinct to personal loyalty never wavers, in spite of the soul-shaking moral illuminations. He is driven early to a commitment to Kurtz, moving steadily through progressive experiences of horror," and maintains his lightness through his terrifying nighttime rescue of Kurtz from his own irresistible demons (Bennett 75). Therefore, this contrast is illustrated as Marlow's "dark enlightenment" of Kurtz saves him from his own destruction (Bennett 83) and allows him the privilege of purging this darkness from "the innermost recesses of his own psyche" without losing his own soul and mind (Billy 72).
The contrast between darkness and light is also portrayed in the actual development of their characters. In fact, Kurtz fascinates Marlow before they even meet. This mystique drives Marlow to enter the mission, as well as to remain with it until the end. Indeed, upon meeting, Marlow and...