Joseph Conrad’sbook the “Heart of Darkness” employs various stylistic devices indifferent ways to achieve its objectives. The most significant andpronounced devices in the novel are symbolism, allegory, paradox, andirony. The book presents the story of white colonizers in Africa anddemonstrates the human nature and the conflict of cultures betweenthe foreigners and the natives.
To start with, thetitle of the book is metaphorical in nature as the darkness refers toAfrica as `the dark continent` in the literal sense. The "heartof darkness” symbolizes the Congo as the darkest part of Africa andlack of light also symbolizes evil, ignorance, and bad things.Ironically, these `bad` people are kind, lively, jovial, and have arich culture. The white colonizers believe they need to liberate theAfrican natives from the supposed darkness and civilize them as a wayof spreading the light. The white people including Kurtz and Marlowbelieve that darkness should be driven out by whatever meansnecessary. Ideally, as whites, their color or lightness symbolizesgoodness, innocence, and knowledge. Ironically, the whites possessthe evilest ideas and behaviors. Marlow even describes how the firstwhite men spread the light saying “It was just robbery withviolence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at itblind" (p. 8). Thus, the colonizers may appear good from theoutside, but they have dark souls as shown through their behavior.The natives are black and evil on the outside, but they possess whiteand kind souls. Such differences are made clear in the interactionsof the two groups.
The concept ofintroducing someone to darkness in different circumstances promptsunique understanding of such situations. For instance, there is thephysical aspect of introducing someone into the Dark Continent bytraveling there. Marlow narrates about his previous thoughts aboutAfrica and how these changed when he visited there. He discoveredthat the place was uncivilized with no preserves of modernity such aspaved roads and electric power. The dense forest canopy also blockedsunlight. Thus, introducing one to darkness, in this case, impliesgoing to an uncivilized region.
Additionally, thereis another form of darkness as Marlow narrates that one can get tomeet. This form of darkness is the cruel nature of Europeancolonization in Africa. While in Congo, Marlow came face to face withthe evil ways that the colonizers treated the natives. They includedforceful eviction, flogging, killing, maiming, forced labor, rape,and destruction of their environment among others. For instance,Marlow’s predecessor, Fresleven, mercilessly flogged a chief aftera disagreement while another native was mercilessly beaten for anunknown accusation (Conrad 12, 36). The other introduction todarkness pertains to the colonizers learning more about the nativeAfricans. Some whites such as Kurtz deride the African culture andeven take advantage of them while others such as Marlow acknowledgethat the natives have a rich culture and have adapted well to theharsh jungle environment. Again, the white colonizers, who aresupposed to be lighting up Africa and spreading the light to thenatives, are spreading the darkness that they possess within theirhearts. They spread greed for ivory, destruction of the environment,corruption among other vices.
The darkness in thesouls of white colonizers conjures a sense of evil. Conrad portraysthe colonizers as cruel and inhumane beings. They treat the nativesas lesser beings with a primitive culture, and beliefs. Again, theCompany directors in Europe are acutely aware of what is going on inAfrica. However, they do nothing about it and thus play a part inperpetuating evil. In essence, there is a huge disparity between theconcept of civilization as preached by Europeans and the reality onthe ground. The colonization process in Congo personifies evil, humangreed encouraged by capitalism, environmental destruction, andcultural conflict. For instance, Marlow highlights the indiscriminate“objectless blasting” of the environment to pave the way for arailway line (Conrad 76). The colonizers did not seek to understandwhat the natural environment meant to the natives.
According to Cohen,the main difference, and source of misunderstanding between the whitecolonizers and the natives in Congo is conflicting cultures. One ofCohen’s theses on understanding the monster culture is “themonster polices the borders of the possible” (Conrad 12). Thisargument implies that the monster exists in the limits of knowing.The colonizers did not understand the cultural beliefs and practicesof the natives. Such poor understanding and even labeling of somenatives as cannibals limited interactions and restricted thecolonizers in their camps as safe havens.
The other thesis is“the fear of the monster is a kind of desire” implies that thedifferent culture is portrayed as dangerous and attractive at thesame time i.e. a forbidden attraction (Conrad 16). Throughout thebook, Conrad shows how various characters are mesmerized by the lookand practices of the natives. When Marlow encounters one nativewoman, he says “She was savage and superb, wild-eyed andmagnificent there was something ominous and stately in herdeliberate progress” (Conrad 101-102). Thus, it is clear thatdarkness of the Congo jungle alongside its natives scared theinvaders to live in their camps away from the villages while theyharbored some desires to learn more about the monster.
Given the abovepoints, it is clear that Conrad has engaged various literary stylesand devices to achieve his objectives. The story flows seamlesslyand highlights major issues in colonization and cultural conflict.Thus, the book provides a fitting example of the use of symbolism,irony, allegory and paradox. The book is also entertaining andenlightening to the masses.
Cohen,Jeffrey, “MonsterCulture (Seven Theses)” in Monster Theory:Reading Culture ed.
Cohen,Jeffrey, Minneapolis, University of MinnesotaPress, 1996. Print.
Conrad,Joseph, Heart of Darkness. New York: Aegitas, 2016. Print.