Symbolism of Light and Darkness in Heart of Darkness

The symbolic meaning of light and darkness play the central role in the novel Heart of Darkness. If we try to see the meaning of light it means bright, knowledge, capable in every field, life, perfection, etc. and Darkness, on the other hand, refers to dark, illiteracy, death, ignorance, inability etc. these both aspects are applied in a very symbolic manner through the novel. In other words, the whole novel moves between the relationship of the symbolic aspects of light and darkness.

Joseph Conrad (1857-1924)

The very short and simple story of the novel is that Marlow, who thinks that he has possessed the light, sends his representative candidate Kurtz to give the light in the so- called dark place Africa in different ways. According to the view of Marlow and Kurtz, African people are in darkness. But the reality turns in another direction. At the end of the novel, it is implicitly said that actually the darkness is possessed by the so called civilized white man. The inhuman, deceptiveness and the selfish Kurtz and Marlow are the main source of darkness in the African land. They have disturbed the solitariness of natives, their culture has been made impure and their way of living have been degraded to darkness by the interruption of whites. The existence of darkness is at the core of shining civilization.

According to Kurtz and Marlow, they are uncivilized, inhuman. So, they say that they want to give light to the all Africans who are living in ignorance. They want to civilize them, educate them. But in reality they try to keep them under their control. The means of economic production are captured by them. Social status, political power all are under the control of so called light possessed people.

There are so many darkness imageries in the novel e.g. before Marlow begins to speak, the sun is setting and dark clouds hang over the river, the knitting woman sits outside the door of darkness, knitting black wool, Marlow describes to his shipmates that Kurtz belongs to the power of darkness etc. The whole novel is filled with the symbolic aspects of light and darkness. All the main characters are describing about the bad aspects of dark and bright path of light. But the measuring is that those who have talked more about solving the problem of darkness are covered with the very deep fog of darkness. We easily say that Marlow has possessed the heart of darkness, Kurtz has possessed the heart of darkness, but both of them say that all Africans are living in darkness. In this way, the complete plot structure of the novel moves around the symbolic meaning of light and darkness. Marlow and Kurtz are imposing the more darkness, over the African people by saying that they want to give the light to them. Everyone talks about the finding of light, but possess only darkness. There is very vast distinction between what Marlow and Kurtz say and what actually they do. In that sense, symbolism of light and darkness plays central role in the interpretation of Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness.