Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness is a story of Marlow's journey down the Congo River to find a man named Kurtz. In the book Conrad uses light to symbolize any matter that is positive such as the scene on the Nellie at the start of the story and uses darkness to symbolize the negatives such as the suffering of the natives. Throughout the book darkness has a much stronger presence which shows the exploitation and terrible treatment that the natives endured. As Marlow (protagonist) travels further down the Congo the darker his perception of the environment around him becomes and the less light that is present in the story until it is all darkness. Conrad shows through Marlow that a true enlightenment cannot happen without a journey into the darkness. Marlow starts his journey with a naÃÂ¯ve belief about the value of the European presence in the Congo; this belief changes into a greater understanding of humanity as he travels through the Congo and his new understanding as he returns to Europe.
In the beginning of the story light and dark imagery is immediately present. The light is the calmness of the Thames River where Marlow and his shipmates sit on the Nellie in the beauty of their surroundings. Conrad describes the day as calm and relaxed. The darkness is in Marlow's words, "'And this also,' said Marlow suddenly, 'has been one of the dark places of the earth.'" (Conrad, 1981, 6) Marlow is referring to when the Romans first came to England and they found it to be a great savage wilderness. As the story goes on, further into the heart of darkness, the atmosphere becomes total darkness and gloom. His journey down the Congo can be compared to traveling back into the darkness of the beginning of time.