Colonization: The Bringing of Light Into the Darkness

Essay by foxybrown21University, Bachelor'sA, November 2002

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The theme of civilization versus savagery is central to Heart of Darkness. It is also closely related to the theme of light versus dark, or white versus black. Light and dark traditionally represent good and evil respectively, and civilization is generally viewed as good while savagery is normally seen as evil. This symbolism is not new however, these connotations have been present in society for centuries. We refer to the Middle Ages, when science and knowledge was suppressed, as the Dark Ages. According to Christianity, in the beginning of time all was dark and God created light. Conrad plays with this theme extensively, sometimes using the imagery in traditional ways and sometimes creating surprising and meaningful reversals. Through light and dark imagery the horrors of colonization are brought forth, while the theme of civilization versus savagery is emphasized.

The opening scene of Heart of Darkness is saturated with light imagery used to represent the coming of the colonizers, and the civilization they are said to embody, into the darkness of Africa.

This scene begins with the narrator on board The Nellie, a ship anchored on the Thames River outside of London at sunset. As the sun sets the light on the Thames is brilliant. The narrator patriotically recalls the great British sailors, from Sir Francis Drake to Sir John Franklin, who navigated this river in the past. His thoughts are full of nationalistic nostalgia as he reflects on these heroes who went out from the Thames to conquer the vast reaches of the world. Celebrated for having brought light into the darkness, these men bearing swords and figurative torches were the "bearers of a spark from a sacred fire" (Conrad 2207) of English civilization. The narrator also refers to the Thames as a gateway to civilization for the explorers...