Contradicting Symbolism in Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness"

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Joseph Conrad utilizes several important literary techniques throughout his story Heart of Darkness. One predominant method of his storytelling is the use of contrasting sensory imagery between black and white and altering the symbolism the colors entail. This theme is clearly prevalent when we read of Marlow's childhood dreams and when comparing and contrasting the Africans, the Europeans, and the corruption of the ivory trade. Generally, Africa and Africans are described in terms of blackness, symbolic of darkness, evil, and corruption. On the other hand, Europe and Europeans are defined in terms of white, representative of innocence and purity. These images are essential in proving the dominant theme of good versus evil…show more content…
The Africans are portrayed as shadowy, shady figures blending into the background of the night, distinguishable only by their eyes. This is an early indication of the purity of the souls of the black slaves; although their bodies seem invisible in the night, their "white" remains undisguised. Marlow's earliest glimpse of the corruption of the ivory trade is when he sees ."..six black men...black rags were wound round their loins...with that complete, deathlike indifference of unhappy savages" (81). Although Marlow appears to have some sense of compassion for the slaves, he still refers to them as "savages." It is apparent that Marlow at first views the Africans as mere creatures, but he soon became compassionate as he observes their ."..pain, abandonment, and despair" (83). He immediately notices that ."..they were dying slowly--it was very clear. They were not enemies...not criminals" (83). This is an early turning point as Marlow begins to realize Africans are not the savages as they are typically stereotyped. Marlow's first mention of European contact with the Africans explains how Captain Fresleven, Marlow's predecessor with the ivory company, was the "gentlest, quietest creature that ever walked on two legs" (72), beat an African unmercifully with a stick. In this instance, the white captain appears to be mild and kind, yet the actions of Captain Fresleven are not consistent with the traditional

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