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Symbols, Setting, and Ironies of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness

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Symbols, Setting, and Ironies of Heart of Darkness

Joseph Conrad's novel, Heart of Darkness, is about many things: seafaring, riverboating, trade and exploration, imperialism and colonialism, race relations, the attempt to find meaning in the universe while trying to get at the mysteries of the subconscious mind. Heart of Darkness is a vivid portrayal of European imperialism. The book in other words is a story about European "acts of imperial mastery" (1503)-its methods, and the effects it has on human nature-and it is presumable that Conrad incorporates much of his own experience in the Congo and his opinions about imperialism into the story.

Beyond the shield of civilization and into the depths of a primitive,
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The light image associates London with civilization. However, this illusion is cut short when Marlow states, "And this also, has been one of the dark places of the earth" (pg. 67). This implies that London, "the pinnacle of structured life, only became enlightened and sophisticated after the Romans forced "light" on the native savages" (Heart of Darkness: A systematic evaluation). He describes how England was once a place of war and bloodshed during the time of the Roman conquest; thus, the civilized connotation of modern England is contrasted with a barbarous era of England's history. Later on in the journey, Marlow comes upon a native dressed in patches of "bright colors." Marlow views the bright colors as a symbol of civilization, especially in the Congo where everything is brown or dark. The boy is standing under the sun looking "extremely gay and wonderfully neat." (pg. 126). This illusion to light makes the boy seem attractive to Marlow, not because he is a native, but rather because his persona of light associates him with civilization (Perfect Native). Marlow expresses his fear about conquests when he states that it is nothing but "robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind as is very proper for those who tackle darkness."(pg. 69) Here, the illusion to light and darkness implies that Marlow sees colonization as a darkness
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