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Heart of Darkness - Essay Example

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Instructor name Date Heart of Darkness A major theme in Joseph Conrad’s book Heart of Darkness is the struggle between dark and light when it comes to the souls of men and the relative merits of imperialism. The story is told by an aging sailor who was once commissioned to sail the Congo in search of a Company man organizing the imperialistic efforts being conducted there…
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Heart of Darkness
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Heart of Darkness

In making his comments upon London at the beginning of the book, Marlow illustrates the lesson he learned in the jungle, that the social impression of imperialism as an illuminating force for good brought to the desperate primitive peoples was a lie based on false cultural beliefs. He does this by reflecting out loud about the history of London and how it parallels in many ways the current history of Africa by questioning the difference between civilized and savage. It is obvious to the other men sitting on the deck that the concept of light as it is applied to men refers to the 'enlightened' or advanced culture. The narrator makes this clear as he talks about the rich history of the Thames and the glorious characters of those who have traveled on it. "They had all gone out on that stream, bearing the sword, and often the torch, messengers of the might within the land, bearers of a spark from the sacred fire. What greatness had not floated on the ebb of that river into the mystery of an unknown earth! ... The dreams of men, the seed of commonwealth, the germs of empires" (Conrad, 3). These are all presented as positive elements or a kindness bestowed on those less fortunate. The splendor that was England would be graciously shared with the lazy, unintelligent brutes of the dark places without any consideration as to where that wealth was coming from. It is clear from the way the narrator describes things that he considers England to have always enjoyed such a privileged and recognized status. Only one of these men, Marlow, seems to see things differently, describing London in terms that make it sound very much like their present conceptions of the darkness or uncivilized nature of Africa. It is just as the narrator is winding down about the greatness of the civilization that lives on the banks of this river that Marlow interrupts everyone's thoughts with the sudden and cryptic statement used as epigraph above: "And this also ... has been one of the dark places of the earth" (2). In this passage, Marlow talks about the area of London as it was when the Roman soldiers found it. Although there was already a flourishing society at work on the island, as there were several flourishing societies found in Africa as European explorers pushed deeper and deeper into the forests, the Romans felt themselves engulfed by the same kind of darkness being experienced in Africa. “Sand-banks, marshes, forests, savages – precious little to eat fit for a civilized man, nothing but Thames water to drink. … Here and there a military camp lost in a wilderness, like a needle in a bundle of hay – cold, fog, tempests, disease, exile, and death – death skulking in the air, in the water, in the bush. They must have been dying like flies here” (Conrad, 4). The darkness he describes for the Romans entails much more than the simple change in geography and weather from their Mediterranean home and sounds very much like how the Europeans thought of the men they found in Africa at that time - savages who have nothing decent to eat or drink, strange illnesses, difficult or impossible terrains. Marlow's reflection on the Romans also draws parallels between the ancient Romans and the contemporary British as bringers of light to the dark places ... Read More
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