Light with The Darkness
Throughout the narrative of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Charlie Marlow characterizes the events, ideas, and locations that he encounters in terms of light or darkness. Embedded in Marlow's parlance is an ongoing metaphor equating light with knowledge and civility and darkness with mystery and savagery. When he begins his narrative, Marlow associates light with civility, believing it to be a tangible expression of man's natural state. Similarly, Marlow uses darkness to depict savagery as a vice having absconded with nature. But as he proceeds deeper into the heart of the African jungle and begins to understand savagery as a primitive form of civilization and, therefore, a reflection on his own reality, the metaphor shifts. Once Conrad’s plot has come full circle, the narrator raises his head at the end of the novel to discover that the Thames, not the Congo, is the vein that rushes toward the heart of darkness. The alteration of the light-dark metaphor corresponds with Marlow's cognizance that the only reality, truth, or light about civilization is that it is, regardless of appearances, inherently shrouded in its primitive roots of darkness.
Marlow uses the contrast between darkness and light to underscore the schism between the seemingly dissimilar realms of civility and savagery, repeatedly associating light with knowledge and truth and darkness with mystery and deceptive evil. When Marlow realizes that his aunt's acquaintances had misrepresented him to the Chief of the Inner Station, Marlow states: "Light dawned upon me" (Conrad 22), as if to explicitly associate light with knowledge or cognizance. It is significant then, that Marlow also associates light with civilization. He describes the knights-errant who went out from the Thames to conquer the vast reaches of the world as having brought light into the darkness, flanked with figurative torches...