Much of Heart of Darkness is concerned with Marlows struggle to maintain his sense of goodness as conspiracies rage all around him and Kurtz piques his curiosity. Marlows desire to do good grows as he is plunged into a world where no absolute goodness exists. Eventually, the characters become unable to distinguish between good and evil. Conrad illustrates this doubt with light and darkness that often blends together.
Light does not necessarily symbolize pure goodness or enlightenment here. Conrads vision is so dark that he does not even trust light. There are numerous instances of the sun setting and plunging the world into night. Darkness represents the unknown, or that which is feared, evil, silence, madness, and death. Then youve got the white sepulcher city in London, the white ivory in the jungle, and the creepy women dressed in black. Everything gets complicated further when you consider the fact that Marlow compares white men to black men, and that Marlow concludes that these men are all the same. If this is true, lightness is darkness, darkness is lightness.
The setting plays a major role in the journey both in a physical sense as well as in the metaphorical journey through ones own heart. Each and every aspect of the setting can be paralleled to darkness and unknown of ones own self. The beginning of the story is the first use of the darkness. These images are used to foreshadow the mystery of what lies ahead for Marlow on his journey. Marlow uses the first images of light verses the dark or the civilized verses the uncivilized when he imagines what the past must have been like.
Light came out of this river since- you say Knights? Yes; but it was like a running blaze on a plain, like a flash of lightning in the clouds. We live in a flicker-may it last as long as the old earth keeps rolling! But darkness was here yesterday (1162).Within this paragraph Marlow speaks of what culture of people brought civilization or light to Europe, as he describes it, Light came out of this river (1162). In this paragraph Marlow reveals one of his fears. This is the thought of how uncivilized man could survive in the dark time when there was no technology or sophisticated people. Marlow then goes on to discuss how short and meaningless our lives really are compared to the light of all life and history.
Everything else in the station was in a muddleheads, things, and buildings. Strings of dusty niggers with splay feet arrived and departed; a stream of manufactured goods, rubbishy cottons, beads, and brass wire set into the depths of the darkness, and in return came a precious trickle of ivory (1172).
This paragraph describes how much the white men is willing to sacrifice for wealth. Much of which they are sacrificing is not even theirs. So much is given to the effort of obtaining the ivory that the need for ivory becomes an obsession rather than an occupation. It is Kurtzs obsession for ivory which drove him farther and farther into the heart of the Congo. It is here that he becomes insane and no longer is consumed by the means of greed, but it is greed that consumes him. The greed, which is caused by the ivory, is the driving force of evil within the novel. The brown current (that) ran swiftly out of the heart of the darkness (1212). It is here that Conrad retreats from the intensity of the novel once again upon the river of the Congo whose color is as murky and mysterious as the secrets which it keeps.
Just the setting itself is so intense with the darkness of Kurtz that it almost overtakes Marlows soul. It is weird the way that Kurtz is treated like a divine creator, his powers are infinite and he abuses them. Kurtz had been so consumed by the darkness within himself that this led him to irrational violence. Marlow, somehow, survives his confrontation with the darkness in the Congo and conquers his fears. He is then able to return back to the light setting of civilization. The setting would not be such a significant factor of the novel if it werent combined with the symbolic images located within the setting. Nearly every object of this reading contains a deeper meaning, which in some way can be associated with the theme of light and darkness.