Themes in Heart of Darkness
Symbolism of black and white/ light and dark
Black/dark- death, evil, ignorance, mystery, savagery, uncivilized

White/light- life, goodness, enlightenment, civilized, religion.

"True, by this time it was not a blank space any more...a place of darkness. But there was in it one river especially, a mighty big river... resembling an immense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at rest curving afar over a vast country, and its tail lost in the depths of the land...the snake had charmed me." (p. 11) -Marlow from Heart of Darkness (Conrad, 1981)

This symbolism is not new, these connotations have been present in society for centuries. We refer to the Middle Ages, when science and knowledge was suppressed, as the Dark Ages. According to Christianity, in the beginning of time all was dark and God created light. According to Heart of Darkness, before the Romans came, England was dark. In the same way, Africa was considered to be in the "dark stage".

Yet, when it is looked into deeper, the usual pattern is reverse and "darkness means truth, whiteness means falsehood" This reversal tells a political truth about races in the Congo, a psychological truth about Marlow and all of us (the truth within, therefore dark and obscure), and any number of moral truths (the trade in ivory is dark and dirty).

Traditional interpretations of lightness and darkness tend to correlate lightness with goodness and purity, and darkness with evil and corruption. However, in Heart of Darkness, the definitions of lightness and darkness can be reversed. Darkness can be interpreted to stand for the purity and innocence of the natives lifestyle, while lightness can be seen as the corruption, greed, and exploitative ways of the white men. The natives lived by the code of nature in a sort of "darkness," in that they had not been exposed to the corruption of the civilized world. Some of the natives were "enlightened" to conform to live by the rules of the white men. One such native is described as a, "product of the new forces at work." (p.24 Conrad, 1981) This new "enlightened" class of armed natives worked to help the white men enslave their fellow tribesmen by escorting the captive men on work details at gunpoint.