Heart of Darkness and the use of metaphors

The novel, Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, makes great metaphorical use of light and darkness. Properly analyzing these metaphors requires being aware of what they have symbolized in the past. Light has often been used as a symbol of life, passion (fire), knowledge (seeing the light), hope and the future. Dark-ness has often been used to symbolize death, mystery, ignorance and despair. Thus, light has very positive associations, and darkness has very negative ones. Readers bring these associa-tions with them as they read Heart of Darkness.

Conrad's use of metaphor, especially in the first few pages, reveals his great love of the sea. He describes a ship,

sitting in the harbor with canvas gleaming with varnished spirit. The ship is surrounded by a haze that is emanating from the land near it: "The air was dark above Gravesend, and farther back still seemed condensed into a mournful gloom, brooding" (45). Although the sunset is affecting the city in this negative way, it is having quite a different effect on the water: "The water shone pacifically . . .the very mist . . . was like a gauze and radiant fabric" (46). When darkness does entirely take the city, the water is still alive with light: "Lights of ships moved in the fairway--a great stir of lights" (48). Conrad is describing the town as monstrous, ominous and brooding. Clearly, all the light (all the beauty and life) that is to be found is now on the water and, specifically, in the ships that are moving in the fair



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