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 fairway. The gloom has a solid hold on the city and per-haps even comes from the city. Thus, the novel begins with a negative view of land and a very positive view of the sea.
This view is strengthened when Marlow, after remarking (the remark follows a description of the brooding city) that "this has been . . . one of the dark places of the earth" (48), tells some of the area's history. He tells of how the Romans conquered England, describing this event as light...