“A beast does not know that he is a beast, and the nearer a man gets to being a beast, the less he knows it (George McDonald). ” Primitive nature, conspiracies, and contrast are major themes in the book Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Joseph Conrad loved the mystery behind the Congo and so through a series of life altering decisions and events became a sailor and a writer to venture off and see the mystery for himself much like the main character, Marlow.
He describes his journey in this fictitious, but timely accurate, novel that bridges Victorian values and modernism through the use of five literary elements: motifs, the use of nature, the setting, metaphors, and the tone to help guide the reader to see the big picture, Imperialism (colonizing a land that was never yours to colonize in the first place). A literary motif is a recurring symbol throughout the novel and Conrad writes in a handful of them like the contrast of “interiors and exteriors.
” Throughout the novel you can pick up a sense that Marlow, like most men, only views things superficially rather than finding out the deep understanding of what is in front of him, “In the outer room two women knitted black wool feverishly (p 12). ” Marlow never questions it he simply states what they were doing not why they were doing it. A more complex example would be, “One day he remarked, without lifting his head, ‘In the interior you will no doubt meet Mr.
Kurtz. ’ On my asking who Mr. Kurtz was, he said he was a first class agent; and seeing my disappointment at this information, he added slowly, laying down his pen, ‘He is a very remarkable person (p 22). ” That example demonstrated how little Marlow questions when he is not interested and shows that in the interior he will find one of the most remarkable members of trade whom he would not have cared about if not shown his disappointment.
“In exterior he resembled a butcher in a poor neighborhood, and his eyes had a look of sleepy cunning (p 37). ” Conrad used this motif to show imperialism by having the exterior represent the knowledge of imperialism to the simple minded whereas they do not question it or care whether or not it does harm; and having the interior represent the ugly truth that is imperialism. Nature is throughout this novel and how Conrad uses it to his advantage of description makes people speechless.
“The moon had spread over everything a thin layer of silver—over the rank grass, over the mud, upon the wall of matted vegetation standing higher than the wall of a temple, over the great river I could see through a somber gap glittering, as it flowed broadly by without a murmur (p 31-32). ” Conrad liked to implement personification in nature to make it seem more alive which is why you feel like you are an unseen presence. “The sea-reach of the Thames stretched before us like the beginning of an interminable waterway.
In the offing the sea and the sky were welded together without a joint, and in the luminous space the tanned sails of the barges drifting up with the tide seemed to stand still in red clusters of canvas sharply peaked, with gleams of varnished sprits (pg 3). This Shadow looked satiated and calm as though for the moment it had its fill of all emotions (p 75). ” The author likes to tie in the personification of nature and the use of it to embody what land before and after imperialism is like and how giving and soothing it is or how treacherous it can become.
On par with the use of nature, using the setting of the novel is another literary element that incorporates personification to reach his ideal goal that imperialism makes the setting more cumbersome in contrast to being free. “After all, that was only a savage sight, while I seemed at one bound to have been transported into some lightless region of subtle horrors, where pure, uncomplicated savagery was a positive relief, being something that had a right to exist—obviously—in the sunshine (p 72-73). ” Conrad enjoys amusing us with his contrasts that he intentionally permits through the setting.
Not only does he use the setting to provide contrast, but to also provide emotion, “In a very few hours I arrived in a city that always makes me think of a whited sepulcher (p 11). ” The setting is a fundamental literary element in this novel because without it the novel would focus less on the feelings and contrast of the characters due to imperialistic values and more on what life would simply be like in the Congo (superficially). A literary metaphor is figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus making an implicit comparison.
“What greatness had not floated on the ebb of that river into the mystery of an unknown earth! …The dreams of men, the seed of commonwealths, the germs of empires. ………. for there is nothing mysterious to a seaman unless it be the sea itself, which is the mistress of his existence and as inscrutable as Destiny (p 5). ” In that example it shows how many stories this free and open sea has and how beautiful it is because it is untamed and how there is beauty in this great ocean. “We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness.
It was very quiet there. At night sometimes the roll of drums behind the curtain of trees would run up the river and remain sustained faintly, as if hovering in the air high over our heads, till the first break of day (p 43). ” Metaphors are in almost every page of this book, it makes you ask the question, “Why so many metaphors, Conrad? ” The answer is simply to state, once again, the emotion of how things are before and after imperialism and he uses personification to let you know how these inanimate objects object to imperialism.
The tone of a novel is how the author portrays his emotions or feelings through the medium of writing. The tone of this novel is a cynical one; cynical means the belief that people are only motivated by self-interest and the novel as a whole has a pessimistic outlook on life. Conrad views all his characters cynically; there is no character that is favorable in the light because all have major flaws that compromise their understanding of imperialism, which they all work under. “They grabbed what they could get and for the sake of what was to be got.
It was only robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind—as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness. The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much (p 7). ” Death and horror are treated both comically from the way the slaves are treated, like sticking their heads on sticks and naming them after inanimate objects, to how when Kurtz dies his last words are, “The horror!
The horror (p 92)! ” Kurtz last words have a very vague meaning to them but from an outstanding third person omniscient view of the novel itself I think it might mean the horror of what he has taken part in, imperialism, and what will come of it. Deriving from imperialism, the five literary elements: motifs, the use of nature, the setting, metaphors, and the tone are to not only help describe the struggle of this “ideal” but to also promote the natural result, destruction of society.
Conrad paints a picture of destruction through imperialism all throughout this novel and has a slogan that says, “Imperialism is a Natural Result. ” Conrad strongly believed in an anti-imperialistic view of the world and wanted it to remain that way after seeing the horrors of the Congo in person. This novel also serves for a narrative about the difficulty of understanding the world beyond yourself because there is so much out there that is bigger than you alone, like imperialism, and it takes a nation to take them down.
Biblically, this book can apply to your life by taking it as a lesson you can learn from. Marlow got involved in something he did not know fully about which caused him to tremble and often times not know what to do. As believers, we should be strong and knowledgeable about everything, even sin and temptation, because if we are not knowledgeable we can stumble into sin and not know what to do. Another lesson learned from Kurtz, who tried to play God.
Playing God is not our job and has the most horrific outcomes one can imagine, just like every other sin. Instead of trying to play God he should have been an example of him and shown these indigenous people the truth. The heart of darkness in the end was the heart of imperialism, because no matter how far you run or hide there are people who are fighting for something far worse than what you think the world needs. So, it is up to you to take action and make a difference; and now there is only one question to answer, “Who, or what, is stopping you? ”.