“It had ceased to be a blank space of delightful mystery–a white patch for a boy to dream gloriously over. It had become a place of darkness. But there was in it one river especially, a mighty big river, that you could see on the map, 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” (Conrad 108).
Conrad often alludes to “darkness” throughout the novel, as evident in this passage at the beginning of the novel. The darkness may be referring to an individual darkness within a person, or in this case, an unexplored primitive setting. Conrad often appears to depict Africa in such a manner, making it clear as to why many critics question whether or not his writing is considered racist.
Conrad, Joseph, and Cedric Thomas. Watts. Heart of Darkness and Other Tales. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1990. Print.
My first interview with the manager was curious. He did not ask me to sit down after my twenty-mile walk that morning. He was commonplace in complexion, in feature, in manners, and in voice. He was of middle size and of ordinary build. His eyes, of the usual blue, were perhaps remarkably cold, and he certainly could make his glance fall on one as trenchant and heavy as an axe. But even at these times the rest of his person seemed to disclaim the intention. Otherwise there was only an indefinable, faint expression of his lips, something stealthy – a smile – not a smile – I remember it, but I can’t explain.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness and Other Tales. “Heart of Darkness”, 123. Oxford: Oxford NY, 2002.
Throughout Heart of Darkness, there is a sense of dread and hostility throughout Marlow’s interactions with the natives and the native landscape. However, this passage jumps away from the harsh conditions and describes the manager talking with Marlow. Even here we see the same harshness expressed within a man’s complexion, defining that the dangers and hostility projected does not stop with the people who live near the river but also by the people who have journeyed there. This could imply the overall idea of the novella that darkness comes not from the native land, but of the interactions between the natives and the colonizers.
“I kept to the track though–then stopped to listen. The night was very clear: a dark blue space, sparkling with dew and starlight, in which black things stood very still. I thought I could see a kind of motion ahead of me. I was strangely cocksure of everything that night. I actually left the track and ran in a wide semicircle (I verily believe chuckling to myself) so as to get in front of that stir, of that motion I had seen–if indeed I had seen anything. I was circumventing Kurtz as though it had been a boyish game.”
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness and Other Tales. “Heart of Darkness”, 172. Oxford: Oxford NY, 2002.
This passage continues Conrad’s thematic comparison between childishness and imperialism. Marlow’s chase through darkness in search of Kurtz mirrors the chase for ivory that he is supposed to be on, but he is preoccupied with other issues. Clearly Kurtz takes the place of the ivory in Marlow’s eyes. Marlow makes a contradictory statement by saying that he was “cocksure of everything,” but later reveals that he had at the time been unsure if he has even seen Kurtz. This image mocks the assurance of those empires who make guesses of where they can find wealth then send men to go excavate it (while “chuckling” to themselves). The parallels between his silly game and imperial conquest create a frame of both satire and criticism in Heart of Darkness.