Heart of Darkness7

In just the opening pages of ‘Heart of Darkness’, Conrad’s aptitude as a writer becomes abundantly clear, for the subliminal nature of his writing is constantly sustained. Conrad begins Marlow’s journey into the heart of darkness on the Thames, on the yawl, ‘Nellie’ with a short prologue, which contains subtle use of imagery and a brilliant evocation of the atmosphere that prepares a reader for the prevailing themes of the novel. Each setting in the novel is in fact a microcosm of the larger construction of ‘Heart of Darkness’, and a reader is continually reminded by the repetition of the phrase ‘brooding gloom’, the noun ‘haze, and the adjective ‘dark’ that the novel is full mystery and exploration through the impenetrable darkness, as it were.
As a reader transgresses through the novel, he or she is continually taken back to the paradoxical title, ‘Heart of Darkness’. The title in itself is very suggestive, for the noun ‘heart’ is, in a literal sense, characteristic of pure substance, and is very distinct, and on a metaphorical level it conveys that the novel works on an emotional scale. On the other hand, the adjective ‘darkness’ displays something much more inconclusive and equivocal, just like Marlow. Therefore, a reader’s first expectations are rather inexpressible because one is put a half-state, where the clear literal meaning of ‘heart’ is set against the ambiguity of the ‘darkness’. The ‘darkness’ in the novel works on both the characters and the readers, where it highlights the states of confusion and incomprehension of the mind. It seems upon ‘darkness’, things become ‘less brilliant but more profound’.
Our expectations about the novel are flooded with ideas of the unknown, a journey into ‘darkness’ in search of mystery and adventure. However, these expectations are soon depleted amongst the first lines of the novel, where a reader learns that the journey is taking place on the Thames, on a cruising yawl, ‘Nellie’. Everything seems to be still and calm, where there is not even a ‘flutter of the sails’, and everything is ‘at rest’, while the crewmembers ‘wait for the turn of the tide’. The opening evokes a very static atmosphere, where nothing seems to be getting accomplished. A reader first recognises the bathos of the novel, at this moment, as the seemingly mysterious and adventurous aspect to the novel, suggested by the title, and the nouns ‘mist’ and ‘haze’, which are pathetic fallacy for obscurity and indistinctness, has not been carried through into the text.
Throughout the opening pages, Conrad pays close attention to detail, and his subtle handling of the labyrinthine imagery that surfaces from the first few lines of the novel, fabricate the scene extremely well. Conrad evokes images of death and decay through phrases such as ‘mournful gloom’, nouns such as ‘dark’, and definite nouns such as ‘Gravesend’. Conrad operates in this manner with deliberate intent, so to prepare the reader for the human savagery and despair that is to follow in the heart of the Congo. From this Conrad establishes for a reader the characteristics of darkness – its is night, the unknown, the impenetrable, the primitive, the evil. This consequently builds certain preconceptions in the mind of a reader, for one is made to foresee the rooted evil amongst the black savages in the Congo. It is under this art of Conrad’s that the reader is made to judge and contemplate the unknown. Yet when Marlow reaches Africa the previously accepted associations with black and ‘dark’ are inverted. ‘White’ is above all ivory, the beautiful luxury of civilised man, which is the root of all evil in the darkness.
In the opening, a reader is given the following description of Marlow: ‘Marlow sat cross-legged right aft, leaning against the mizzen-mast. He had sunken cheeks, a yellow complexion, a straight back, an ascetic aspect, and with his arms dropped, the palms of hands outwards, resembled an idol’. This description builds a false dawn for the reader as one is made to believe that Marlow is wise, mystical, and has a clear insight. In fact, it is only until the first few pages that the truth is revealed, when the narrator warns us that we are about to hear of one of Marlow’s ‘inconclusive experiences’.