I have to write an essay and I need to know what light and darkness means at the beggining of the novella and how it relates to Marlow's journey.Please help me!!!

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copelmat eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Darkness obviously plays an essential role in the novella as the title suggests. Darkness is largely metaphorical here and represents an inability to see and a lack of knowledge and insight into situations, people, and the human condition. Light, then, we would assume would represent the opposite. However, the matter isn't so simple. More often, light is merely used as a contrast to darkness not so much as a direct opposite.

In the frame story early in the novella we see the Nellie in the mouth of the Thames, waiting for the tides to take her out to sea and away from London--the "brooding gloom"--and into something far darker yet. It is sunset just as Marlow begins his tale, establishing the motif throughout the novella. '

And as Marlow narrates:

"to understand the effect of [his journey up the Congo River] on me you ought to know how I got out there, what I saw, how I went up that river to the place where I first met the poor chap [Kurtz]. It was the farthest point of navigation and the culminating point of my experience. It seemed somehow to throw a kind of light on everything about me--and into my thoughts. It was sombre enough too--and pitiful--not extraordinary in any way--not very clear either. No. Not very clear. And yet it seemed to throw a kind of light."

Marlow's commentary here is essential because he admits that his journey does not provide him with the knowledge and insight (the "light") that he seeks; it provides him a "kind of light" and even then it is "not very clear."

Read the study guide:
Heart of Darkness

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