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Heart of Darkness

by Joseph Conrad

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In Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, what are examples of appearance versus reality? I found an example in the civilized way the accountant dressed, but are there more? Can't the ivory represent appearance versus reality too?

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An example of appearance versus reality occurs at the beginning of the novella, as the unnamed narrator looks out at the Thames in England, the site of apparent civilization. Marlow says, "But darkness was here yesterday," and reminds the party on the boat that Romans arrived in England, what seemed like the edge of the world, in what seemed like only a short time ago. Behind the veneer of civilization in England, there lurks a long and dark history. Therefore, the reality of England is different from the reality.

The offices of the Company that sends Marlow to the Congo is also an example of appearances versus reality. Marlow describes his send-off from the company in the following way:

"A door opened, a white-haired secretarial head, but wearing a compassionate expression, appeared, and a skinny forefinger beckoned me into the sanctuary. Its light was dim, and a heavy writing-desk squatted in the middle. From behind that structure came out an impression of pale plumpness in a frock-coat. The great man himself. He was five feet six, I should judge, and had his grip on the handle-end of ever so many millions. He shook hands, I fancy, murmured vaguely, was satisfied with my French. Bon voyage."

The scene is one of opulence and hushed elegance. However, the company is actually engaged in brutality and murder in the Congo. It conducts its business in a professional and formal manner. The office projects the idea that it is civilized and above board. The reality is that its operations in the Congo result in destruction and that the company's doings involve enslavement and murder. What the company projects and the reality of its business are wildly different.

Ivory also represents the difference between appearance and reality, as it is a white substance favored for its beauty. However, its extraction in the Congo is full of darkness and brutality. 

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In Joseph Conrad's novel, Heart of Darkness, there are several examples of appearance versus reality.

Ivory is an example of this. It is "harvested" and shipped all over the world to make elegant jewelry, women's fans, the keys of pianos: things of beauty and sophistication. The reality is that hunters kill elephants to take the ivory; the men that work within the stations up the Congo River are enslaved by the white man: they are starved, sick, beaten and hopeless souls.

Another example of appearance versus reality is the jungle and its inhabitants. As Marlow travels up the river, they see plants and animals along their way. However, behind the leaves are natives who do not want Kurtz to be taken away. They shoot arrows at the ship and a hidden danger of the jungle is revealed through the foliage that hides the ship's attackers.

When the area known today as the Democratic Republic of the Congo was initially "settled," it came under the control of the Belgian government, specifically, its king, Leopold II. Leopold II and his "supporters" were allegedly interested in bringing Christianity and civilization into the jungle, but the clearer truth was a desire to take the natural resources from that area.

Actions taken in the name of philanthropy [were] merely covers for greed.

The natives received nothing, but the "civilized" whites continued to take and take. This is another instance of appearance versus reality, as seen by the Company's presence, there to bring positive change to the people of that area; in reality they enslave the people and provide the world with its precious ivory.

A final example of appearance versus reality occurs at the end of the story when Marlow meets with Kurtz's fiancée. Kurtz dies on his way out of the Congo. Marlow refuses to believe Kurtz was insane, though he believed his soul was "insane." And although Kurtz's last words were, "The horror! The horror!" which would indicate how scarred his soul really was, Marlow lies when he meets the woman who has waited for Kurtz's return, telling her that Kurtz died with her name on his lips.

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