LiteraryDevices In “Heart of Darkness”
Theimportance of literary works cannot be gainsaid as far as theentertainment and education of individuals in a particular society isconcerned. Indeed, literary works have been used to depict thesituations in the societies of the authors, primarily with the aim ofcritiquing them and imbuing ideas on the readers pertaining to abetter way of doing things. It has well been acknowledged thatliterary works have inspired some of the most fundamental socialchanges in the world as a result of highlighting the ills in thesociety and inspiring readers to take it upon themselves to changethe society. Needless to say, the effectiveness of such literaryworks is primarily dependent on the manner in which the story is toldor rather the literary devices used in telling the story. This is thecase for Joseph Conrad’s short novel “Heart of Darkness”. Thenovel tells the tale that the narrator, Marlow” takes on the CongoRiver on a Belgian trading company’s behalf. Far up the river,Marlow comes across the mysterious Kurtz, who trades in ivory and whohas a godlike sway on the region’s inhabitants. Understandably,Marlow is both fascinated and repelled by this man and comes face toface with the despair and corruption that the author had seen at thecenter or core of human existence. As stated earlier, the delivery ofthis story is primarily dependent on the varied literary devices.
Oneof the key literary devices in “Heart of Darkness” is irony. This is especially with regard to imperialism as introduced in thevery first parts of the novel. Marlow notes that London was condensedin a mournful gloom and was “brooding motionless” above thegreatest and biggest town in the entire globe (Conrad 17). It isironical that the epitome of European civilization would be coveredin darkness, just as is the case for the uncivilized Congo thatLondon is supposed to liberate. Of particular note is the fact thatlight and darkness are contrasted in the novel so as to underline theirony that is imperialism. Indeed, it is noteworthy that darkness andlight were traditionally used in representing the uncivilized andcivilized world (Eagleton 56). Unfortunately, the colonialists seetheir subjects as only possessing muscle, bone, as well as a wildvitality, which is an intense energy for movement that was true andnatural. While this was seen as primitive by the colonialists, theyhad an extremely vibrant inside (Cheng 22). This is ironical as itimplies that beyond what the colonists would perceive as darknesslies some element of brightness. Further, once these blackinhabitants are coerced into working under what the Europeans see ascivilization, they gain expressions characterized as “deathlikeindifference of unhappy savages” (Conrad 30). It is ironical thatonce European progress is imposed, it brings these black people closeto savagely.
Inaddition, the author uses symbolism in enhancing comprehension of themessage and the story. Symbolism underlines the utilization ofsymbols in the representation of qualities and ideas. It usually isan artistic or poetic style pertaining to the utilization of symbolicimage, as well as indirect suggestion so as to express the mysticemotions, states of mind and ideas. One of the most distinctivesymbols in the novel is seen in the case of Kurtz’s painting, whichMarlow comes across early in the course of his journey (Conrad 22).The painting shows a blindfolded woman who is in a black backgroundand is holding a torch that is casting a considerably gloomy light onthe woman’s face. This painting would elicit the feeling oflady-justice, in spite of the fact that she is not present in Africaas per the setting of this novel (Bigelow and Peterson 54). Thewoman, in this case, represents the British or white people who haveventured into the black Africa, apparently to bring the light, whichis provided by the torch (civilization) to the “misguided” blackor African natives (Bigelow and Peterson 56). However, it isnoteworthy that the woman is blindfolded, which means that theEuropeans are not privy to the evil that the venture visits on theAfrican populace and cannot even discern the reality on the ground.
Further,the short story is primarily built on the fundamental motif. Motifsrefer to the distinctive or unique idea pertaining to a literary orartistic composition. One of the most dominant motifs in the novel isundoubtedly darkness. Darkness comes out in almost every part of thenovel, with its importance being underlined by its incorporation inthe title of the novel. It may be difficult to tell what darknessexactly entails as it covers almost every part of the novel includingthe things that may generally seen as bright. Scholars note that themetaphorical form of darkness represents the darkness that resides inevery human being’s heart particularly men. On the same note, thereis the motif of ivory, which brings out the destruction and greedapparent as Europeans pursue financial expansion (Conrad 33). Ivoryhas almost become synonymous with savagery considering that a largenumber of the individuals who pursue it are influenced to becomecorrupt. This is the case for Kurtz who has the highest amount ofivory and comes off as most brutal.
Furthermore,Conrad uses foreshadowing on quite a number of instances in thenovel. Foreshadowing underlines an advance warning or sign pertainingto what would come up in the future. In the novel, Marlow’s talepertaining to ancient Greek gives the readers an idea pertaining tothe types of characters that they would encounter later on in theAfrican story (Guetti 43). Conrad, at first, mentions the Roman whogoes to England just to “mend his fortune” (Conrad 6). It isnoted that an identical characterization is given for the portlycompanion of Marlow in the 200-mile walk to the African outpost, ashe is said to have gone there “to make money” (Conrad 20). Evenmore important is the manner in which Marlow describes the Romans whohad travelled to England, apparently, “toface the darkness. And perhaps he was cheered by keeping his eye on achance of promotion to the fleet at Ravenna"(Conrad 6). This statement is seen as foreshadowing Kurtz’scharacter via the depiction of the ambitious Roman adventurers.Indeed, the brick maker describes Kurtz to Marlow as “chiefof the best station, next year he will be Assistant-Manager, twoyear`s more and… but I dare say you know what he will be in twoyears` time"(Conrad 25). In essence, Kurtz resembles the Romans in that he isambitious and on a straight trajectory heading to a higher positionin the echelons of the Belgian company for which he works (Harris 87)(Firchow 32).
Moreover,there quite a substantial amount of imagery in the novel. Imageryunderlines the visually figurative and descriptive language used inliterary works to represent ideas, actions and objects. In “Heartof Darkness”, the author uses imagery to lay emphasis or create apicture pertaining to what is the real picture on the groundparticularly with regard to slavery and oppression that is meted onthe black populace. It is stated that “Icould see every rib, the joints of their limbs were like knots in arope each had an iron collar on his neck, and all were connectedtogether with a chain whose bights swung between them, rhythmicallyclinking”(Conrad 19). The images of “chains” “limbs like knots in arope” “iron collar” is aimed at drawing parallels to theslavery that was experienced in a large number of countries. Marlowis particularly describing the slavery that blacks were subjected toby the white people. He creates a picture pertaining to how starvedand skinny the blacks look so as to depict the tortuous and mercilessnature of the white people to the black populace (Watt 312).
Lastly,the novel makes an immense use of similes so as to connect the ideato particular emotions that may be elicited by its equivalent. Forinstance, Marlow states that “"Sherang under my feet like an emptyHuntley and Palmer biscuit tin kicked along a gutter she was nothingso solid in make, and rather less pretty in shape, but Ihad expended enough hard work on her to make me love her"(Conrad39). In this quote, Marlow directly compares the steamboat to anempty tin can by the use of the word “like”. The use of similesin the text assists the author is allowing the reader to comprehendthe surrounding or circumstances in which the characters are,feelings, as well as thoughts of the characters at that particulartime through linking the things to the surroundings, vivid thoughtsand feelings that the reader may have experienced in the past (Achebe92).
Inconclusion, the use of literary devises such as similes, imagery,symbolism, foreshadowing, irony and motifs comes in handy incomplementing the message that the author of “Heart and Darkness”.However, it is imperative that the readers explore these devices witha keen eye to the places, experiences and feelings, and traits of thecharacters in the novel so as to comprehend the inner meaning of theliterary devises and the story at large (Achebe 784). Of particularnote is the fact that despite their distinctive nature, the literarydevises are interconnected in such a way that they all point to thesame picture (Sparks-Langer and Colton ). For instance, theyparticularly send the message that the things and ideas thatimperialists propagated may not have been the best for the regionsthat they eventually colonized. Their idea of civilization may infact have been detrimental to the societies that they colonized.
Achebe,C. (1977). An image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s “Heart ofDarkness.” The Massachusetts Review(18)4,782-794.
Achebe,Chinua “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness”, Conrad, Joseph.  Heartof Darkness: An authoritative text, backgrounds and sources,criticism.(New York: Norton Critical Editions, 1988. Print
Alvermann,D. E. & Hagood, M. C. Criticalmedia literacy: Research, theory, and practice in “newtimes.” Journalof Educational Research 93(3),193-205. 2000, Print
Bigelow,B. and Peterson, B. (Eds.).  Rethinkingglobalization: Teaching for justice in an unjustworld. Milwaukee, WI:Rethinking Schools Ltd. 2002, print
Cheng,Yuan-Jung. Heralds of the Postmodern: Madness and Fiction in Conrad,Woolf, and Lessing. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 1999. Print
Conrad,Joseph. Heart of Darkness: A Norton Critical Edition. 4th ed. EditorArmstong. New York: W. W. Norton, 2006. Print.
Eagleton,Terry. Criticismand Ideology: A Study in Marxist Literary Theory.London: Verso, reprint edition 2006. Print
Firchow,Peter Edgerly. EnvisioningAfrica: Racism and Imperialism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2000. Print
Guetti,James L. TheLimits of Metaphor: A Study of Melville, Conrad, and Faulkner.Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1967. Print
Harris,Wilson. “The Frontier on Which Heart of Darkness Stands.”Researchin African Literature 12.1(Spring 1981): 86-93
Sparks-Langer,G. M., and Colton, A. B. Synthesis of research on teachers’reflective thinking. EducationalLeadership 48(6),37-44., 1991. Print
Watt,Ian. “Impressionism and Symbolism in Heart of Darkness”, Conrad,Joseph.  Heartof Darkness: Anauthoritative text, backgrounds and sources,criticism.(New York: Norton Critical Editions, 1988) 312