In the typical novels written by many known authors, colors and objects tend to symbolize the same things in each. Light stands for knowledge and the color white symbolizes purity and innocence while darkness signifies evil and the color black represents death. In Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness, however, these colors and images symbolize almost the opposites of what the reader usually perceives them to signify. .
In Conrad's novel, the White man dehumanizes the Black man in the Congo. In order to elaborate on the cruelty of the White men from the Western world, Conrad changes the symbol of white from corresponding to purity, to representing death. The darkness signifies the unknown and the primitive which stems from Western civilization and creates an evil. The darkness conquers the light and does not allow it to expand. In order to emphasize the power of the darkness, even the white becomes an evil and conquers with the darkness.
The novel begins in the Thames River in England. As the passengers of the Nellie become trapped in the river, the passengers marvel in the light that the Thames shines onto the world. Marlow, however, responds: "Light came out of this river ? But darkness was here yesterday" (9). Marlow questions the insight that Western society shines into the world. Western civilization prides itself on how it influences the "less fortunate" and "underprivileged" for the better, but Marlow remembers a time when this light only reflected darkness. Instead of benefiting the world with its resources, Western civilization imposes its ideas on others through the medium of darkness, evil and corruptness.
Marlow narrates his adventure in the Congo, where the White man intends to shine its light and knowledge on the Black man, but instead dehumanizes and enslaves the Black man for its natural resources. When Marlow arrives in the Congo, he witnesses the Black men sitting in the dark, waiting for their deaths.