Remind yourself of the opening passage of Heart of Darkness, as far as “… under the stars” and discuss its effectiveness as an opening to the novel. At the time when Joseph Conrad wrote Heart of Darkness, the British Empire was at its highest, and Britain controlled colonies from all over the world. The main topic of Heart of Darkness is imperialism, and the policy of Britain using their influence over other areas through military, political, and economic force. The narrator (who remains unnamed) expresses the mainstream belief that imperialism is a glorious and worthy enterprise.
In fact, in Conrad’s time, the “empire” was one of the main values of British subjects, the basic term through which Britain defined its identity. The first passage of Heart of Darkness is written in the narrative, and the book opens with a thorough description of their beginnings in the journey – the Thames (this in itself is very important through the book), and the surrounding area, Gravesend. The narrator who starts off Heart of Darkness is unnamed, just like the other three listeners on the boat, with the reader just getting their profession (Director of Companies, Lawyer, and Accountant).
Furthermore, the narrator is mostly speaking in the first-person plural, telling us all four of Marlow’s listeners think and feel, rather than having them speak themselves. The ambiguity and agreement of Marlow’s listeners combine to give the feeling that they in fact represent conventional perspectives and values of the British establishment. He describes at length the appearance of the Thames as an “interminable waterway”, which is perhaps important because he is almost saying here that it is going to be a never-ending journey.
As he continues to describe the setting, he gives an impression that their setting is rather murky and intimidating. This topic of darkness (which has been introduced in the very first page) is followed throughout the book, and it is obviously a very important theme in the book, especially with it being mentioned in the title of the book. Conrad conjures up the images of darkness with descriptions such as “A haze rested on the low shores that ran out to sea in vanishing flatness. ” and “… farther back still seemed condensed into a mournful gloom.
” The way Conrad uses the imagery of light and dark very clearly relates to the tension that is arranged between civilization and savagery. The Thames is referred to as a “gateway to civilization” because it connects to the civilized city of London. It is very interesting how the city is always described in stark contrast to its dark surroundings, which may be water or land, as they are so vague. For example, when Conrad goes from “… brooding gloom” to “… and the greatest, town on earth. ”
The description he has given of the Thames is in fact similar in ways to the way he later describes the river in South Africa. By doing this, he has shown his feelings from early on. By linking the Thames ; the Congo, it is has shown how they have certain similarities. Conrad has given us the foundation of the path that we go on to follow throughout the book. It is fascinating how his descriptions of the other boatmen give the impressions they do, and how this, in particular, goes on to influence our views in the rest of the book.