Comparing Images Of Light And Dark


Comparing Images Of Light And Dark Essay, Research Paper

Look at the Dark Side of Life:

A Comparison Between Conrad’s and Joyce’s Imagery

To children, night lights give a sense of security and leave

the imagination to rest. The comfort of light is helpful for

children who often conjure up monsters that lurk under the bed

and ominous shadows from tree branches. Dark scenes are often

depicted as the foreboding unknown and things one may not rather

learn more about. However, when Jake comes to a divine revelation

to reunite the band in the movie, “The Blues Brothers,” he

hollers, “I see the light!” Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness

and James Joyce in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man both

play off of the motif of light and darkness. Darkness reveals

startling truths, and one may choose to accept them or not.

Whether these truths are denied will decide if that character

will come into the “light.”

In Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, knowledge is received at

life’s darkest hour. White, which is usually representative of

purity, is a symbol of blindness and loss of innocence in this

novel. In the beginning, the ship, Nellie, is already in a gloomy

mood, setting up the scene for learning the dark past of Marlow.

It is ironic that Marlow says that his time with Kurtz “seemed to

throw a kind of light,” since this journey only expands his mind

and soul when drawing deeper into the darkness (10). The women

knitting the black pall are compared to the Fates, representing

the threatening knowledge of the future. They have already seen

men go time and time through “the door of Darkness,” and knows

the esoteric circumstances that lay ahead for these ignorant,

blind men (16). The most ignorant, the accountant, with

immaculate white collars and cuffs, is a complete contrast of the

“acute angles” of dying blacks. He has absolutely no

comprehension of the misery and chaos down the river, asininely

telling Marlow “the groans of this sick person…distract my

attention” (29). Black symbolizes physical death from starvation

and cruelty; white indicates spiritual and moral death through

selfishness. Ivory, a shade of white, is the cause of all men’s

good judgement to be overcome by greed. While onboard, the

“savage” cannibals exhibit self-control by not eating the white

men, but the white men itch to get out their guns. During these

times of imperialism, it is the “white man’s burden” to show the

example of being “civilized,” but Conrad comes to the dark,

unfortunate truth that the white men represent unhealthy

darkness, hopeless stupidity, senseless cruelty, zealous greed,

and ambition. Frequent references to “fierce sunlight” develop

this theme. The dark truth that Marlow must come to face is his

own wild and savage potential. Marlow must make the decision

whether to tell Kurtz’s widow, dressed in black, the truth of

“the horror” when one reaches the point of all encompassing

darkness. He chooses to keep her “blind” from reality, keeping

her safe, like a night light (118).

All images of light and dark are necessary in the

development of an artist, including Stephen Daedalus in A

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. His development entails

revelation, but also the vilest and most base thoughts. An artist

has experienced all the “light” and “dark” in life to take a

viewpoint that is universal. All images help Stephen to grow:

hope and art in light and fear or despair in darkness. In Chapter

One, Stephen is naive and scared, as all children are, of the

dark and the unknown. This starkly contrasts with his nights in

Dublin when filth, sin, and a “cold lucid indifference” ooze from

his troubled adolescent soul (110). Another critical passage in

Chapter One are the “waves” of fire Stephen sees that flicker on

the wall (25). The description is lyrical and metaphorical like

an artist’s. Stephen’s sensory perceptions have started coming

into play, which are depicted in light. Later, he takes common

clouds and discovers the beauty and a “spectrum” of angles toward

understanding life. Stephen’s flights of imagination with The

Count of Monte Cristo is one to be noted. In the romantic story,

Marseilles is bright and sunny, and the house is whitewashed;

within is the Platonic vision of Mercedes (65). Joyce is setting

up for the contradictory whore house and Stephen’s new lusty

appetite at the end of the chapter. When “the parlour fire would

not draw that evening,” this is a dark and brooding moment where

Stephen realizes he will have to separate from his father who is

holding him back from progress (68). During his journey through

sin, nothing appears with the ardent spark or flame of life; his

vices quench the stars of hope and “the cold darkness (fill)

chaos” (110).

Chapter Three is a very pivotal and introspective stage.

Stephen keeps above his bed an “illuminated scroll” of the Virgin

Mary, yet he uses the same lips of lechery to speak praise upon

her (111). He also finds an “arid pleasure” that his first

offence is reflected upon all ten commandments. It is puzzling

that Stephen is completely aware of his faults, yet feels no

guilt. The darkness within him recognizes his selfish desires but

not the consequences. But a painfully dramatic homily fills him

with remorse, guilt, and self-hatred. Damnation is Stephen’s

greatest fear, and Judgement Day is mentioned while the sun sets

(136). It is not until the light in the chapel appears when

Stephen can come to terms with himself. Darkness reveals

Stephen’s separation from three major hindrances: family,

religion, and politics. Meanwhile, light and fiery images

represents an “enlightenment” and overcoming the obstacles of his

childhood. When Stephen sees the “angel of mortal youth and

beauty” wading in the water, he is able to look at her “soft

white down” and not chastise himself (186). Described as a dove,

the girl parallels the Holy Spirit, filling Stephen’s spirit with

illumination. It is a great revelation for Stephen that this

transition into adulthood is normal and it makes him human!

For both novels, darkness is seen as a time of separation

from what was once comforting and reliable. In Heart of Darkness,

Marlow is changed by realizing the follies of the white man and

the madness caused by the “jungle” of greed and ambition. He can

longer go back to the savagery of his old society playing the

role of a lemming. In Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,

Stephen tears away from his childhood faith, a painful process

for an insecure adolescent. Yet, the symbolism for white or

brightness between the two works is quite distinct. Conrad

prefers to attack white images as the ignorance from not

fathoming the depths of the dark. Joyce sees light much more

positively, especially as the epiphany, where Stephen is able to

accept his changing environment. Both writers allude to the fact

that times of darkness are necessary, for they help us to grow

and without them, there would be no light in the world to compare

it with.

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