Book Cover

Flowing continuously with Marlow’s life and constantly reminding him of the great river deep in the heart of Africa, the Thames River plays an important role in Joseph Conrad’s novel, Heart of Darkness. Opening the story along its calm tide, it presents Marlow with the perfect situation to begin his reminiscence, and ending the book, it ties the two tales together, exposing the theme and adding literary value.

Throughout his novel, Joseph Conrad continues to use a pair of adjectives that he originally uses to describe the Thames setting before Marlow begins describing his flashbacks. Constantly describing Africa and its riverbanks as “gloom” and “brooding,” Conrad relates the opening setting with the mysterious and unexplored depths of the African jungle, allowing the reader to successfully comprehend one of the many themes of his writing. No matter where Marlow finds himself in life, he will always be a seaman, a man who travels the world and follows the waters. “Nothing is easier for a man who has, as the phrase goes, “followed the sea” with reverence and affection, than to evoke the great spirit of the past upon the lower reaches of the Thames.” (Page 3) Whether he’s venturing through the wild of Africa, or through the fog of England, Marlow finds himself on the tides, and the tides never let him forget who he is and who he once was.

“The sun sank low, and from glowing white changed to a dull red without rays and without heat, as if about to go out suddenly, stricken to death by the touch of that gloom brooding.” (Page 3) Conrad’s novel opens on a pessimistic and somber tone, foreshadowing the unfortunate events to come. The Thames River is described both as an old, profound, and tranquil waterway, and as a motionless and mournful setting, creating a sort of paradox that prepares the reader for the rest of Conrad’s book. This opening setting not only paves a smooth introduction into Marlow’s story of the past, but also brings the stories together, ending the tale, and completing the novel.

Almost the entire setting of Joseph Conrad’s novel, Heart of Darkness, takes place on the tides. Relating the wild, primitive actions of Africa’s Natives with the isolation and greed of European civilization encroaching upon their lands, taking their ivory, Conrad uses the Thames River to aware the reader of the connection. While man desperately tries to overcome his weaknesses and escape from the madness of the world, he always falls back into places. The river only leads in one direction, and man will always reach the end one way or another. Although Marlow was able to escape the gloom, brooding of the African river, he has found himself traveling the gloom, brooding of the Thames River, forever venturing the tides, forever battling his past, and forever discovering himself.

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