The story of Charles Marlow in Heart of Darkness is heavily based around Joseph Conrad’s own experiences in the Congo during the time of the transatlantic slave trade; in which natives were kidnapped by imperial powers and exploited to work under the ‘superior’ race. During the 1890s, ivory was a valuable commodity. As a result, Belgian traders motivated by the prospect of great fortune delved deeper into the Congo to procure the material. However, the traders were not against committing extreme acts against slaves – including beatings, amputations and beheadings for those who did not obey. These acts are heavily featured within Heart of Darkness, implying that this evil against humanity is naturally occurring in certain areas. The novel displays the hypocrisy of imperial powers who are deemed to be ‘civilised’. Conrad was personally revolted by the treatment of the natives and tyrannical rule the company men had over Africa.
Lord of the Flies is set during World War 2 – providing an insight to how cruel humans can be to each other, using the back drop of the war to critique the truth about human nature in his novel. Golding served in the British navy so has first-hand experience of the horrors in war with the isolation and darkness it brings. The story of the boys and their descent into savagery holds heavy parallels with the ongoing war and Darwin’s theory of natural selection in which one must adapt to survive or succumb due to their own shortcomings. For example, Jack’s bold, outward and aggressive approach to survival overshadows Piggy’s rather timid and weak appearance – resulting in his untimely death whereas, evil, cruelty and malice permeate throughout the war and as such, within the boys.
In Lord of the Flies, each main character represents a different aspect of humanity. Through the boys’ individual actions, their true nature and morality is revealed as the book progresses.
Ralph is considered to be the primary representative of order and diplomacy as he tries his best to keep the boys together and on track by finding middle ground between having fun and working to maximise the chances of survival by e.g. – building a shelter and starting a fire. However, despite his civil nature Ralph still briefly participates in the antics Jack’s tribe and almost losing himself to savagery during the boar hunt and at Jack’s feast in which a frenzy ensues resulting in Simon’s death. Unlike the group of savages, it is only Ralph and Piggy who feel remorse for what has occurred.
Jack represents the regression to primitive traits and savagery, indicating that evil is within us all and only reveals itself when the façade of civilisation is removed. This is evident from in chapter 1 when he is first introduced. He is the leader of the hunters and fights Ralph. Eventually, more and more of the boys defect from Ralph’s ordered society to Jack’s tribal one. Jack is the exact opposite of Ralph. Jack desires power above all else, his large knife is a symbol of this desire. The first time he encounters a pig, he is unable to kill it – indicating he still has a sense of morality within him. However, Jack becomes obsessed with hunting, painting his face in a tribal way and eventually embracing his bloodlust. The more savage Jack becomes, the more he is able to control the rest of the group. Violence and authority enable Jack to feel even more powerful. He leverages the boys’ fear of the beast to control their behaviour— suggesting how superstition can be manipulated to influence others.
Piggy represents civilization, intellect, clear-sightedness, and logic. Most of the boys have shaggy, long hair by the end of the novel whereas, Piggy is the only one whose hair has not grown – indicating his unwillingness to give into savagery unlike the other boys. He is described as the voice of reason throughout the book. Piggy’s specs also symbolize knowledge and hope, once stolen by the savages they become part of his desperate struggle for power and control of the fire. Piggy is a tragic figure, the same age as Ralph and smarter yet his physical differences separate him from the others. He is ostracised, by the other boys for not helping, whining and not helping but he is the one who understands democracy. His death signals the final end of the democracy and his ’empty-head’ as it splits on the rocks the end of rational thought. His death seems to be the turning point in which Jack’s tribe fully embraces savagery and evil.
Roger is a quiet, secretive individual. He is mysterious like Jack, and mindless to the consequences of his actions. He follows the group and acts on their behalf. He becomes Jack’s right hand man. While Jack is more of a dictator, Roger is more like a figure in charge of creating fear, without being conscious of the immorality of his actions. His actions slowly reveal a character who slowly gives in to his desires – to inflict pain and suffering upon others; starting by wrecking a sandcastle, contemplating throwing rocks at younger kids, then taking great pleasure in stabbing the deceased pig, killing Simon (showing no remorse) and finally murdering Piggy deliberately at castle rock. He is overcome by the evils of the island. He also represents sadism, bloodlust and cruelty. Roger is the only boy on the island who is described as “dark” from the beginning while the other boys become “dark” as they succumb to their savage nature. He is the only character to purposefully kill someone on his own e.g – Piggy; Roger first used smaller rocks at first to aim at others then eventually acted upon his sadistic desires upon others when he releases the boulder to crush piggy under the instruction of Jack.
By contrast, Simon is spiritual by nature and has a sense of ingrained morality whereas, the others are quick to abandon the societal norms after being restrained by them for so long. Simon is generally helpful and works for the wellbeing of everyone. He is the only one to see beyond the boys’ warped perception of what this ‘beast’ really is after a hallucinatory episode where the impaled pigs head speaks to him, revealing the alleged beast is in fact the evil and darkness which lurks within all of them and not in fact coming from an external force. This revelation appears to be something which could have been the boys’ salvation. However, ironically, before he can relay this information to the others he is murdered in cold blood when mistaken for the beast and the truth consequently dies with him – indicating how evil has triumphed over goodness.
Heart of Darkness possesses less depth within its characterisation along with fewer individuals who are central to the readers’ understanding of the book compared to Lord of the Flies yet some parallels can still be drawn between the two novels as they explore similar motifs.
Marlow is the main character and narrator, telling the story of Kurtz and the Congo from his perspective. He is a seasoned voyager who has sailed many times. He is portrayed as being quite philosophical, frequently questioning the actions of his colleagues such as brutality against natives and their greed for obtaining wealth at the expense of others. He doesn’t quite agree with the notion that his own country is civilised considering their unfair and oppressive rule over other nations. He feels that colonial rule is an awful and is the only one who seems to at least tolerate the natives. Despite being in an isolated environment, Marlow and Ralph do not let their inner evils consume them, firmly holding onto their beliefs throughout the novels.
Kurtz is an intelligent man who is highly talented yet succumbs to the forces of evil within the Congo, forgetting his own ideals, moralities and customs to create the most successful ivory trading post through coercion and exploitation. His time in the Congo corrupts him due to the overwhelming power he holds; leading to his savage acts which encouraged others to follow suit. Kurtz’ character and personality holds similar attributes to Jack from Lord of the Flies; both show how primitive instincts and savagery lurk within us all when attempting to further their agenda, also voluntarily giving into the lure of power and control.
The Russian Trader is naive and wholly believes that Kurtz is a godlike figure who should be worshipped, so he idolizes him – thinking he is a good man worth saving. He nurses Kurtz back to health even after Kurtz threatens to shoot him over ivory. The Trader is the only person that has not tried to take over the jungle. This blind idolisation can also be seen in Lord of the Flies through how Roger obeys Jack’s every command.
Golding’s considerable use of symbolism throughout Lord of the Flies conveys powerful messages in unlikely ways which effectively contributes to the readers’ understanding of the novel.
The very first symbol is the conch. It is used to establish rule and order on the untamed island – mainly using to call meetings and gather the boys when it is blown as well as a signal when it is ones turn to speak. This indicates that the boys hold the capacity to be civilised and democratic with the conch being a physical manifestation of these traits. However, evil overpowers the influence the conch once had. Jack’s tribe disregard the conch as a point of control. They instead retaliate by throwing rocks at Ralph when blown– indicating their rejection of civilisation which is completely destroyed when the conch eventually shatters.
Piggy’s glasses also carry symbolic significance. They symbolize the use of intellect and science, since it is with them that the boys are able to start a fire (also somewhat a nod to primal instincts). Piggy’s glasses can also be seen as the window that views and recognizes good from evil. This interpretation comes from the fact that Piggy uses his glasses not only to see, but also to discern right from wrong. When Piggy loses his spectacles, he also loses his clear vision and the little power he held over the boys.
The signal fire can be viewed as a sign of hope for rescue. When the flames dance brightly, it shows the enthusiasm they hold for the idea of being rescued. However, as the fire grows dim, it reflects the attitude of the boys and their loss of morale. It can also be viewed as the boys’ link to the civilized world. As long as the fire continues burning, it suggests that the boys want to return to society. However, in the end, it is a wild fire that results in the rescue of the remaining children. This leads to another understanding of the signal fire; the first fire was in fact warning of the death and disaster to come whereas, the second larger fire was a sign of rescue. (QUOTE)
The dead parachutist symbolizes the lack of adult supervision, observing the boys but essentially being powerless to do anything. It also symbolizes the start of destruction, as it is the discovery of the dead person that leads the older boys to further believe in beasts. In this way.
As such, it can be said that the end of adult supervision led to the path of savagery.
The alleged beast is a figment of the boys’ imagination. It symbolizes the savage instinct within their inner selves. The introduction of the Beast signals the beginning of savagery, and as the boys grow more savage their belief in the beast increases correspondingly. When the boys reach the climax of their savagery they begin worshipping the Beast and as such, inherit inhumane qualities, and their savagery consumes them to the point where they kill Simon. Alternatively, the Beast can also be understood as propaganda used by Jack to gain influence, suggesting he may have known about the truth as did Simon. By telling the boys that the Beast exists, and promising safety, Jack achieves leadership of a tribe which he rules like a tyrant.
The Beast, or The Lord of the Flies, represents the devil. Beelzebub is one of the Biblical names of Satan. In the novel, the impaled pig (a physical manifestation of the Lord the Flies), signify the worship of evil. The Lord of the Flies states that he lives within all human beings when speaking to Simon (“There isn’t anyone to help you. Only me. And I’m the Beast . . . Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill! . . . You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you?”). This statement symbolizes that the devil is within all humanity and that it is the cause of savage behaviour. It only takes a small change in circumstances for humans to delve deep into their true capabilities.
Finally, the appearance of the naval officer causes the boys to stop their savage behaviour return to their senses; symbolising the return of civility, order and adult supervision. The officer believes they were just playing – indicating a sense of naivety and blindness when it comes to discerning the true nature of humanity.
Conrad uses symbolism in a similar way to Golding to expose the true nature of humanity as a whole through various means to portray the story of Marlow and Kurtz.
The company accountant represents the image they wish to project while undergoing their colonization of Africa. Contrasting his surroundings, the accountant is described as elegant in appearance despite being in the midst of cruelty and destruction which raises the question as to why the foreign traders in Africa think they are the force of good and civil when in fact they are the savages in comparison to the natives.
The Lord of the Flies also makes a brief appearance within Conrad’s tale. Flies follow along when a slave dies and Conrad later on, conveying an image of hell, fury and evil which is also conveyed in a similar way within Golding’s novel. The proliferation of flies throughout the novel suggests the darkness follows the traders no matter where they go. (QUOTE)
Additionally, the ivory trade further reinforces these ideas of cruelty and evil along with the flies. Ivory represents the greed and extent the traders were willing to go to secure their fortune – mistreating the blacks for pure profit. An example of this is Kurtz turning a gun to the Russian trader as he attempts to steal a small amount of the material – indicating the madness and lengths some are willing to endure to progress their own agenda.
As a whole, Kurtz represents the dark side of mankind (Like Jack in LOTF), and the effect it has if one is consumed by it. His prolonged exposures to the unfamiliar Congo results in him losing his grasp of civility and morality. He embraces the evil due to the overwhelming power he possesses over his station. It also indicates what a lack of restraint, rules, order, supervision or structure in one’s life is capable of causing. His decline is summarised in his last words, “the horror, the horror!” – indicating a final revelation in which he finally realises what he has done. (QUOTE CONTRAST)
The numerous impaled heads around Kurtz’ station emphasise the true extent of Kurtz’ cruelty – harnessing a totalitarian grasp over the ivory workers. The image of these heads confirm Kurtz’ madness and somewhat warps the readers’ perception of Kurtz simply being an intelligent, multi-talented individual. (QUOTE)
Lastly, the lines between the civilised (the Thames) and dark (the Congo) worlds are blurred as they are described to be connected via a river system, indicating that humanity is never too far away from embracing the darkness which is portrayed within the Congo.
Setting in Lord of the Flies is an integral part to the readers’ understanding of the novel – each area on the island holds significance which as a whole, exemplify the negative aspects of humanity – such as the destruction of their surroundings.
The shore of the lagoon is lined with palm trees and sparkling sands. However, there is a lot more to the island than the comfort of the lagoon. Ralph sees a “coral reef” and the “dark blue” of the open sea. Behind him is the “darkness of the forest proper”. Despite the shimmering lagoon, darkness surrounds the boys in the form of a sprawling jungle and the expansive sea – indicating isolation from civilisation.
The boys are initially wildly enthusiastic about being in their own ‘sandbox’. However, the tropical, foreign setting slowly pries them away from civility and in the absence of adult supervision, it slowly brings them into primality. The isolation, heat, need to hunt wild animals and the inability to make logical sense of phantom occurrences all take their toll on the formerly ‘civilized’ boys.
One of the most significant locations in the novel is Castle Rock:
‘’There, where the island petered out in water, was another island; a rock, almost detached, standing like a fort…’’
This towering ‘fortress’ represents power and control – it is the final bridge that leads Jack and his tribe into embracing savagery. The high cliff and large boulders puts Jack in the position of power he desperately yearned for, somewhat mimicking the kind of status and strength a real king would hold. From here, the savages prefer to plan raids, murder plots and chant to their hearts content – they no longer want to be rescued. Whereas, the minority are left barely clinging onto their own humanity – looking for a way off the island.
They immediately take possession of the island. The boys have taken advantage of the naturally occurring structures on the island (reefs, mountains, platforms) for their own gain – whether it be for good or evil and imposed their own system on it. They eventually set the island on fire with somewhat normality, becoming yet another example of humans disturbing untouched land and the natural order of things. (COMPARE AND QUOTE SIMILARITIES BETWEEN IVORY TRADE AND EXPLOITATION OF NATIVES – refer to comparisons in other dissertations).
Most of the novel takes place on Marlow’s steamer as it moves toward the Inner Station. It is on the river that the setting really reflects and adds to the overall themes of darkness and savagery present in Conrad’s tale.
At the start of the story, we see Marlow aboard a small boat sailing down the Thames River in England with a group of men. It’s the end of the day, and they’re relaxing on the deck. It is a place of light and beauty. Marlow describes the setting as bright and brilliant.
As the sun sets, the setting changes, and Marlow describes the approach of darkness using words like ‘sombre’ and ‘dull’. As it gets darker, the ‘greatest city in the world’ is losing its beauty to the darkness. (Explain similarity with castle rock, jungle, lagoon, etc – take symbolism part ).
The Congo river itself is described as a whole different world from either London or the trading posts. Marlow notes that ‘Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings.’ (Primitive, contrasts with humans being king – Just as the boys in LOTF takeover the island, nature is no longer a powerful force)
As they move along, the river becomes figuratively darker. It moves them away from civilization and into the unknown, and the uneasiness is emphasized by the vegetation that is so thick they can’t see beyond the river itself. Later, this vegetation provides cover for the natives that hide in the brush and shoot at them, and so the setting also adds to the idea of natives as savages. (Compare to Lord of the Flies portrayal of nature, evil, etc).
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