In reading Heart of Darkness for the second time, I was struck by the two instances in which Conrad likens Marlow to the image of the Buddha. This prompted me to look for other elements in the text that might be interpreted at having an esoteric quality. The polar binary that Marlow draws between the nature of light and darkness seems to be key. As the narrative begins, Marlow seems to be more or less innocent; his journey to Africa is motivated by the desire to travel and discover new parts of the world for himself. However, by the end of his journey, he ceases to see the world in terms of binaries. This is where the symbol of the Buddha comes into play. Conrad subtly draws a parallel between the Buddha’s enlightenment and Marlow’s experience. Enlightenment in many Buddhist traditions is considered to be a new understanding of the world, one in which perceptions of boundaries and separation are left behind in favor of a unified perspective. In this way, Marlow’s journey could be read as being an allegorical tale of enlightenment. When Marlow begins his journey, he sees the concepts of light and dark as being polar opposites. However, by the end of his journey, he views light and darkness and two intertwined and interdependent concepts. This is evidenced by the change in his attitude towards lying. At the beginning of the narrative, Marlow claims to hate lying, but at the end, Marlow finds himself telling a white lie about a very dark truth. His expectation that the walls should come crashing down around him, and the fact that they do not, could be seen as an awakening to the true nature of the world, or perhaps, an enlightenment.
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