We start out the story with a sea-faring meets dark and unstormy night setting. Everything is just still, the night is thick, and visibility is low. Whitney sets up the reader by commenting: “Sometimes I think evil is a tangible thing—with wave lengths, just as sound and light have” (1.25). Darkness establishes the tone for the story’s mystery and terror. Darkness also places Rainsford at a disadvantage, disorienting and enveloping him, literally, when he falls into the ocean.
Rainsford comments to Whitney that he cannot tell where they are or where the island is located. He is surrounded by silence as “the yacht [moves] swiftly through the darkness” (1.4)—until he reaches the island, where “a high screaming sound” comes “out of the darkness” (1.36). And then, as “Bleak darkness was blacking out the sea and jungle […] Rainsford sighted the lights” (1.46).
Well, if we were following a conventional story, that lightness might symbolize hope and enlightenment. In this story, we have more of a “moth to a flame” situation, where light draws you in to something darker (in a symbolic way). Following the light leads Rainsford to Zaroff’s mansion of malevolence, where “there were many lights.” Who should answer the door (with a “river of glaring gold light” pouring out) but a man with a “dark face” (1.48)?
Connell basically messes with the whole dark vs. light, illumination vs. evil set-up by refusing to present any place of goodness. Zaroff’s whole method of luring sailors to the island is by using light as a trick: a “flash of lights” falsely indicating a channel causes sailors to crash on the rocks. Out in the jungle, Rainsford thinks to himself “only the devil himself could follow that complicated trail through the jungle after dark” (2.3).