Joseph Conrad “Heart of Darkness”

Joseph Conrad wrote his novel “Heart of Darkness” in 1902. It is about lots of things: river boating, trade, exploration, seafaring, imperialism and colonialism, relations between races, an attempt to reveal the sense of life by exploring hidden mysteries of the world. We read this novel and we have more perspectives we can look at it, then its first readers, since are able to realize the race and self-government issues, which that audience was not – we live in the other world, with different maps and different political and cultural aspects.

Joseph Conrad “The Heart of Darkness” is a narrative, and is told by an unnamed and not defined speaker. He is one of a group of traveler, former sailors that now are around forty years old and are ready for adventures on the yacht starting from London, England. I think that the time of the events is the same when the book was written and published, around the early twentieth century. Charlie Marlow one of the members of the group is a mysterious figure a former sailor, who tells the story about the event that happened to him few years before, when he was piloting a steamboat up some river in Africa. He was trying to find an agent of Belgian company making lucrative ivory trade. Major part of the novel follows Marlow’s narration, but sometimes Conrad brings us back to the yacht and puts an end to a novel there.

Such a way of framing the novel help to show the significant motifs on the novel – sailing, imagery of darkness and light, exploration, the difference between civilization and primitivism and of appearance of reality: “Forthwith a change came over the waters….He broke off”(pp. 16-20)

And interesting part is also Wuthering Heights; this is a technique of framing the novel that brings up a question of memory: how much can you trust the story when it is related by someone quite a few years after the it actually happened, then reported by somebody else. For the major part, the narrative is chronological but sometimes it jumps ahead. Marlow accelerated the culmination of the story when he mentions the Intended in Part two: I laid the ghost of his gifts at last with a lie”(p. 80)

When you are reading the novel, you are supposed to hear the voice of the narrator going over event and know what it sound like, especially if you happen to identify yourself to certain extent with unnamed narrator of the story. Is Marlow merely tells a story that is mysterious to he listeners. Or is he himself trying to understand the meaning of what he is talking about?

In Joseph Conrad “The Heart of Darkness” the description of environment, people and the landscape is more figurative than just literal: it does not explain the things or moves us along the plot line. But dialogue does not either, it rather tries to introduce and stimulate some of the main thematic motifs, see for example the steamboat journey towards Kurtz’s station, Part 2; “Trees, trees, millions of trees….Fine sentiments be hanged! I had no time” (pp. 61-63).

Marlow is a principle narrator of the story, he tells it within a story, and his way of perceiving it is questionable and intriguing. He is similar to the Ancient Mariner of Coleridge’s poem; he grabs your attention with the storytelling skills. But not like Mariner, he have so specific lesson to teach the audience. His position toward the happening and his moral grounds are ambiguous and uncertain. Marlow is the representative of European white middle class; he lived in the nineteenth century.

Most critics would say that Joseph Conrad “The Heart of Darkness” is a racist book because of the way it describes Africans. Though Marlow may feel sorry or bad for the Africans, he never feels they are equal to him. He feels pity in the same way we would for an abused puppy. The book displays a racist mindset-not motives for what its worth- by the subordination of the Africans will; every African described has no freewill. They are described in a naturalistic view, where they like the animals around them simply live as parts of the jungle. Not one African displayed in the book chooses to do anything; they lack any volition. Whereas the Europeans, who are sadistic and corrupt- choose to act on their savageries, they easily can avoid these temptations as Marlow clearly does. The blacks of course are merely savages and cannot be anything else; Marlow and Conrad feel the Africans are “Rousseau’s Noble Savage” simply because they act like what they are-savages according to the book. When a noble and enlightened European like Kurtz chooses to act like a savage, de-evolve; the book makes this the inherent evil in coming to the Congo.

I would agree that Marlow, or is a way Conrad himself, since the character is autobiographical was a racist. I believe that he was anti-imperialism, as demonstrated by the piece of white on the African man’s neck, but that does not necessarily mean that he was not a racist. He was appalled at the terrible way the Africans were being treated, but it was simply a part of common European morals for an upstanding citizen to be appalled about that. I like Tearshedding’s puppy analogy because Marlow did feel sorry for the Africans but he was never going to do anything about it.
Aside from that, let’s look at the obvious: Conrad literally portrayed Africa as nothing but a primitive, perilous forest, filled with savages and cannibals, where an upstanding European can only enter at the risk being turned over to evil. I’m writing an essay on this also and in my research I’ve found that at about the same time Conrad himself visited the Congo, a new revolution of 20th century art in Europe was being sparked by the discovery of the sculptured work of an African tribe just north of the Congo river. Clearly these African’s were more than just savages. But Conrad portrays them as dumb brutes that speak in grunts and eat humans.

Like a knight of the Round Table, Marlow sets off in search of strange adventures. He only gradually acquires a grail, as he picks up more and more hints about Kurtz. Like a knight he is frequently tested by signs he must confront, question and interpret. Signs are things you see or experience or are told which have meaning beyond the literal: old women knitting black wool might simply be relatives of the company personnel given some position of respect and usefulness, or the somber color of their wool and clothing, and their serious demeanor, might suggest that they mind the gateway to a mysterious underworld.

Even before he sets out, omens present themselves to Marlow: the old women knitting black wool in the Belgian office, the phrenologist measuring Marlow’s skull and warning of changes to take place inside, the tale of how his predecessor died in an uncharacteristic dispute over hens.


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