Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Title: Heart of Darkness
Author: Joseph Conrad
ISBN: 0140620486
Publisher: Penguin Popular Classics
First Published: 1902
Pages: 111

Heart of Darkness echoes the savage suppression carried out in the Congo by the Belgians in one of the largest acts of genocide committed up to that time. Deeply moving, this tale contrasts the ghastly treatment of the Congo natives. Their value of life reduces amid the unwanted invasion by Marlow and Kurtz and the Belgian Company whose aim is to gather all ivory at any cost.

The novella begins out with Marlow, the main character, with a few of his shipmates to tell a story. He creates interest for the listeners with his disquieting tale of madness. Marlow was the captain of a steamboat who ends up at a slave-trading post along the banks of a huge river in Africa. While at the post, not only does Marlow witness some of the most horrible things one can imagine, but he also hears many rumours and stories of a brilliant man, Kurtz, who runs another post farther up the river, into the deep wilderness. Once Marlow reaches his destination, the book really takes the reader over with its frightening descriptions of Kurtz and his situation that he created being alone out at this post with the natives for the longest time.

As we read the story, we encounter the repetition of light and darkness. The imagery of light and darkness represents beyond the contrast of the colours. It illustrates white (the Europeans) and black (the Africans). The concept of African civilization by the European company becomes the darkness and the Africans' wild life becomes the light in the heart of darkness. The image of Africans being chained up is also signifies as the living death, the darkness; they are being controlled by white men and not being able to run freely. The death of middle aged Negro with a bullet hold in the forehead is a form of darkness from the European side. Lastly, it is the death of Kurtz, which signifies as the darkness from the European side and as well as the African side.

According to me, the effect of the novella is similar to a much older literary genre, the Gothic, and considered a “horror” story. The elaborate framing narrative devices, the emphasis on physical and mental deterioration, the doppelganger motif, the move from enlightened, time-bound civilization to barbaric, timeless primitivism; from a social order to a boundless nightmare. Like the Gothic, Conrad is simply not concerned with the unpalatable realities of a particular political system, but the individual’s unfathomable thoughts that allow the atrocities to happen.

Marlow's narration is full of information pieced together from stories, paintings and myths. His ideas, ambiguousness, euphemisms, prevarications and philosophical ponderings over what happens take priority over distinct details. One of the many layers to the stories is the drive to react against the self-proclaimed dominance of the human race: both against his environment as against his fellow man. In Heart of Darkness, Marlow proclaims that the unrestrained exploitation of the natural resources is a blot on the human conscience. This is indisputably a qualified classic.


For my poetry, do visit rooted.