- Slides: 17
Heart of Darkness 9/03/2009
J. Conrad (1857 -1924) • First published in 1899 in serial form in London's Blackwood's Magazine (three instalments) • 1902 (as part of Youth, and Two Other Stories) • (Conrad joined a British ship in 1878, after 4 years with French ships; 1886: British nationality; left the sea in 1895, and published his first novel Almayer’s Folly)
“Geography and Some Explorers” • The “fabulous phase” of geography (the fantastic vision of medieval cartography, with pictures of strange trees and strange beasts) • “Geography militant”: a) the acquisitive spirit, the idea of lucre, the desire of trade or the desire of loot, disguised in fine words; b) scientific geography, with the explorers devoting themselves to the discovery of facts and features of the main continents.
Travel writing • 1845: Sir John Franklin’s quest for the North-West passage and the disappearance of the Erebus and Terror; 1857: Captain Mc. Clintock’s search for Franklin (cannibalism) • 1872: Stanley returns from his search for Livingstone, the celebrated missionaryexplorer
Dates / Contexts • 1876 King Leopold (Belgium)’s Conference: “To open to civilization the only part of our globe where it has yet to penetrate, to pierce the darkness which envelops whole populations, it is a crusade worthy of this century of progress” • 1878: Stanley agrees to serve Leopold in Africa for 5 years • 1890: Conrad went up to Congo, after being in Brussels.
Heart of Darkness • Autobiography? (Klein was taken on board the steamer and died; Conrad was ill for three months (like Marlow), etc. • Weakening the connection with Conrad’s own experience (names of places are not specific; a range of literary and mythical patterns [ Homer, Virgil, Dante, Bunyan, Goethe]), etc.
Author’s Note • Marlow: “One would think that I am the proper person to throw a light on the matter; but in truth I find it isn’t so easy” • Conrad and Marlow: “he haunts my hours of solitude…” • “Experience pushed a little…”
Beginning • The book begins with four men sitting on the Nellie, a boat anchored in the Thames estuary. One is the nameless narrator of the novel. He has four companions: the Director of Companies; a lawyer; an accountant; and Marlow, a seaman. Marlow begins to tell the others about his experiences in Africa.
Narrative strategies • Significance of the ‘Chinese boxes’ structure
Style • Story within a story. The first narrator sets the scene, describes the boat and the Thames, and introduces Marlow, the primary narrator. The structure mimics the oral tradition of storytelling: we settle down with the sailors on the boat to listen to Marlow's narrative. The reader’s involvement. (Austen , Eliot, Conrad). The story within a story technique also distances Conrad as the author. We are unsure whether we are reading the tale at second- or third-hand. It becomes difficult to distinguish whether the opinions expressed are Conrad's own or the narrator's. The book is divided into three chapters that indicate changes in Marlow's attitude towards Kurtz, or the idea of Kurtz. In Chapter One Marlow begins to build a picture of Kurtz from other people's descriptions of him. Chapter Two sees Marlow's growing obsession with meeting and talking with Kurtz. In Chapter Three, Marlow and Kurtz actually meet. The book also has a distinct circular structure: the first narrator begins and ends the novel in the same evening while on the boat moored on the Thames. Why is Conrad using this device? “Heart of Darkness" - excess, madness, destruction, nihilism - is not only in the jungle but everywhere, "even" in London, then the heart of the empire and colonialism.
Themes / Motifs (1) • The Quest: Heart of Darkness can be seen as a modern myth, drawing on the rich literary tradition of the quest narrative. In a quest, the story develops as a central character, the hero, meets and overcomes a series of obstacles on the way to accomplishing a task. Some of the most powerful adventure stories and films build on the structure of the quest narrative. The story has mythological elements: fellow journeymen (the Pilgrims), a fool (the Harlequin), and a set of obstacles as they travel down river. But is there a conventional hero? It is unclear whether the hero is Marlow or Kurtz. Marlow is a flawed hero - for most of the book he lacks insight and is uncertain of the nature of his own quest, nor is it clear why he is obsessed by Kurtz himself remains an enigma. This quest yields an empty prize: the mystery, the task, remains incomplete, "unsolved. " The Self: Heart of Darkness gained cult status in the 1960 s when it was reinterpreted by the critic Albert Guerard and others as the symbolic journey of a man into his own interior, his own soul. As the boat travels, Marlow becomes more self-aware. At the beginning, Marlow is innocent, adventurous, naively setting out on his own childhood adventure. By the end he has become more cynical, knowing, and less optimistic. Kurtz can be interpreted to represent Marlow's "shadow self, " those aspects he dare not confront. Conrad as "a bloody racist": The Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe caused an outcry in 1975 when he called Conrad "a bloody racist. " The language in the text is offensive Conrad uses unacceptable vocabulary to discuss those from races other than European or white. The "natives" are portrayed as a mass or as objects rather than as individuals. Compare this with way the white people are given complete individual identities.
Themes / Motifs (2) • Colonialism: Conrad has also been seen as an apologist for Imperialism. The book makes no explicit criticism of the ivory trade and fails to critique the white presence in Africa. But it could be argued that Conrad's writing is more subtle: the "civilizing" influence of Europe is often shown in Heart of Darkness to be a sham - pure greed is revealed as the motivating factor behind the white man's "mission" to find ivory. Dualisms: The imagery invokes a series of dualisms: white/black, light/dark, civilization/nature, men/women, Europe/Africa. Within these pairs, one element is dominant, the other subservient. The categories black, dark, nature, women and Africa are always "other, " in some way "lacking. " Yet because these "others" are unknown and mysterious, they are threatening and potentially powerful. Black/White Imagery: Africa and Africans are generally described in terms of blackness, of darkness, while Europe and Europeans are defined in terms of light, white, or brightness. The Accountant in his white suit, for example, presents an image of efficient colonialism (? ) •
Themes / Motifs (3) • Nature/Civilization: The wilderness of the jungle is contrasted to the order of Brussels. Marlow fears Nature: its excess and chaos, and the emptiness or nihilism that has consumed Kurtz. Women/Men (gender): Women are objectified in two distinct ways: European women are idealized. The Intended is lied to, and kept innocent. The only African woman, Kurtz's mistress, is closely linked to the natural. She represents sensuality, wilderness, temptation, and excess.
Darkness • [awareness of the primary narrator] "I was thinking of very old times, when the Romans first came here, nineteen hundred years ago -- the other day. . Light came out of this river since -- you say Knights? Yes; but it is like a running blaze on a plain, like a flash of lightning in the clouds. We live in the flicker -- may it last as long as the old earth keeps rolling! But darkness was here yesterday. Imagine the feelings of a commander of a fine -- what d'ye call 'em? -- trireme in the Mediterranean, ordered suddenly to the north; run overland across the Gauls in a hurry; put in charge of one of these craft the legionaries -- a wonderful lot of handy men they must have been, too -used to build, apparently by the hundred, in a month or two, if we may believe what we read. Imagine him here -- the very end of the world, a sea the colour of lead, a sky the colour of smoke, a kind of ship about as rigid as a concertina -- and going up this river with stores, or orders, or what you like. Sand-banks, marshes, forests, savages, -- precious little to eat fit for a civilized man, nothing but Thames water to drink. No Falernian wine here, no going ashore. Here and there a military camp lost in a wilderness, like a needle in a bundle of hay -- cold, fog, tempests, disease, exile, and death -death skulking in the air, in the water, in the bush. They must have been dying like flies here.
Maps • • "Now when I was a little chap I had a passion for maps. I would look for hours at South America, or Africa, or Australia, and lose myself in all the glories of exploration. At that time there were many blank spaces on the earth, and when I saw one that looked particularly inviting on a map (but they all look that) I would put my finger on it and say, 'When I grow up I will go there. ' The North Pole was one of these places, I remember. Well, I haven't been there yet, and shall not try now. The glamour's off. Other places were scattered about the hemispheres. I have been in some of them, and. . . well, we won't talk about that. But there was one yet -- the biggest, the most blank, so to speak -- that I had a hankering after [indeterminate] "True, by this time it was not a blank space any more. It had got filled since my boyhood with rivers and lakes and names. It had ceased to be a blank space of delightful mystery -- a white patch for a boy to dream gloriously over. It had become a place of darkness. But there was in it one river especially, a mighty big river, that you could see on the map, resembling an immense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at rest curving afar over a vast country, and its tail lost in the depths of the land.
Force vs idea of colonisation • "Mind, " he began again, lifting one arm from the elbow, the palm of the hand outwards, so that, with his legs folded before him, he had the pose of a Buddha preaching in European clothes and without a lotus-flower -- "Mind, none of us would feel exactly like this. What saves us is efficiency -- the devotion to efficiency. But these chaps were not much account, really. They were no colonists; their administration was merely a squeeze, and nothing more, I suspect. They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force -- nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind -- as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness. The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea -- something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to. . . “