Heart of Darkness and “Hollow Men”

Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, and “Hollow Men,” by T.S. Eliot have several comparative themes, though each author has an entirely separate way of conveying them. Each work displays a darkened and dismal mood, separation, and obscurity, which are depicted through different characters and environments. The authors both have a disdain for the hierarchy in society, which they cannot escape, and the destructive consequences that occur because of a higher authority’s demands. And, both authors portray characters who are observant, though one observes the tactile, and the other looks deeper into the spirituality of himself and others.Conrad and Eliot make darkness, death, impending doom, and separation the main focus in these two pieces of work. On page one of Heart of Darkness, Conrad uses descriptions like “haze, dark, mournful, brooding, and gloom” to set the general scene and mood for the continuum of the novel. Eliot sets up a similar scene by using “death” several times throughout the poem (line 14), and parallels life with “fading” or “dying stars” (line 28, 44, and 54). In lines 39-44 Eliot even goes so far as to give a morbid depiction of a graveyard,This is the dead landThis is the cactus landHere the stone imagesAre raised, here they receiveThe supplication of a dead man’s handUnder the twinkle of a fading star.Although the setting is a huge part of depicting the mood, the characters and their personalities cannot be forgotten; their personalities also convey the theme of darkness. While Marlow is in the waiting room he feels “slightly uneasy,” and as if there is “something ominous in the atmosphere” (8). Conrad continues to use such descriptions through Marlow to delineate the feeling of darkness within himself. Marlow says that “instead of going to the center of a continentŠ[he feels he is going into] the center of the earth” (10). Conrad views this adventure as not only an exploration of the shadowy interior of the earth, but also a darkened descent into Marlow’s soul. Eliot uses confusing metaphors to convey his intent, instead of simply laying out average descriptions that the reader can easily understand; although the basic meaning of “Hollow Men” parallels that of Heart of Darkness. Eliot says that “Between the emotion / And the response / Falls the Shadow” (line 80-82), meaning that how one feels about something is distorted by the “Shadow”(line 82); so, the outcome is darker than it would be with normal emotions. This is what Marlow experiences on his journey to the Congo; trying circumstances directly affect the emotions of both characters. Both of the authors use a setting that is isolated from general society. In Heart of Darkness, Marlow and his crew are separated from the usual way of life on their journey to Africa. Likewise, in “Hollow Men,” the narrator and the men he is describing are isolated from their every day life. Eliot points out, they were “in a field / behaving as the wind behaves” (line 34-35). This shows the reader that Eliot’s narrator, and the other men whom he describes are in a desolate environment. The authors use separation to give the reader a deeper sense of darkness, which anyone could relate to, and associate with loneliness.Another major theme of both works involves the journey, in which, each protagonist is on, and the purpose of that journey. Both character’s talents are utilized by a higher authority in order to save themselves from the damnation that they know is bound to occur; obviously, the authors do not approve of such exploitation. In lines 1-7 Eliot uses evasive metaphors like,We are hollow menWe are the stuffed menHeadpiece filled with straw. Alas!Our dried voices, whenWe whisper togetherAre quiet and meaningless,This describes how the government has taken away the narrator’s free will, and soul, and has filled the hollow space with their ideals; he feels as though his voice is meaningless. He goes onto satirize the children’s song “The Mulberry Bush”, by calling it the “prickly pear” (line 68-70). By calling it this he is implying that there is imminent danger in the situation that he is forced to enter. Comparatively, in Heart of Darkness Marlow is sent into a questionable situation by British who are trying to colonize the Congo. Both authors portray the purpose of these journeys as anything but noble, contrary to what the instigators of each scenario would have one to believe.Both Marlow, and the narrator of “Hollow Men” are observant individuals, although they display different kinds of observations. On page three of Heart of Darkness, the unnamed seaman makes the remark that “Marlow is not typical, and to him the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outsideŠ” The seaman clearly states that Marlow observes what is tactile, or what he can see and hear. Throughout the novel, Marlow never alludes to anyone’s personality, but instead describes his or her outward appearance and actions. On the other hand, the narrator of “Hollow Men” describes his innermost feelings, and those of people around him. This is seen in lines 84-90 when Eliot says,Between the desireAnd the spasmBetween the potencyAnd the existenceBetween the essenceAnd the descentFalls the Shadow.This passage can be seen as an interpretation of the emotions of the narrator and the people around him; the want, the violence, the force, the struggle for existence, human nature, and mental descent all linger in the darkness of human souls.Both pieces of work display profound insight and description of what goes on in the human mind and soul. Eliot’s work gives the reader a picture of the human soul in trying circumstances, while Conrad shows a sort of superficiality through Marlow and the situations he faces. The reader can take away a better sense of themselves after reading these works and placing themselves in the narrator’s position.Eliot, T. S. “Hollow Men.” The Elements of Literature. Ed. Applebee, Arthur N., et al. Evenston, Illinois: McDougal Littell, 2000. 1067-1069.Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York: Dover Thrift, 1990.

Conrad’s Africa; A Key to Heart of Darkness

In his novel, Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad comments on man’s capacity for evil. Through this tale of European imperialism, Conrad takes the reader from the streets of London to the jungles of Africa, contrasting the civilized, outer world and the dark, inner frontier. While being somewhat autobiographical, the story is related to the reader by a seaman, who collects the tale from one of his fellows on a ship as they sale away from London. The first-hand experience is that of Charlie Marlow, who is inspired to tell his story by the London skyline, as he describes it as “also… one of the dark places of the earth,” (p. 67). The other dark place that Marlow is referring to is the African jungle. For several pages, Marlow tells his fellows about the inner jungle as he and his steamboat entered it (105-8). These pages set the mood of the jungle sequences, provide Marlow with the adventure and the answers that he has been pursuing, suggesting some major themes of the novel.The journey into the jungle describes the dark, mysterious, and isolated setting in which the reader will meet Kurtz. Through descriptions of “rioting vegetation,” and “implacable, vengeful silence” (106), the reader begins to feel small and threatened, truly understanding how “uncivilized” and wild the jungle seems to the white Europeans who search through it. The images of the dark trees and the black natives perpetuate the darkness in the mood. Even the light that is described is not comforting; “There was no joy in the brilliance of sunshine,” (105). Conrad also conveys an amount of danger present in the jungle as Marlow relates the careful attention he had given to snags, stones, the shore, and anything else that might sink the steamer. Conrad creates a feeling of mystery by involving magical imagery. He describes the white men, who come to greet the passing steamer, as having “the appearance of being held there captive by a spell,” (107), and the natives as performing strange, magical rituals (108). The feeling of isolation is continued in Conrad’s comparison of the steamer to a sluggish beetle overwhelmed as it trundles through the dense foliage,Trees, trees, millions of trees, massive, immense running up high; and at their foot, hugging the bank against the stream, crept the little begrimed steamboat, like a sluggish beetle crawling on the floor of a lofty portico. (107)Later, the jungle is described as closing in behind the steamboat as it travels further inside, which also adds to the mood of isolation.As the steamer trundles along, Marlow’s quest for adventure and truth further emerges in the jungle. Marlow is taken with the realities of the jungle. However, he confesses he does not understand them, and ironically, he shies away from it. The jungle only hints at the realities it presents, while the “inner truth is hidden,” (106). This perception of the concealed truth is developed further by Conrad’s descriptions of the “impenetrable forest,” (105) as if the jungle’s secrets were kept behind the wall of trees. Marlow describes the outside world in contrast to the jungle,…it came in the shape of an unrestful and noisy dream, remembered with wonder amongst the overwhelming realities of this strange world… it was the stillness of an implacable force… it looked at you with vengeful aspect… (106)Marlow escapes the uncomfortable silence only by doing his practical, commonplace tasks to ensure the safety of the steamer and the passengers. He calls them “monkey tricks,” as if the silent jungle that holds the truth is mocking these supposedly important tasks from the outer world. Marlow admits that, because he is part of a civilized, advanced society, he cannot comprehend the reality that the jungle is offering, “We were cut off from the comprehension of our surroundings… we could not understand because we were too far and could not remember because we were traveling in the night of the first ages,” (108). This bewilderment is also exhibited when the drums of the natives break the silence of the jungle. Marlow cannot understand what is meant by the drums, and thereby is missing the essence of the jungle; the heart beat of the heart of darkness. His confusion adds fuel to his drive to meet Kurtz, “Where the pilgrims imagined it crawled to I don’t know. To some place where they expected to get something… for me it crawled for Kurtz,” (107). This statement also shows Marlow’s honest motives, as opposed to those of the other passengers, for joining the expedition; Marlow is in search for the truth. Since Kurtz has experienced both the outer world and the jungle world, Marlow hopes that Kurtz will interpret the mysteries with which he is presented. In this way, Marlow’s journey is further defined and motivated by the mysteries and hints that the jungle provides him.The jungle’s primordial and isolated description suggests the theme of the natural essential nature of man. Conrad’s text states that man has a natural lust for domination, which is expressed covertly within the laws of society. Those who are out of society’s reach (“a policeman, a neighbor”), are free to utilize this lust outright, as Kurtz does. This is the truth that the jungle implies and that Kurtz exemplifies.However, Kurtz’s genius is not in this utilization of his natural desire but in his acknowledgement of that desire in its bare, unmasked state, and of that desire in others. He shows this knowledge through his painting of the blindfolded woman, making her way into the darkness, trying to illuminate something that she does not understand or see. The woman represents England attempting to dominate the dark, savage world under the pretense of enlightenment without ever really knowing what that world is like. This theme runs throughout the novel, but is only implied as the steamer enters the jungle. Conrad indicating a raw, essential aspect of the setting, refers to the jungle and its inhabitants as pre-historic, “We were wanderers on a pre-historic earth…” (108). This introduces the theme of man’s natural state, and, as mentioned before, the way society creates an impediment to this natural state. Conrad’s description of the primal setting turns the jungle into a wild, elemental environment that allows a “civilized” man to utilize his primal desire for domination. The constant references to isolation perpetuate the idea of the jungle as a boundless place: “You lost your way on that river as you would in a desert, and butted all day long against shoals… till you thought yourself… cut off for ever from everything you had known once” (105). Through his depiction of the jungle, Conrad introduces the theme of man’s “natural” state.As Marlow recounts his experience while traveling into the African jungle, he shares the mood, journey, and theme of the novel with his fellow seamen. With all these elements incorporated into it, the jungle setting is one of the most significant of all the settings in the novel, Heart of Darkness. It is this description that allows Conrad to set the mood for the rest of the novel, continue Marlow’s journey, and emphasize his commentary on man at the turn of the century.

The Helpless Villainy of Kurtz

The most nefarious villains are those who understand the evil they commit but pay no heed. In Heart of Darkness, however, the major villain, Kurtz, is not one of these characters. More than anything, he is depicted as being helpless in the face of a greater force which compels him to act in a depraved manner. He does not choose to act villainously, but nonetheless must do so. He cannot prevail against the nature deep within him, and the nature all around him. In the jungle, there is only the law of the wild. Kurtz’s role as a villain stems from the dark, perverted knowledge of freedom that he gains in the jungle and the subsequent destruction of all boundaries previously imposed by society.The narrator tells the reader that Kurtz travels to the Congo with the best of intentions. It was his wish to help civilize those whom the Europeans viewed as savages. Though he undoubtedly possessed a racist attitude, he also genuinely wished to help the natives in the Congo. He had been renowned in Europe for his efforts on behalf of the Africans, and the narrator initially described him as being a true humanitarian. The manager tells Marlow, “He is an emissary of pity, and science, and progress…. [He is the guide] of the cause entrusted to us by Europe…higher intelligence, wide sympathies, and a singleness of purpose.” Kurtz had left Europe and its comforting confines for the betterment of another people. Towards the end of the story, Marlow himself says, “The original Kurtz had… his sympathies… in the right place. [M]ost appropriately… the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs, had entrusted him with… its future guidance.” Kurtz had taken up the “white man’s burden,” and wished only to further and spread civilization – not to be forever lost in a land that would not be tamed.Once in the jungle, however, Kurtz changes. Freed from the shackles of European society and Western civilization, Kurtz familiarizes himself to the dark truths that the wilderness holds. There is no longer any model of proper behavior to which he must conform – only his personal drives and desires. Marlow says, “[Kurtz] had taken a high seat amongst the devils of the land – I mean literally. You can’t understand. How could you? – with solid pavement under your feet, surrounded by kind neighbors… delicately stepping between the butcher and the policeman, in the holy terror of scandal and gallows and lunatic asylums – how can you imagine what particular region of the first ages a man’s untrammeled feet may take into him by way of solitude – utter solitude without a policeman – by the way of silence – utter silence, where no warning voice… can be heard whispering of public opinion?” Without anything to balance these impetuses, his actions reflect only his raging, untamed liberty. Describing the effect the jungle has upon Kurtz, Marlow says, “The wilderness had patted [Kurtz] on the head, and, behold, it was like… an ivory ball; it had caressed him, and ­lo! – he had withered; it had taken him, loved him, embraced him, got into his veins, consumed his flesh and sealed his soul to its own by… some devilish initiation.” Kurtz’s sense of morality had been molded by his society, and once free of that society, it was shattered and shaken off. The wildness of the jungle and the knowledge of such unbridled liberty overwhelm Kurtz, transforming him into an utterly different being. From the moment of his arrival, Kurtz’s behavior becomes increasingly driven by his desires, oblivious to the moral implications of his conduct. Everything that Kurtz wants, he goes after. All his energies are devoted to the fulfillment of his hunger and avarice, without a thought to whether his actions would be viewed as “right” or “wrong.” Marlow describes this, saying, “…Mr. Kurtz lacked restraint in the gratification of his various lusts, there was something wanting in him….The wilderness found him out early, and had taken on him a terrible vengeance for the fantastic invasion. I think it whispered to him things about himself which he did not know, things of which he had no conception till he took counsel with this great solitude – and the whisper had proved irresistibly fascinating.” In his new world, his pleasure is the utmost priority. His desires and freedom act as irresistible forces to coerce Kurtz into satisfying his urges, and after a lifetime of restriction, they have a strength that Kurtz could not hope to resist. Marlow also describes to us another object, perhaps the greatest, of Kurtz’s desires – the African woman. He says, “She was savage and superb…. Her face had a tragic and fierce aspect of wild sorrow…. She stood there looking at us… like the wilderness itself….” The relationship between Kurtz and the jungle is represented in Kurtz’s lust for the African woman and the draw she holds for him. He has become willing to do whatever it takes to acquire that which he wants, that which he has come to need, so he goes to atrocious extremes to satiate his ever-growing appetite. Once Kurtz had tasted the sweet fruit of freedom, he could not go back to a society in which such knowledge was forbidden. A wild animal would rather die than be caged and Kurtz was no different. His villainy was not so much a conscious decision as a by-product of the sudden deluge of knowledge to which he was so abruptly exposed. Without his “villainous” actions, however, he would not have become privy to the primal knowledge the jungle possessed. Only through his villainy could Kurtz truly travel to the heart of darkness.

An Inquiry into some Points of Authorship: The Meaning of Meaning in Heart of Darkness

In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the narrator is obsessed with a search for the meaning of everything he sees. Marlow, thrust into a new continent, is overwhelmed by its foreignness and his inability to understand his surroundings. The meaning that he seeks he expects to find in explanations and tries to relate in his words, but he and other characters in the story are often either deceived by words or unable to understand them. Marlow’s story shows how words and meaning are divorced and even opposites. Heart of Darkness is narrated primarily in the first person, by the character Charlie Marlow, and is filtered through the viewpoint of an anonymous third-person hearer. Marlow only gradually comes to understand his experiences, and even as he is telling his story sometimes struggles to explain the significance of what has occurred. According to the narrator, a seaman on shore “generally…finds the secret [of the continent] not worth knowing. The yarns of seamen have a direct simplicity…Marlow was not typical…to him the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outside” (7). The meaning of his story, then, will be as difficult to grasp as a “misty halo” (7). His tale has no moral, no illuminating clarity; it begins with his mention of “one of the dark places of the earth” (6) and ends with “it would have been too dark” (131). He begins at sunset and ends at night. The “heart of darkness” typically refers to the darkness of the human heart, or to the heart of “darkest Africa”, or even to the secret of evil, but it also refers to the darkness of incomprehension and ignorance. Just as the Romans in Britain, “men going at it blind–as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness” (9), like the Europeans in Africa, are swathed in darkness, so too is Marlow’s tale.In Africa, Marlow looks for comprehensibility, only to find a mess of mystery, deceit, and futility in both the continent itself and the men who work there. Africa is a grand mystery; watching its coast “is like thinking about an enigma” (19); natives are “hidden out of sight somewhere” (21); the chip’s captain tells Marlow that an anonymous Swede has hanged himself, “who knows” (23) why. Marlow’s efforts to understand the situation by talking to his companions are futile. The manager of the station’s defining characteristic is his inscrutability: “it was impossible to tell what could control such a man. He never gave that secret away” (35). The other man Marlow speaks to is a spy who avoids ordering the rivets needed to fix the steamer and save the sick Kurtz; this spy wants to let Kurtz die so he cannot become the manager. Even the steamboat’s initial wreck is “too stupid…to be altogether natural” (33). Marlow gets only bits and pieces of the truth, and must figure out the rest of it himself. The atmosphere of the camp is of a petty deceit that infects even Marlow, who although he “hate[s], detest[s], and can’t bear a lie” (44) allows the spy to believe that he is a person of great influence. Aside from this outright deceit is another facet of the camp antipathetic to Marlow: purposelessness. The pilgrims hang about waiting, possibly for the death of Kurtz, “though the only thing that ever came to them was disease” (39). A man on a grass path “look[s] after the upkeep of the road” (32) though Marlow “can’t say [he] saw any road or any upkeep” (32). Convicts mine with “objectless blasting” (24) and dig holes “the purpose of which [Marlow] found it impossible to divine” (25).Marlow’s love of meaning and truth explain his desire to leave the camp and hear Kurtz. “The man presented himself as a voice…of all his gifts the one that stood out…was his ability to talk” (79). Kurtz’s speech is the medium for all of his ideas and meanings; his disciple, the Russian, “talked of everything [with Kurtz]…he made [the Russian] see things–things” (93)–no indication what kinds of things. Kurtz has “elevated sentiments” (116), “ideas” (116), “immense plans” (111), but our only glimpse of them is in his report for the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs, which reveals nothing more concrete than that “we can exert a power for good practically unbounded” (84). Kurtz’s devotion to his ideas becomes faintly ludicrous, given that he has strayed so far from them and that we have little conception of what they are. But whatever Kurtz’s ideas are, they are important. They draw people to him and give him immense power. Kurtz “would have been a splendid leader of an extreme party…any party” (123). His substance does not matter; “there was something wanting in him…which…could not be found under his magnificent eloquence” (97-8); he is “hollow at the core” (98) and can work for African ideals as well as European ones, just as he can write a report praising the “august Benevolence” (84) of Europe’s rule over Africa and scrawl “exterminate all the brutes!” (84) at the bottom. Marlow describes conquest of the earth as “the taking it away from those who have a different complexion” (9), a thing redeemed by an “idea only…something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to” (9). The phrasing at the end of Marlow’s sentence, treating an idea like a divinity, recalls Kurtz, whose example shows the emptiness of the bare idea and its inordinate power.This contrast between content and meaning is not confined to the person of Kurtz. Marlow is required to sign an agreement before he leaves, promising “not to disclose any trade secrets” (15). “I am not disclosing any trade secrets” (97) he promises, while describing the shrunken heads surrounding Mr. Kurtz’s house, showing how little his factual and utterly uninteresting trade secrets have in common with Kurtz’s secrets, which involve but go far deeper than trade. Similarly, a book called An Inquiry into some Points of Seamanship Marlow finds in an empty hut is “unmistakably real” (63) to him, and his relationship with it like “an old and solid friendship” (63), because of its concrete, mundane “talk of chains and purchases” (63). The author is “simple” (63), no eloquent Kurtz, but the book contains more information because of it. What about the book most interest Marlow, however, are the marginal notes, which appear to be in cipher, and transform the tome into an “extravagant mystery” (63). Marlow cares more about the context of this mysterious book, a relic of English civilization in the midst of Africa and containing strange markings, than the text, which is “not…very enthralling” (63). The book’s simple, literal meaning is eclipsed by its possible meanings. When Marlow learns that the “cipher” is actually Russian, because the book’s owner, who accidentally left the work behind, is a Russian, we are slightly disappointed. A solved mystery is far less atmospheric than an unsolved one; the more you know, the more possible meanings are cut off. Marlow is aware that his understanding is incomplete; he cannot really hope to understand Kurtz or the foreign culture around him, the mystery of the jungle, because to do so would be to become part of it, as Kurtz has. Lines of incomprehension clearly divide the two worlds. The fireman on Marlow’s steamer keeps the boiler full of water, “and what he knew was this–that should the water in that transparent thing disappear, the evil spirit inside the boiler would get angry through the greatness of his thirst, and take a terrible vengeance” (61). The native is able to use the boiler, but his ideas of how it works are mired in his own culture, just as the Europeans can exploit Africa’s natives to take their ivory without understanding their cultures. The Africans Marlow sees “howl[ing]” “leap[ing]” and “sp[inning]” (59) were “cursing us, praying to us, welcoming us–who could tell?” (59). Marlow watching the Africans, can, like those who watch him fix a ship, “only see the mere show, and never can tell what it really means” (47). The meaning of his surroundings is accessible to him at all only because of the common humanity he shares with the natives: “what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity–like yours…there was in you…a dim suspicion of there being a meaning in [the natives’ cries] which you…could comprehend” (60). Marlow never does go native, never “go[es] ashore for a howl and a dance” (60), and so is saved from comprehending the mystery.It is Kurtz alone of the Europeans who understands Africa. He can control the natives and speak their language, can “say the right thing to them” (100) to keep them from attacking, whereas even the Russian, Kurtz’s disciple, “do[es]n’t understand the dialect of [that] tribe” (104). Where Marlow sees mystery, Kurtz comprehends his surroundings; as they watch a native ritual, Marlow asks Kurtz if he understands it; Kurtz smiles and replies, “do I not?” (114). He understands the “whisper” (98) of the jungle. Kurtz’s final comprehension, whatever it is that prompts him to cry, “the horror!” (118) is entirely beyond Marlow. Kurtz cries out at “some vision” (118) Marlow does not see and can only wonder about: “did he live his life again…during that supreme moment of complete knowledge?” (118). This “complete knowledge” is denied Marlow, who thinks that the reason may be that “all truth…[is] compressed into that…time in which we step over the threshold of the invisible” (120). He is referring to death, but the threshold Kurtz has crossed is also the one separating Africa and Europe. He is only able to say anything on his deathbed because he has done this. Marlow’s guess about the moment of truth is clarified by his own brush with death; he probably “would have nothing to say” (119) had he died, no judgment or revelation like Kurtz’s. Likewise, the helmsman killed by Kurtz’s followers “died without uttering a sound” (78), and in response to whatever meaning one may glean from death, “as though in response to some sign we could not see, to some whisper we could not hear, he frowned” (78). Kurtz is not the only one who is granted a vision at his death, but he alone is able to put the pure truth into words, to put meaning and language together, because he understands both the African mystery and the European language and possesses the powerful gift of eloquence.This connection of language and meaning does not last; Marlow has not the strength to make it do so. Throughout his conversation with Kurtz’s Intended, they constantly cut each other off, replacing the other’s words with phrases that are true but which the speaker and addressee do not understand in the same light. “We shall always remember [Kurtz]” Marlow, unable to forget Kurtz’s last words, tells the Intended; “you know what vast plans he had” (129) she replies, unaware of how pointless they were. Marlow finally moves from deceptive to outright false words when he tells the Intended that Kurtz’s last words were her name (whatever it is). He cannot tell her the truth because “it would have been too dark” (131) in a country that is supposed to be light, no longer a “dark plac[e] of the earth” (9). The meaning that could be found in the darkness of Africa, in the wilderness that “whispered to [Kurtz] things about himself which he did not know” (98), cannot travel to a country where people “could not possibly know the things [Marlow] knew” (121), an island without a mystery. Meaning that requires strength to confront, like Kurtz’s last words or the truth about himself that he found, does not belong in a tamed world. The only reason Marlow can tell his tale at all is that Europe was once a dark place, because he has an inkling of Kurtz’s bond with the Africans, and the only reason that parts of it remain a mystery to him is that he cannot tell the Intended the truth, that he believes in separating the light and the darkness, that he has not crossed the threshold.

The Real Heart of Darkness: The Manager of the Central Station in Heart of Darkness

In Heart of Darkness, Marlow, in explaining his motivations for venturing into the Belgian Congo, first, almost by way of an apology, draws on the common spirit of adventure shared by boyhood readers of adventure novels; he names a childhood “passion for maps.” His desire for the journey originates in an urge for discovering the uncharted spaces that appeared as blanks on globes and maps. Africa itself, is “the biggest, the most blank” – though “it had ceased to be a blank space of delightful mysteryŠit had become a place of darkness” (5). Marlow, then, ventures into Africa not on a headstrong impulse of adventure, but under the apparatus of a Belgian trading company. With this air of a disappointed enthusiasm overhead we meet the characters that populate the Congo. Though it must be noted that the country is populated with black folk, we are only really introduced to the agents of the company, to white Europeans who are in country to turn a profit. Indeed, any other suggestion is almost unreasonable, as Marlow’s “Why come here?” to one of his fellows is greeted thus “scornfully”:”ŒTo make money, of course. What do you think?” (17). Yet, there is another reason, which sets itself against this one, the Romantic notion of the colonialist as being “something like an emissary of light, something like a lower sort of apostle” (10), bearing progress to the Congo while bringing prosperity back to the company. There is a disjunction between this ideal, indubitably couched in religious terms (later he refers to fellow colonialists as Œpilgrims,’ a wryer sort of irony than Œmissionaries’ would provide, as pilgrims concern themselves with the taking, where missionaries look to the giving), and the vehicle that bears it, one that Marlow broaches right away, before he has even heard of Kurtz. “I ventured to hint,” he says to his aunt, “that the company was run for profit” (10). The inviolable pursuit of profit, he suggests, will cross purposes with the “higher motive” of colonialism. Soldiers and custom-house clerks come into the country with Marlow, no one else.These two value systems shall be at odds, as one will have to take precedence. There is no loyal obligation to duty, of the sort that Conrad describes among sailors in “Well Done,” to settle the differences between these conflicting missions. This struggle is dramatized within the ranks of the company’s men in the Congo. We have noted that one of the ways in which Conrad works to illuminate moral and psychological truth is through contrasts, through dynamic juxtapositions. The methods of Kurtz, the manager of the Inner Station, with his rhetoric and ideals, and with his extravagant success, are contrasted with the sordid practicality and terrific inefficiency of the manager of the Central Station. Marlow is immediately identified, and almost simultaneously identifies, with Kurtz – which places him in an inevitable, positional antagonism with the manager of the Central Station. So we must read Marlow’s characterization of the manager with regard to that bias. Marlow’s description of the manager of the Central Station, reduces him to a type by its insistence on his unreadability. It is one that defies imagination to conceive of it- a testament to his memory’s incapacity to record the man. In regards to complexion, features, manners, voice, build, size – he is “commonplace”, “ordinary”. This is in strong contrast to Kurtz, whose entrance into the book is all but mythic: “He looked at least seven feet longŠan animated image of death carved out of old ivory” (54-5). Kurtz seems even more commanding in his failing health, if only because he becomes “appalling” (55). An extreme contrast exists between the specter of Kurtz and the manager’s solid complacency. However, the one thing that distinguishes him gesturally will later be understood to be as significant as Kurtz’s highly dramatic entrance. “There was only an indefinable, faint expression on his lips, something stealthy – a smile – not a smile – I remember it, but I can’t explainŠ. It [made] the meaning of the commonest phrase appear absolutely inscrutable”(18). That this inscrutability, this immediate obfuscation, is his most distinguishing characteristic will seem significant later. Though it is more lumbering, it will seem to eviscerate itself of meaning in the same way as Kurtz’s remarkable speech.It is significant that Marlow does not give the manager a name. By identifying him only by his position, he is voided of personality – he becomes symbolic. He is equivalent to his position. Kurtz, however, refuses to be defined by his station. When Marlow is speaking to the manager’s “spy,” the brickmaker, and asks, “Who is this Mr. Kurtz?” the response that he receives makes him laugh. He laughs because describing Kurtz as “the chief of the Inner Station” is a tautology that does nothing to define a man who lives, as it seems, in defiance of the limitations his position should impose. (22) Marlow takes the voiding of the manager to a literal level: “Perhaps there was nothing within him” (19). But, he continues, it is precisely this void within him that makes him a successful man for the colonial venture. Marlow can only attribute his survival to his imperfect humanity, to what he calls his lack of “entrails” (19). His actions, then, depersonalized, are stripped of humanism, monstrous in a place where “there were no external checks” (19). Marlow’s characterization, already opposed to him, finally describes him in terms typical of the other, as the ultimately inscrutable: “It was impossible to tell what could control such a man” (19). It is this opacity that is the source of his power. These capacities, though, are the ones that have allowed him to survive. The strain of colonialism that Marlow is an envoy of is of markedly different tenor than the manager’s. “You are of the new gang,” accuses the brickmaker, “the gang of virtue” (22). From whence springs this contempt? Part of it is due to fear of losing his position. But Marlow and Kurtz spring from a different milieu from these inhabitants. Marlow states of the manager: “He was a common trader, from his youth up employed in these parts – nothing more” (18). It would not be deceptive to describe the manager of the central station is a sort of ideal, the same way that Kurtz is an ideal type. While Kurtz is a man brought in from the outside – a representative of the best of Europe – the manager is the (almost Darwinian) victor in the political meritocracy of the colonial mission. There is an unsettling specter of inequity in Kurtz’s (and Marlow’s) interjection in the internal structure of the Colonial company. Marlow’s narration works to obscure the fact of it. Marlow’s place in the Congo, after all, is one gained by favor, not by merit. It is significant, though, that his role is not beyond him – whether he merits it, whether he is capable of the task given to him, is an incidental issue, subordinated to the social politics of Europe. When Marlow overhears the manager speaking with his uncle, one of the main plaints they level against Kurtz is the external privilege he exercises: “he has asked the administration to be sent thereŠlook at the influence that man must have” (28).But what order is Kurtz, an interloper, upsetting? The manager has created a sort of sham democracy – where equality is imposed by dictatorial order. Tired of the squabbling of his traders, he set up a round table to obviate the question of position in hierarchy. However, he has the prime position in this arrangement, despite the impartiality that the arrangement would imply. He, after all, imposed the arrangement – and had the power to arrange for a special house to be built to accommodate it. This undertaking, like the pyramids in Egypt, necessarily implies subordinates, slaves. The presence of Europe, of European opinion, hangs over and nags the players on the colonial stage. It is as though the tidy systems of valuation that have held purchase, the certainty of account-books, have been subverted by forces that “the gang of virtue” represents. However, these are not amenable to logic or to calculation, and are as horrific in the attainment of their ends as what they came to replace. Just as the accidents at the Central Station – of the steamship, of the conflagration of goods – seem sinisterly plotted, the attack on Marlow’s steamship is perversely ordered by Kurtz. The intent is not quite clear, though their calculated disorder furthers not the colonial mission but their own ends. Ironically, though Kurtz fails where they should be singularly equipped to succeed, they succeed where the former have failed – Kurtz turns a profit. Kurtz is successful precisely because his methods are unreasonable. Yet, in the final reckoning, this profit, the storehouses of ivory, and invoices, are negated by mortality. The final end is survival; this determines the victor. The manager’s uncle reassures him: “nobody hereŠcan endanger your position. And why? You stand the climate – you outlast them all” (29). Sickness is ever present in the narrative. The Russian implies that Kurtz’s physical sickness is the cause of his mental sickness, his mental instability. But all we know is that they are coterminal. Sickness is prevented by emptiness, as emptiness implies nothing for sickness to feed upon. The colonial venture is one of exchange, but the exchange in this case is always negative: “Not many of those she looked at ever saw her again – not half, by a long way” (8). The proper occasion, then, to “offer a sacrifice to” in the name of an idea, as Marlow suggests. It is evident throughout that Marlow reduces non-whites to their physical characteristics, rolling eyes and angular legs. But whites are also subject to this reduction. The colonial realm, therefore, exists as a place where capacity can obtain nothing. In his Œcommonplace’ personality, of which Marlow states, “he had no learning, no intelligence”(18), the central manager is governed by a steady instincts, a “beautiful resignation” (34). Marlow is inspired to observe at this, “What did it matter who was manager? One gets sometimes such a flash of insight” (35). The very irrelevance of the characteristics of the top manager is what secures the position for the longest-lived. Thus, Kurtz is right in his interpretation of the manager’s suasions to leave the inner station: “Save me! Save the ivory – you mean” (56). His understanding of the logic of the place is ultimately as canny as the manager’s, despite his attempts at redemption. He becomes what he has hoarded – a pile of bones.

Matters of the Truth

‘You know I hate, detest, and can’t bear a lie’ (Marlow). Examine the significance of this comment in the novel as a whole.On first inspection this comment seems rather straightforward; a reflection of the protagonist’s honest and open personality. It is only when the reader asks himself why it is that Marlow condemns lies so emphatically that it becomes a significant reflection on the rest of the novel. Marlow’s relationship with the truth is a complicated one, and whilst appearing to disagree with deception in general, he indulges in it himself on several levels. His role as narrator, firstly, gives him the freedom to convey certain person opinions (especially regarding the questionable virtues of colonialism), and although he is never wholly deceptive, his use of language is surely capable of manipulating his audience in a certain way. When applied to Marlow’s experience of the expedition into the Congo, the title quotation is interesting for different reasons, as it gives perspective into a situation in which human values are constantly being questioned and challenged. The contrast between the characters of Kurtz and Marlow also revolves around the idea of concealment and exposure.At one point in the novel Marlow marvels at women’s ability to be ‘out of touch with truth’ (p.149). He appears to have the opposite aptitude, as he often sense whether something seems real or not, despite having little faith in his ability to transfer this to his listeners. He complains that ‘it is impossible – to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one’s existence – that which makes its truth, its meaning – its subtle and penetrating essence’ (p.172). nevertheless, Marlow’s direct response to certain incidents is very telling. He enjoys watching the natives because ‘they had – an intense energy of movement, that was as natural and true as the surf along their coast. They wanted no excuse for being there.’ (p.151). This is particularly appreciated by Marlow, who experiences the uncomfortable sensation of ‘feeling [like] an imposter’ (p.150). He also comes to feel strong affection for the old sea manual he comes across, simply because of its authenticity: he notes its ‘singleness of intention, an honest concern for the right way of going to work which made these humble pages – luminous with another than a professional light’; and speaks of ‘a delicious sensation of having come across something unmistakably real.’ (p.189) The use of enthusiastic vocabulary such as ‘luminous’ and ‘delicious’ suggests that Marlow views truth as a tempting delicacy which rare but, once encountered, absolutely irresistible.His disgust at falseness is made apparent in a similarly striking manner, through the use of imagery of sickness and decay. Marlow reflects on the greed of the ivory hunters by observing that ‘a taint of imbecile rapacity blew through it all like a whiff from some corpse. By Jove! I’ve never seen anything so unreal in my life’ (p.166). This exclamation conveys his utter wonder at the potential superficiality of man. The description of one of the over ambitious agents as a ‘papier-mache Mephistopholes’ (p.171) is another instance of his frustration at people’s inability to possess integrity of character.It is only when Marlow himself succumbs to lying that his most forceful opinions about deception are expressed. He is appalled by the ‘taint of death’ and ‘flavour of mortality’ which surround lies, and declares that the whole process makes him ‘miserable and sick, like biting something rotten would do’ (p.172). This almost physical reaction is conspicuous in its intensity, and it is clear that Marlow is troubled greatly. The first of the two main lies to which he consciously gives way is surely a white lie. He exaggerates his influence in Europe to gain control of the greedy, probing agent described above, and to secure the acquisition of much needed rivets. Marlow’s confused description of this falsehood immediately conveys his troubled conscience:’I went near enough to [lying] by letting the young fool there believe anything he liked to imagine as to my influence in Europe. I became in an instant as much of a pretence as the rest of the bewitched pilgrims – I had a notion it would somehow be of help to Kurtz – ‘ (p.172)He oscillates between condemning his own deceptiveness and trying, somewhat blindly, to justify it. A similar paradox is apparent later when, celebrating the promise of rivets with the foreman by ‘caper[ing] on the iron deck’ (p.176), Marlow hears ‘a deadened burst of mighty splashes and snorts – as though an ichthosaurus had been taking a bath of glitter in the great river’ (p.176). This is perhaps an example of pathetic fallacy: nature is reflecting Marlow’s distressed state of mind, and also representing morality and truth.His second lie comes at the end of the novel, when he tells Kurtz’s Intended that her name was the final utterance made by the dying man, when in fact this was far from the case. Marlow begins to recount this incident long before its actual place in the narrative, suggesting that he is still upset by it:’I laid the ghost of his gifts at last with a lie,’ he began, suddenly. ‘Girl! What? Did I mention a girl? Oh, she is out of it – completely. They – the women I mean – are out of it – should be out of it – Oh, she had to be out of it.’ (p.205)This floundering language of denial reflects Marlow’s panicked mood which has arisen from his guilty conscience. The reader is made to consider why Marlow feels it necessary to lit, given both the appalling effect it has on him and his apparently firm beliefs concerning dishonesty.At the start of his narration, Marlow admits that he is excited by the notion of having ‘an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea – something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifices to’ (p.141). From the very beginning, it is clear that he is driven by ideals and a sense of duty, at whatever price. He speaks of a ‘devotion to efficiency’ which motivates him throughout the expedition, and certainly it takes very little to fill Marlow with awe. When he first meets the accountant, for example, the overriding emphasis of his description is on the man’s perfect appearance. ‘I respected the fellow. Yes; I respected his collars, his vast cuffs, his brushed hair – His starched collars and got-up shirt-fronts were achievements of character.’ (p.158) Later it becomes apparent that the accountant is a rather selfish, unpleasant character, whining that the ‘groans of this sick person – distract my attention’. Marlow, however, is still entranced by the ‘miracle’ (p.157) of his efficient ways and fails to see past his exterior. In this case, Marlow’s tendency to focus on work and efficiency, even at the risk of concealing problems, is strikingly apparent.He is far from blind to the problems of colonialism, however, and indeed conveys an enlightened view on the subject:’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 at it too much.’ (p.140)Looking at anything ‘too much’ is surely equivalent to discovering its true meaning, so Marlow is clearly aware of the potency of uncovering reality. He is not afraid of observing that the savages encountered on his travels are not as distant as it would be comforting to believe:’ – If you were man enough you would admit to yourself that there was in you just the faintest trace of a response to the terrible frankness of that noise – And why not? – What was there after all? Joy, fear sorrow, devotion, valour, rage, but truth – truth stripped of its cloak of time.’ (p.187)This understanding attitude towards the natives does not stop him from idolizing Kurtz, however, and the description of the relationship between the two characters is very telling when considering Marlow’s values. Kurtz seems at first to embody the efficiency so important to Marlow, and he is referred to as having ‘the might of a deity’ (p.203) when dealing with the natives.Eventually it becomes obvious, though, that Kurtz has gained a real egocentricity when dealing with the ‘idea’ that Marlow has previously described as requiring selflessness. He is only interested in ‘My Intended, my station, my career, my ideas – ‘ (p.237), and it is indeed true that ‘you can’t judge Mr. Kurtz as you would an ordinary man’ (p.218). His dedication to his work and duty has backfired and revealed in him the inner savage, which explains his tribal display of ‘black, dried, sunken [heads] with closed eyelids’ (p.220). Kurtz’s moral value have disappeared at the expense of his wild greed.Marlow’s relationship with the truth, then, is always overshadowed by this phenomenon. While he is capable of noticing and appreciating honesty and truth, particularly with regard to nature’s laws, there is always the unspoken thought that he will become a Kurtz-like figure. The frame narrative suggests that this never occurs, for he has moved onto a different venture, yet this extra dimension adds to the intensity of the novel, as well as to the reader’s understanding of Marlow. Perhaps Marlow is so ardently disgusted by lies, because he knows that he is capable of falling prey to them, albeit in the name of efficiency. The balance between his dedication to his work and his moral integrity is never fully sustained.Edition: Heart of Darkness and Other Tales. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.

An Inward Journey

The journey in Heart of Darkness traverses not only the capricious waters spanning our physical world, but also the paradoxical ocean which exists in the heart of man and all of mankind. Through Marlow’s somewhat fanatical eyes we view the enigma that is humanity, and the blurred line between light and dark. It is a voyage into the deepest recesses of the human heart and mind, leading to epiphany, enlightenment, and finally spiraling downwards into the crevices of a hell existing within each and every one of us. Although through Marlow Conrad depicts a journey into the Congo, his use of symbolism and wordplay divulge that it is something much more profound.The Heart of Darkness as an entirety is one immense metaphor, whose numerous annexes can be either convoluted or self-evident. Almost every action, object, and character in Conrad’s book has a deeper, more relevant meaning behind it, serving to bring the reader ever closer to the conclusion that the voyage is indeed an inward one. The first major indication of this is the posture of Marlow as he recounts his journey into the Congo. According to the narrator, “he had the pose of a Buddha preaching in European clothes and without a lotus-flower.” This lotus position is one typically used for meditation, which is in fact defined as a spiritual journey promoted by a lucidity of thought. Successful meditation leads to a more discerning understanding of human nature and allows one to contemplate the innermost workings of the mind. Therefore Marlow’s stance capitalizes on his true destination, insinuating from the very first pages that his journey is actually within himself. From the start of Marlow’s tale there are a myriad of symbols relating to the unchartered places of the subconscious, and the journey intended to discover them. For instance, Marlow is lead to a room by two silent women spinning black wool (The women represent the Fates of Greek mythology, who spin a skein of wool which symbolizes a person’s life. The fact that these women’s thread is black creates an ominous sense of foreboding.). There his attention is drawn to a map and he finds himself enthralled by a large river coursing through the heart of Africa. He notices that the river resembled a snake, and that it was “fascinating.” For some odd reason, this long, sinuous river tempted him, despite its reptilian connotations, which already alerts the reader to danger ahead. The river is akin to the serpent in the biblical story of Adam and Eve, offering the unwitting pair a forbidden fruit – wisdom, and a dark knowledge of oneself. Also, throughout the journey, there are repeated references to both life and death. Uncannily, these two are always intertwined. For example, there is a theme of bones which is constantly recurring in Marlow’s story. The Swede mentions a man who died, and whose skeleton was left sprawled on the ground until the grasses began to grow up through his ribcage. The grass represents life, and of course, the skeleton represents death. These two are woven together. Also, there is Kurtz’s obsession with ivory (dental bone), and according to Marlow he has the appearance of the object of his fixation. From Marlow’s description, Kurtz bears a skeletal resemblance even when he is alive. Conrad’s frequent symbolic combinations of life and death is probably one of his numerous parallels to light and dark, echoing the fact that the two must exist stimultaneously – there cannot be without the other.Conrad’s book is based on the presence of light and dark within everyone, and in Marlow’s journey the question is often posed of which is predominant. There are times when darkness usurps the light, others when it is the opposite. However, the darkness (evil) usually tends to prevail. Conrad is implying that a sense of evil resides in the core of every human, and therefore reigns at the centre of humanity, however veiled by morals, civilization and refinement. This is one of the main facts Marlow ascertains on his journey, for he sees darkness everywhere, even when there is light.Just as the line between light and dark is indistinct, the barrier segregating civilization from savagery is equally obscure. In Africa, Marlow repeatedly encounters natives, and his crew is comprised of twenty cannibals. As they progress deeper into the heart of the forest, we can take note that black people are dehumanized. They are perpetually referred to in animalistic terms, and are treated as such. However, it is these “savages” who survive and thrive in the heart of darkness, and whose ways eventually engulf Kurtz. There is also the indication here that technology, civilization, and refinement have been rendered useless. For instance, Marlow encounters a graveyard of “dead” machinery, rusted over and obsolete. Also, his vessel sinks to the bottom of the river, forcing him to remain at one of the stations for a long period of time. Every character thought to be at the pinnacle of cultivation and etiquette either dies or becomes corrupted by his surroundings (Kurtz, Fresleven). It is apparent that civilization is utterly futile in such surroundings.Kurtz serves as a prime example of a civilized gentleman who capitulates to his barbaric side due to his environment. Regardless of the respect and admiration showered upon him by his peers, not to mention the jealousy, he was at heart a hollow man, consumed by his greed for ivory. This is probably why he gave in so readily to his primitive instincts, partaking in the horrendous rituals of the natives, and letting his dark essence become the hub of his actions. Kurtz is also symbolic of the evil within our society, for people saw him as the “emissary of science and progress.” He represents the person found deep within the recesses of our subconscious, the core of darkness ever-present beneath the gauzy layers of refinement and civility. “One evening coming in with a candle I was startled to hear him say a little tremulously, ‘I am lying here in the dark waiting for death.’ The light was within a foot of his eyes.” In this quote we can see that, symbolically, Kurtz is so overcome by darkness that he is blind to light. This is also embodied in an oil painting done by Kurtz, depicting a blindfolded woman surrounded by darkness but carrying a torch which casts a sinister light over her face. The blindfolded woman can be taken as a common Western symbol of justice and liberty, things that man has created to differentiate himself from the beasts and savages. The fact that the woman is enshrouded in darkness with only insufficient torchlight to guide her says a lot about the nature of our society.The culmination of Marlow’s journey leads into the heart of darkness, or in a more worldly sense, Hell. Heart of Darkness fosters the allusion that hell is within us, that it is the evil existing deep inside our souls. Marlow visits this place when he finally encounters Kurtz, and his innocent morals are challenged. He views firsthand the inhumanity man is capable of, and the journey begins to take on all the properties of a nightmare. When Kurtz himself is lying on his deathbed, he sees into his own heart, looks his personal hell in full view, and utters things which give Marlow a grim revelation as to what lies within that black abyss. Kurtz’s final words, as he ends his voyage into his bitter core, are “The horror, the horror!” referring to what he sees inside himself.The journey Marlow undertakes is seemingly in our own world, something which we reside in yet know so little about. We delude ourselves into believing that we can tame and subdue it, and that it will readily succumb and be molded to our good intentions. However, just as trying to harness the dark and primal nature within ourselves is impossible, this is an equally unattainable fantasy. Conrad’s world is an embodiment of humanity, its ocean is its heart, and its impenetrable forest is its mind. Through Marlow’s epiphany it is revealed that at the mouth of every river, at the core of every grove, subsists a perpetual darkness encased in light.

The Concept of Truth in Heart of Darkness

“The inner truth is hidden-luckily luckily” -Marlow, Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad’s renowned novella, Heart of Darkness, is a work which has sparked great controversy and heated debate with regards to its meaning. Since its publication over one hundred years ago, countless interpretations of the novella have arisen. Indeed, “its imagery has been described in detail, resonances from Dante, Milton, the Bible, the Upanishads, invoked; its philosophical position is argued variously to be Schopenhauerian, Nietzschean, nihilist, existentialist, or Christian, its psychology, Freudian, Jungian, Adlerian…”(Bloom, 57). It is possible that Conrad intentionally left his novella ambiguous and open to so many interpretations in order to convey its true message; namely, that there is no truth in life, no real meaning, only ambiguity. While this statement itself may sound ambiguous, as illustrated in the following paragraphs, through the set-up of the story itself, Marlow’s journey, Kurtz’s journey, and its inconclusive ending, Conrad expresses this concept of meaninglessness and unattainable truth. The novella is set up in an ambiguous fashion from the beginning. While Marlow is the character who experienced this physical and metaphorical journey into the “center of the earth”, it is an unnamed narrator who relates Marlow’s story. This unnamed narrator did not actually go into the Congo with Marlow, so every line of his story is an attempt to recollect the story that Marlow told him. Thus, the reader is not placed directly into the story or the true experience, nor even told of it by Marlow, the character who actually experienced it. The reader is told of it by a character who merely heard about it from Marlow. Already, Conrad has placed the reader far from the story itself, distancing the reader from the truth. Marlow’s physical journey into the Congo is the fulfillment of a childhood dream. He recounts his desire as a youth to travel and explore the globe, including the Congo River. He describes this area of the map, saying, “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” (12). This concept of “darkness”, which arises continually throughout the novella, serves as a symbol of the unknown. It is to physically discover this “place of darkness” that Marlow decides to journey down the Congo River. Thus, through his journey Marlow is searching for truth and meaning. In his journey down the Congo River, Marlow relates the brutality of the white men against the African population, and the horrible conditions which many natives suffered. One such description occurs when he witnesses various native workers dying. He comments, “There were dying slowly-it was very clear. There were not enemies, they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now, nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation lying confusedly in the greenish gloom” (20). Marlow does recognize and describe the terrible conditions of the native peoples, but he does not directly voice his disapproval at any point. His descriptions, like the one above, evoke compassion from the reader for the African people, but this compassion is a reaction to the horrors which he is describing, and not to the psychological difficulties Marlow has experienced in regards to dealing with the atrocities of the whites. What Marlow actually concludes about the brutality is not revealed. Thus, while his journey is filled with descriptions of the sufferings of the natives, the reader is left with no ultimate sense of truth in regards to how Marlow feels about what he has witnessed. Marlow’s journey also becomes a quest to find Kurtz. He describes his view of Kurtz prior to meeting him, saying, “All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz” (50). Thus, for Marlow, Kurtz symbolizes Europe and civilization. Marlow expresses his realization that the journey has become a search for Kurtz when he describes the steamboat (or “grimy beetle”, as he refers to it) traveling down the Congo River. He says, “Where the pilgrims imagined it crawled to I don’t know. To some place where they expected to get something, I bet! For me it crawled towards Kurtz-exclusively” (37). Marlow’s journey through the Congo is ultimately a journey to find Kurtz, who has become a symbol for Marlow. However, despite his strange attraction and loyalty to Kurtz, Marlow’s feelings towards this man are never fully expressed. While he reveals that Kurtz is a very gifted, influential man, he never directly voices approval or disapproval about Kurtz’s actions in the Congo. Thus Marlow’s journey is not only inconclusive in that he never really states how he feels about the atrocities he witnesses, but it is also ambiguous and devoid of truth in that he makes no real conclusions about this talented and brutal man, whose successes have come about through the sufferings of others. The unnamed narrator actually reveals that this is what shall happen before Marlow begins his story, saying, “we were fated, before the ebb began to run, to hear about one of Marlow’s inconclusive experiences”(11). Kurtz is also on a journey in Heart of Darkness, although his journey is coming quickly to a close, as he dies soon after he is introduced in the novella. Just as he does with Marlow, Conrad leaves Kurtz’s beliefs and conclusions somewhat ambiguous. He does, however, become the only character who seems to find any truth in his journey. When he is dying, Kurtz experiences a meaningful moment of insight. It is the only place in the novella where Conrad hints at the possibility of discovering truth. Marlow describes the moment, saying, “I saw on that ivory face the expression of somber pride, of ruthless power, of craven terror-of an intense and hopeless despair. Did he live his life again in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete knowledge?” (68). While experiencing this moment of “complete knowledge” and “glimpsed truth”, Kurtz exclaims “The horror! The horror!” (69) – an entirely ambiguous statement. It can be interpreted as a recognition of the violent, barbaric human being he has become, but Conrad leaves this unclear. Although Kurtz is the only character to experience a moment of truth and clarity, Marlow does not arrive at any conclusion about what truth Kurtz sees as he is dying. It is left unclear, just like Marlow’s own insights. As discussed earlier, the setup of the story distances the reader from the actual events taking place, and thus distances the reader from the truth. Similarly, this idea of ambiguity and absence of truth is furthered by the ending of the story. Heart of Darkness ends inconclusively: Marlow finishes his story with the recollection of a lie he once told. The fact that the last thing he recounts is the exact opposite of truth was a decision made intentionally on the part of Conrad to convey his overall message in regards to the meaninglessness of things, and a lack of absolute truth. Marlow recounts that he told Kurtz’s “intended” that Kurtz’s last words were her name because he felt too guilty not telling such a lie. He says “it would have been too dark-too dark altogether” (76). Not only does Marlow express ambivalent attitudes towards the significant issues in the novella, such as imperialism and brutality, but he also ends his story with a lie: the anti-thesis of truth. Conrad also ends the story ambiguously by having the unnamed narrator conclude with a description in which he remarks, “The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed somber under an overcast sky-seemed to lead in the heart of an immense darkness” (76). The fact that Conrad concludes his novella with a description of the “immense darkness” is extremely relevant because “darkness” is used throughout the novella as a metaphor for the unknown. Heart of Darkness thus ends with a reference to the unknown, without any conclusions or truth. Just as the reader is unaware of how Marlow felt about his experience in the Congo, similarly the reader is left in the dark in regards to the unnamed narrator’s reaction to Marlow’s story. Throughout his novella – in the setup itself, in the journeys of the both Marlow and Kurtz, and in the ending – Joseph Conrad never presents any definite conclusions on the part of the characters or the narrator. He intentionally distances the reader from the novella, and then leaves the story ambiguous to present the only real meaning in Heart of Darkness: that there is no ultimate truth. His principal character, Marlow, witnesses brutalities and atrocities throughout his journey, but never comes to any conclusions about the experiences. Although Kurtz does find a moment of recognition and truth, this too is left unexplained and ambiguous. Finally, the novella itself ends with both a lie, and a reference to “darkness”: the symbol of the unknown in the novella. Thus, from the opening to the ending, Heart of Darkness leaves the reader wondering what Marlow, Kurtz, and ultimately Conrad feel about the issues presented in the novella. Through having his characters experience journeys but never actually come to any real conclusions, Conrad expresses the notion that there is no ultimate truth, and that the desire for the unknown and for truth is a vain pursuit that can only end inconclusively. The idea that Conrad’s novella attempted to convey the idea that there is no ultimate meaning to life is only furthered by the fact that so many varying interpretations of the novella have arisen. BibliographyBloom, Harold. Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.

No Darkness, Please…We’re British: The Inner Darkness of the Soul in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

It has been said that in writing his novella Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad set out to create a difficult work; exceedingly difficult, in fact, to his contemporary Victorian audience, for whom a thin veneer of “surface-truths” constituted the fine line between civilization and primal darkness. In a swift, brilliant work of little more than 70 pages, Conrad unveils the inner darkness of the human soul, negating the notions of man as a civilizing agent that had fostered the feverish imperialism of the time. Conrad’s vague diction, images of the light of “civilized” culture and the darkness that hides behind it, and the use of a frame narrator all serve to show the difficulty of discovering the true nature of the soul. All of these devices suggest an entity that cannot be fully grasped initially; an entity that is always present, but incomprehensible in nature and magnitude. This entity is indeed the inner darkness of man. At its surface, Conrad delves into the African wilderness, but at the core (and thus, at the heart of the novel) he is delving deep into his own soul. Throughout the novel, Conrad suggests the existence of an entity that refuses to be discovered. In describing it, he uses grouped-together words that suggest a sort of “thwarted knowledge”. These are words steeped in the prefixes “un-” and “in-” and include words as “mystery” and “secret”. The language itself is used in conjunction with descriptions of darkness. Darkness, after all, is the absence of light, and without light, objects are obscured. For example, in describing the African wilderness, Marlow says, “it was the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention.” The men are delving into territory they are unable to grasp completely; it can only be described in vague language. It is interesting to note that behind such negative language, there is always a positive connotation. You can’t spell “ingraspable” without “graspable”. Thus, the very fact that Conrad notes that there is an “implacable force” at work in the wild inherently implies the existence of such a force. In describing Kurtz, who seems to be the character most in touch with his inner darkness, he notes “an exotic Immensity ruled by an august Benevolence.” Marlow is not, however, able to articulate the exact nature of the forces at play. The force is “ubiquitous”, in the hearts of all humanity, and yet Marlow struggles to define it himself. The force is at play within his own soul, yet he cannot grasp its nature and magnitude. The journey of self-discovery thus becomes a difficult undertaking. Conrad continues in this vein, utilizing the contrast between light and darkness. In the speech of the frame narrator, European civilization is equated with “light”. Everything else segues into darkness. The African natives are figuratively and literally in the dark. Civilization implies the need to “enlighten”; after all, they are seen as “dark shapes” who resort to savagery in attempting to harvest a very popular item, ivory. Ivory is a driving force behind the novel. White itself, it drives the economic imperialism of the novel, yet comes out of a “dark” region. There is an irony here that Conrad continues to play upon. Dark is seen as uncivilized, while white symbolizes the civilized European world. However, white is also a veneer that obscures the darkness. Conrad creates a brilliant summary of this phenomenon by using a painting by Kurtz that depicts a blindfolded woman holding out a torch into the darkness. The work conjures up such phrases as “the blind leading the blind.” The darkness surrounds the woman in the painting, and in her blindness, the darkness is within herself. The lantern is helpless in the face of such immense obscurity. In an ingenious two-tiered metaphor, Conrad criticizes the urge to tame the darkness; this is manifest both in the imperialism of the time and the austerity with which Victorian society held onto notions of civilization. By having a blind woman in a setting of complete darkness, Conrad suggests that in setting out to civilize those “dark” lands, the Europeans themselves succumb to the dark nature of humanity. The light itself is blinding. Perhaps Conrad is suggesting that Marlow is unable to discover his true self because he is blinded by the light of white civilization. It is interesting to note that at the beginning of the novel, Conrad describes London as enveloped in a “haze” beyond which resides the “dark above”. The darkness is infinite; the light is thin. In fact, the sky itself is seen almost always as dark. Beyond Earth itself is the infinite darkness, and Conrad even concludes the novel by remarking on this. The “overcast sky” seems to “lead one into the heart of an immense darkness.” Conrad suggests that in order to find one’s own inner darkness, one must look beyond the superficial light, into the immense darkness that surrounds everything. However, light itself is seen as blinding. In the same way that darkness obscures the light, light obscures the darkness. Conrad’s use of the frame narrator throughout much of the novel serves to illustrate the difficulty in looking past the blinding light of European civilization. It is at once evident that the frame narrator is comfortable with the status quo and is assimilated into the imperialistic mindset of the times. Conrad is extremely deft at juxtaposing the imperialistic (and clearly European) narrator with words of the introspective Marlow. In the introduction itself, the narrator waxes poetic on the “greatness” of the Thames: a river tamed and put to use for the sufficiency of man. The narrator is firm in his belief that nature itself exists for the use of humanity; it is meant to be tamed and conquered. This is in direct contrast to the culture of self-discovery Marlow explores. In fact, this only serves to emphasize the profundity of Marlow’s first words. While the English have become imperialists themselves, civilizing agents who feel compelled to tame and squelch the wilderness of the world and within themselves, Marlow notes that England too “has been one of the dark places of the Earth.” While the narrator begins as an imperialist, he emerges towards the end of the novel acknowledging “the immense darkness”. Yet, darkness is still darkness: the narrator has not been enlightened in the ways of the human condition; namely, the darkness which dominates the soul. Whereas Marlow is seen in an enlightened state, almost as a Buddha figure deep in meditation, the narrator still has not grasped that this darkness which surrounds him is in fact the path to enlightenment. Conrad skillfully uses this to suggest the difficulty in looking past the haze of civilization. Even after having witnessed the darkness, the narrator remains in the gloom. Conrad wrote his novel in the context of a society which desperately tried to suppress any signs of an inner primal nature. Strict codes of etiquette and conduct emerged that served to further remove man from his true nature. Conrad’s Heart of Darkness delves into the primal desires that reside within all of us. Marlow’s journey to self-discovery is an arduous one, made even more difficult by European society’s insistence that they were in the light, the right, and the white. However, beneath the façade of “civilization” lies the thread of darkness, hostility, brutality, and the struggle for dominance.

V.S. Naipaul: Travelogues, Truth, and the New Novel

In his essay “Conrad’s Darkness and Mine,” V.S. Naipaul uses Joseph Conrad’s short stories and novels as a basis for articulating his own views on narrative construction and the decline of the novel form. Naipaul states that Conrad was “the first modern writer I was introduced to” and the influence of Conrad is clear in many of Naipaul’s works (Occasions 162). In “Conrad’s Darkness and Mine,” Naipaul alternately criticizes and praises Conrad’s stylistic choices, and utilizes the latter selections to inform the construction of his ideal narrative. Naipaul’s later works, in particular his travelogues, adhere to this ideal model and reflect what Naipaul points to as the best aspects of Conrad’s narratives. Naipaul’s earlier travelogues however, reflect much of what Naipaul derides in Conrad’s short stories and novels. “Conrad’s Darkness and Mine” serves not only as Naipaul’s guide to readers as to how to evaluate his own works, but also an explanation, and perhaps apology, for the weaknesses of his early works. The essay also leads the reader to an alternative to the novel form whose decline Naipaul so carefully articulates: the travelogue. “The Lagoon” was the first Conrad story that Naipaul encountered; it was read to him when he was a child in Trinidad. The elements of the story – narrative style, character development, rich descriptions of place – all combine to deliver, for Naipaul, an ideal work of fiction, “And if I say it is a pure piece of fiction, it is because the story speaks for itself; the writer does not come between his story and the reader” (Occasions 163). A successful work is therefore not about the author and his own narrative voice, but rather about the story. If the author is a true craftsman, his intentions will emerge through narrative elements other than or in addition to his own voice. As Naipaul moves further into his discussion, he introduces Conrad’s preface to a collection of the his own short stories:The problem was to make unfamiliar things credible. To do that I had to create for them, to reproduce for them, to envelop them in their proper atmosphere of actuality. This was the hardest task of all and the most important, in view of that conscientious rendering of truth in thought and fact which has always been my aim. (Occasions 165)In the early part of his writing life, Naipaul confuses Conrad’s “conscientious rendering of truth” with the compulsion for his own voice to dominate the narrative. His instinct is to deliver, without reflection, the reality that he encounters. Naipaul equates truth and credibility with his immediate reactions to people and places; he does not allow the stories to speak for themselves. This is particularly evident in his first two travelogues, The Middle Passage, which Naipaul completed in 1961 and An Area of Darkness, which Naipaul completed in 1964. In The Middle Passage, his first travelogue, Naipaul does not allow the people and places he visits upon his return to the Caribbean to reveal themselves, he instead assigns to them his interpretation of their place in the world. During his journey from England to the West Indies, Naipaul writes, “the West Indian, knowing only the value of money and race, is lost as soon as he steps out of his own society into one with more complex criteria” (Passage 13). These pronouncements continue once back in his native Trinidad: Each of the island’s many cliques believes that it is the true elite. The expatriates believe they are the elite; so do the local whites, the businessman, the professional men, the higher civil servants, the politicians, the sportsmen. This arrangement, whereby most people don’t even know when they are being excluded, leaves everyone reasonably happy. And most important of all, the animosity that might have been directed against the whites has been channeled off against the Indians. (Passage 76)In this early work, Naipaul relies too heavily upon his own narrative voice in an attempt to render the truth and credibility to which Conrad refers. He offers “dismissive summaries of the region’s history” and criticizes the “existing culture” (King 56). Because Naipaul has not yet developed his own sense of purpose as an author, when he returns to the West Indies he quickly reverts to the attitude of his Trinidadian upbringing. The insecurities and anger that he felt as a child are delivered, via the narrative, obscuring the many other stories of the West Indies. This authorial domination of the narrative continues in An Area of Darkness, Naipaul’s first journey to his family’s ancestral homeland of India. In this travelogue, Naipaul relies almost solely upon his own voice to re-present this place, its people, and its political and religious dynamics: Every man is an island; each man to his function, his private contract with God. This is the realization of the Gita’s selfless action. This is caste. In the beginning a no doubt useful division of labor in a rural society, it has now divorced function from social obligation, position from duties. It is inefficient and destructive; it has created a psychology which will frustrate all improving plans. It has led to the Indian passion for speech-making, for gestures and symbolic action. (Darkness 79-80) In addition to his thoughts on the function, or dysfunction, of caste in contemporary Indian society, Naipaul articulates his views on the value of the contemporary Indian arts, “The sweetness and sadness that can be found in Indian writing and Indian films are a turning away from a too overwhelming reality; they reduce the horror to a warm, virtuous emotion. Indian sentimentality is the opposite of concern” (Darkness 231). In these terse pronouncements, Naipaul offers judgment on India because he cannot resolve his relationship to the nation and the people and the decay he observes there. As evidenced in The Middle Passage, Naipaul does not feel at home in Trinidad, and it is clear from the narrative in An Area of Darkness that he is equally uncomfortable in India. He is angry that “the India of his imagination and longings, of his imagined origins, is just another oriental Third World country” (Darkness 67). He is disappointed that yet another place has failed to fulfill him, or failed to fill out the dark parts of his personal history, in the way that he had hoped. Rather than articulating the disappointment he felt, Naipaul instead lashes out against virtually all aspects of the society he encounters. In The Middle Passage and An Area of Darkness, Naipaul draws a clear link between his ancestral stake in both the West Indies and India, but he fails to make a more personal, interior link. Without a revelation of this personal stake, or an understanding of his authorial intentions, much of Naipaul’s narrative comes off as cavalier and at times, uninformed. In his essay on Conrad, Naipaul refutes this method of storytelling and consequently his own early non-fiction, “And there were the words, the words that issued out of the writer’s need to be faithful to the truth of his own sensations. The words got in the way; they obscured,” (Occasions 166). The vigor of Naipaul’s pronouncements in both The Middle Passage and An Area of Darkness render the narratives ineffective; his own words are getting in the way. In “Conrad’s Darkness and Mine,” Naipaul writes, “When art copies life, and life in its turn mimics art, a writer’s originality can often be obscured” (Occasions 171). This statement illuminates even more greatly the flaws of his two early travelogues. Naipaul is, through his writing, attempting to mimic the displacement that he feels in both the West Indies and India, the two areas that both Naipaul and the reader are likely to consider “home” for the author. But while the vehemence of his writing may succeed in replicating that displacement, it also creates a barrier between the reader, the text, and the places Naipaul endeavors to re-present. The intensity of Naipaul’s feeling does not allow for the reader to move beyond the narrative and to actually gain access to the people and places he encounters. He does not interpret; he instructs. Naipaul posits that the key to the success of Conrad’s best works is not the reality that he re-presents, but his meditation on that reality, “Nothing is rigged in Conrad. He doesn’t remake countries. He chose, as we now know, incidents from real life; and he meditated on them” (Occasions 173). An effective narrative must strike proper balance between this re-presentation and meditation, a balance that Naipaul does not achieve in either The Middle Passage or An Area of Darkness. In his later travelogues however, Naipaul achieves this balance, primarily because he has a better understanding of why he is writing. A familiarity with the reality one is re-presenting is not the foundation of sound narrative construction; rather it is the author’s familiarity and comfort with his own purpose. Naipaul writes that for Conrad “the drama and truth lay not in events but in the analysis: identifying the stages of consciousness through which a passionless man might move to the recognition of the importance of passion” (Occasions 179). For Naipaul himself, the drama and truth lay in illuminating the world for his own purposes, to fill out his own sense of self: The aim has always been to fill out my world picture, and the purpose comes from my childhood: to make me more at ease with myself. Kind people have sometimes written asking me to go and write about Germany, say or, China. But there is much good writing already about those places; I am willing to depend there on the writing that exists. And those subjects are for other people. Those were not the areas of darkness I felt about me as a child. (Occasions 191-192)He has moved from an external focus, where in works like The Middle Passage and An Area of Darkness he attempted to impose his own order on the people and places he encountered, to an internal focus. “Most imaginative writers discover themselves, and their world, through their work,” Naipaul writes in his essay on Conrad (Occasions 173). This is especially true for Naipaul in his later travelogues, A Turn in the South, published in 1989 and India: A Million Mutinies Now, published in 1990. A Turn in the South is rife with the stories of religious and civic leaders, authors and artists, all from the Southern United States. Naipaul doesn’t prompt and prod those he meets in order to drive the conversation in a particular direction, rather he allows his subjects to ramble on about their diverse experiences and history. He comments at length only when their perspective gives rise to something in Naipaul’s own consciousness, when their stories illuminate in a sense his own personal history: I was taken back to some of the feelings of my childhood in Trinidad. There, though most of my teachers were Negroes (brown, rather than black), and though for such people (as well as for policemen, Negroes again) I as a child had the utmost awe and respect . . . I became aware of the physical quality of Negroes, and of the difference, even, to me the unreality of their domestic life. (South 58)This parenthetical empathy with his subjects is a far more engaging and effective technique than the didactic prose in the earlier The Middle Passage and An Area of Darkness travelogues. This narrative mode gives credibility to Naipaul’s voice because it ties his own experience to that of his subjects: It brought him unexpectedly face to face with his Trinidadian ancestryand childhood. The bonds he discovered between the South and Trinidad – bonds of slavery, racial conflict, and plantation society – stirred in him a mixture of anguish and serendipity. A powerful strand of the book traces his attempt to review, from the paradoxical distance and proximityof the South, the roots of his old rage at Trinidad. (Nixon 160)The commonalities of Naipaul and his subject are revealed through their shared narrative, “And I understood what Ellen was saying better than I said. No situation or circumstance is absolutely like any other; but in the Indian countryside of my childhood in Trinidad there were many murders and acts of violence” (South 161-162). The stories and experiences of his subjects are put on equal footing with his own. It is not his story; it is a shared story that can only be told using many different voices, “over half of A Turn in the South falls between quotation marks. The implications are clear: southerners deserve to he heard, and Naipaul is quick to listen, tardy in judgment” (Nixon 164). Naipaul writes, “To take an interest in a writer’s work is, for me, to take an interest in his life; one interest follows automatically on the other” (Occasions 174). For Naipaul to be able to fully appreciate Conrad’s work, he had to delve into the author’s life and motivations, “One wonders about the surrender of the life of the senses; one wonders about the short-lived satisfactions of the creative instinct, as unappeasable as the senses” (Occasions 174-175). Through the instances of parenthetical empathy in A Turn in the South and India: A Million Mutinies Now, Naipaul allows the reader to move through this same exercise. In India: A Million Mutinies Now, Naipaul returns to his ancestral homeland and, as in A Turn in the South, meets with a diverse group of religious and cultural figures. Again, much of the narrative consists of Naipaul’s subjects telling their own stories, with little if any interruption by the author, “It came to me . . . when I set out to write my third book about India – 26 years after the first – that what was important about a travel book were the people the writer traveled among. The people had to define themselves” (Occasions 194). This travelogue is “filled with the voices of a wide variety of people who are allowed to speak for themselves without much authorial commentary . . . the interest is more in what has created such voices than in imposing an order” (King 149). Not only does Naipaul utilize his subjects’ threads to illuminate his own experience, he also utilizes them to help illuminate his inexperience, “But on this kind of journey knowledge can sometimes come slowly; the traveler can sometimes listen selectively; and certain things – because they appear to fit the country or culture – can be taken too much for granted” (India 243). He does not make the assumptions or pronouncements that were so prevalent in An Area of Darkness, his earlier attempt to chronicle life in and his relationship to India. In fact, he addresses some of the shortcomings of the earlier text in India: A Million Mutinies Now: There, as the grandson and great-grandson of agricultural immigrants from India, I had grown up with my own ideas of the distance that separated me from India. I was far enough away from it to cease to be of it. I knew the rituals but couldn’t participate in them; I heard the language but followed only the simpler words. But I was near enough to understand the passions; and near enough to feel that my own fate was bound up with the fate of the people of the country. The India of my fantasy was something lost and irrevocable. (India 491)In An Area of Darkness Naipaul is a “fearful traveler,” afraid of connection that he had assumed existed and might not be able to recover (India 491). Whereas in his latter India travelogue, Naipaul does not endeavor to discover or recover a specific aspect of his self, because he has learned that the revelation will inevitably occur. Travel writing is about discovery of self through the people and places one encounters, not the discovery of people and places through the author’s narrow lens, “It would be impertinent and wrong for a writer to use real people to illustrate some his own philosophical feelings” (Meyers). A conclusion Naipaul shared in the 1990s, well after the publication of his first two travelogues. Naipaul eventually recognized the flaws of the didactic narrative style of his early travelogues, “I had trouble with the ‘I’ of the travel writer; I thought that as traveler and narrator he was in unchallenged command and had to make big judgments” (Occasions 17). In these later works, Naipaul the travel writer has clearly evolved. He no longer approaches a place with an explicit purpose; rather he allows the purpose to appear organically through the conversations with those he meets, “his purpose is not to admonish or deplore but to understand” (Woodward). Travel is no longer a burden, but an important link in his own self-discovery, an interior journey that now, in turn, allows him to enjoy his external journeys, “Naipaul has moved into a new phase when the pains and insecurities of the past, such as the need to travel to find subject matter about which to write, are admitted to be a source of discovery and pleasure, an opening of world experience and insight that he now celebrates” (King 137). This very different mode of discovery is made especially clear in an interlude from A Turn in the South: And I thought that afternoon that it would have completed my pleasure If I didn’t had to write anything; if I didn’t have to worry about what to do next and who to see; if I could simply be with the experience. But if I wasn’t writing, if I didn’t have a purpose or at times a sense of urgency, if the writing hadn’t given me a schedule, places to go to, how would I have passed the days . . . (South 221)The seemingly accidental discoveries are what make Naipaul’s recent travelogues succeed where his earlier works failed, “What at first seemed an entirely serendipitous jaunt turns out to be a tightly-structured rigorously thought-out work” (Roberts). The parallels between his current travels and his own difficult history seem to blossom effortlessly, “for the first time, fixations with the past – his own and others’ – are not dismissed as self-destructive or escapist but found to be brimming with poetic pathos” (Nixon 168). We know however, from “Conrad’s Darkness and Mine,” that none of this is accidental. Naipaul is a disciple of a purposed narrative form, “style in the novel, and perhaps in all prose, is more than an ‘arrangement of words,’ it is an arrangement, even an orchestration, of perceptions, it is a matter of knowing where to put what” (Occasions 166). So while some of the encounters in both A Turn in the South and India: A Million Mutinies Now may have been serendipitous, their appearance in these travelogues is not. There is as much purpose to these latter works as there was to Naipaul’s first two travelogues, but there is a marked difference in the narrative style. The author has become increasingly facile with the construction of the narrative, particularly the allowance for others to help impose order on his own experiences, rather than him on theirs. This facility creates a more accessible text for the reader; the author’s words are no longer getting in the way of the story he has set out to tell. In the conclusion of his essay “Conrad’s Darkness and Mine,” Naipaul comments on what he believes to be the decline of novel form: The novel as a form no longer carries conviction. Experimentation, not aimed at the real difficulties, has corrupted response; and there is a great confusion in the minds of readers and writers about the purpose of the novel. The novelist, like the painter, no longer recognizes hisinterpretive function; he seeks to go beyond it; and his audience diminishes. (Occasions 180) Ironically, what Naipaul highlights as the contemporary novelist’s greatest weakness, the inability to recognize his interpretive function, is precisely what he is guilty of in The Middle Passage and An Area of Darkness. However, the constructive ideals that Naipaul presents throughout this essay and practices in his travelogues A Turn in the South and India: A Million Mutinies Now counter this trend and offer an alternative to the beleaguered novel form. Rather than experimenting with the fiction form, as have so many of his peers, Naipaul instead offers a non-fiction solution that not only adheres to his own declared rules of construction and narrative, but can also be compared favorably with the works of authors such as Conrad. The reflection, or parenthetical empathy, that is so common in Naipaul’s later travelogues is a key component of exemplary narrative form and is often missing from contemporary novels, “And so the world we inhabit, which is always new, goes by unexamined, made ordinary by the camera, unmeditated on; and there is no one to awaken the sense of true wonder” (Occasions 180). The writer’s role is to serve as a conduit for the reader, a means of accessing that sense of wonder that has been rendered moot not only because of experimentation in form that renders the text inaccessible to the reader, but also technology. “Conrad’s Darkness and Mine” was written in 1974, well before many of our current technological advances, advances that could make this sense of wonder even more unattainable. However, the wonder can be awakened as long as there is an assumption of unfamiliarity with the subject, on behalf of both author and reader. The presumptions that Naipaul makes about both the West Indies and India contribute to the failure of his first two travelogues. Naipaul, and thus the reader, “experienced a sense of exclusion implied paradoxically through familiarity” (Rastogi 277). However, when Naipaul looks inward, and forsakes these assumptions, his best writing – writing that adheres to his own constructive ideals, occurs. Additionally, A Turn in the South and India: A Million Mutinies Now not only adhere to Naipaul’s constructive ideals, but also to the tenets of travel writing, “the journey’s impulse is always closely aligned with the traveler’s autobiography and his or her search for origins and identity” (Siegel 3). In both of these works Naipaul is “concerned with other people and what their situation has in common with his own. How have they learned to adapt?” (King 149). He discovers, along with the reader, the lessons that can be found in these places and people. A Turn in the South and India: A Million Mutinies Now are not only exemplary travelogues, but also exemplary narratives that function and achieve the goals of the novel form as articulated by Naipaul in “Conrad’s Darkness and Mine.” Naipaul does not allow his own voice to dominate; he mediates – allowing both his own reflection and the selection and placement of other voices to shape the narrative. This purposed construction creates the idea, and in some instances the illusion, that both the writer and reader are experiencing these places and people for the first time. This re-presentation of reality, or exile from the familiar for both writer and reader, is what makes these pieces serve the function of both travelogue and novel. They illuminate our shared human experience while delivering unique and compelling story.