Heart of Darkness
Perceiving the Other in the “Frankenstein” and “The Heart of Darkness”
The concept of the Other is understood through its division from the Self. Specifically, Otherness represents those who run counter to predominant societal ideologies; thus, the Other, denounced as a threat to norms, is shunned from humanity, if not actively hunted. In Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” the creature, loathed by his creator and rejected by society, epitomizes Otherness. Such a grotesque appearance, along with the fact that he serves as the antithesis to natural reproduction, isolates the monster, resulting in his vengeful behaviour and leading to the seeming justification of Victor’s attempts to destroy him. Likewise, in Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” Otherness—evidently akin to abnormality—is realized in the attitudes of the European imperialists towards African natives. Conrad portrays the jungle as a primitive wilderness and its inhabitants as savage and dangerous, which facilitates communal support for the colonization of Africa by effectively dissociating the civilized Europeans, or Self, from their Other counterparts (4). Such an imposed racial divide—or the repression of species in “Frankenstein”—exemplifies the fundamental exploitation of the Other by the Self.
The monster in “Frankenstein,” upon the onset of animation, is immediately reviled by his maker, Victor. Though “infusing life into an inanimate body […] [was] desired with an ardour that far exceeded moderation,” Victor was “unable to endure the aspect of the being [he] had created” (Shelley 35). This despondent reaction, it is later revealed, forced the creature away from his place of origin and into a forest near Ingolstadt. Through this immediate ostracizing by his “natural lord and king,” the creature embodies Otherness (Shelley 69). When he is given the opportunity to explain himself to Victor, he asserts his natural benevolence, stating that, initially, “[his] soul glowed with love and humanity” (Shelley 69). The harsh divide between conventional and deviant is illustrated through the monster’s implicit understanding of the consequences of Otherness: “If the multitude of mankind knew of my existence, they would […] arm themselves for my destruction” (Shelley 69). In a similar way, Victor, for being indirectly guilty of his creature’s murders and overcome with grief, is detached from humanity and can also personify the Other. In accordance with either character, Mary Shelley’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, explored “perceived physical differences […] [as the wrongful] central structuring principle for society” in 1789 (Bugg 656). John Bugg argues that “Frankenstein” fits this model, calling it a “master-trope of physical difference” (656). Consider the case of the monster who, split from society, commits fiendish behaviour as a result of the split, thereby justifying the public’s perception. Wollstonecraft, however, examined race as the distinction between Self and Other, describing the “[degradation of] the numerous nations, on whom the sun-beams more directly dart, below the common level of humanity” (qtd. in Bugg 655). Under this concept, Joseph Conrad portrays African natives as Others who, like Frankenstein’s monster, are presumed to be a threat to customary ideologies and need to be conquered.
The African jungle in “Heart of Darkness” is the mysterious, ominous Other to the white, civilized European Self. Bugg’s description of Otherness in “Frankenstein” as “the politics of biology” applies equally here, as African natives are under the control of the invading settlers as a result of race and land (656). The natives represent the “darkness” of the title, and are often presented as imperceptible shadows among the trees. Moreover, Africa and the jungle itself symbolize the Other World as they exist contrary to colonial Europe. In the novel, Marlow describes the “savagery, utter savagery […] [of the] mysterious life of the wilderness, that stirs in the forest, in the jungles, in the hearts of wild men” (Conrad 4). Such prevailing attitudes throughout contemporary Europe, coupled with the sense of wealth, power, and domination, helped facilitate British imperialism.
Conrad portrays the jungle as a primordial, mystifying Otherness and Marlow and his crew as the frightened, innocuous Self. A recent book review refers to the colonization of third world countries as the “Imperial Project,” claiming that European writers of the time would present the native Other as “something inherently savage, threatening, and impinging upon the civilized world” (“Other” 1). Whether or not this was Conrad’s intention, the dark Otherness of the jungle and the African natives is evident in relation to civilized Europeans. In her article, Marilyn So claims the horrors of the jungle are covered up to “[convince] people back home of the worth of imperialism,” providing further evidence of the Imperial Project (13). Regardless, the fact remains that “Heart of Darkness” centres on the exploitation of African natives and land by the more populated, wealthy, and powerful European. This conflict between the prevailing Self and repressed Other forces the natives to resist, in turn substantiating the settlers’ fear and loathing.
The concept of the Other is illustrated through racial conflict in “Heart of Darkness” and the repression of species in “Frankenstein.” Both stories portray the Other as a deviation from societal norms and values, leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy in which Frankenstein’s monster, for example, acts in accordance with the fearful public’s originally-unfounded presumptions. Similarly, in “Heart of Darkness,” the invasion by the settlers forces African natives to defend their environment; consequently, the Europeans, with much more influence and power, exist as the Self who needs to exploit and destroy the African Other. Further, Marlow likens “going up that river [into the jungle to] traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world,” indicating an apprehension and intrigue to the mysterious Otherness (Conrad 30). Nevertheless, Marlow and his crew, as coincidental members of the Imperial Project, carry on through the darkness out of duty. The fundamental idea to Otherness is in its likeness to abnormality. In “Frankenstein,” the creature’s rejection from conventional society leads to his fittingly monstrous behaviour, which then rationalizes the publics’, or Self’s, oppression over the Other. “Heart of Darkness,” on the other hand, explores the power struggle between races, while portraying exploited African Otherness by dominant European colonialists.
Bugg, John. “‘Master of their Language’: Education and Exile in Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein.’” The Huntington Library Quarterly 68.4 (2005): 655-666. Scholars Portal. Web. 14 April 2010.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. 1902. Ed. Stanley Appelbaum. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1990. Print.
“The ‘Other’ in Colonial-Imperialistic Literature: Looking at Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ and Forster’s ‘Passage to India.’” Shroud Magazine, Associated Content, 20 Nov. 2006. Web. 14 April 2010.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. 3rd ed. 1831. Ed. Stanley Appelbaum and Candace Ward. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1994. Print.
So, Mang-luen, Marilyn. “‘Otherness’ in Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ and Forster’s ‘A Passage to India.’” HKU Theses Online March 2004: 3-41. University of Hong Kong Scholars Hub. Web. 14 April 2010.
Secluded Characters And Their Use In Further Narrating
Joseph Conrad’s writing has captivated millions with its vast voyages with places far away, sojourners in distant lands, and an omnipotent force of nature disrupting everything. The concept of writing about seafaring comes directly from Conrad’s own adventures, as he went on many voyages throughout his life. Whether intentionally or not, Conrad’s personal understanding of people, ships, and nature mirror his use of them in his books, such as Typhoon, Falk, and Heart of Darkness. Conrad’s stories not only tell a fictional narrative of events happening in another universe, but also describe what Conrad himself believes about reality based off of his personal experiences. Joseph Conrad’s writing features lonely seamen aboard isolated ships to colorfully describe Conrad’s own worldview.
Conrad’s personal experience with the sea directly relates to details in his novels, linking the works of Conrad to the memories of Conrad. Many novels Conrad wrote come from actual memories during Conrad’s life. During his personal travels, he sailed out of Bangkok on a ship to Singapore, and in his novel Falk the characters interact in the port, a place where Conrad spent much time. In a voyage to the port of Java, he sailed on the ship Highland Forest under the Captain John MacWhirr, and in Typhoon Captain MacWhirr sails to Asia. Heart of Darkness describes a man becoming a Captain of a steamboat in the Congo river, and Conrad did the same in his personal travels. These novels serve not only as entertainment but also as recollections of memories that Conrad himself went through and recorded using his own worldview. The main characters in Conrad’s writings effectively put Conrad personally into the story. In Heart of Darkness, as the main character narrates his life’s journey a bystander mentions that “His remark did not seem at all surprising. It was just like Marlow. It was accepted in silence” (Heart of Darkness 447). The beginning of the novel includes a group of men on a ship in silence, and then Marlow begins to describe his life. This reflects what the reader achieves by reading his books: the reader listens to Conrad tell his story. Thus, in this novel, Conrad can use Marlow as a representative of himself. A similar example of this comes from Falk, in which the narrator states “This reminds me of an absurd episode in my life, now many years ago, when I got first the command of an iron barque” (Falk 270). Then the narrator describes the entire story. While the physical representation of a visible archetype of Conrad (such as Marlow) does not appear in the novel, there still remains an element of narration which symbolizes what Conrad himself does in writing his novels. Although Typhoon does not include any designated narrators, a main character uses the same name that a captain in Conrad’s life history does. Conrad writes “Captain MacWhirr, of the steamer Nan-Shan, had a physiognomy that, in the order of material appearances, was the exact counterpart of his mind” (Typhoon 195). This purposeful hint gives a connection between Conrad’s life and Typhoon in the sense that Conrad’s experience overflows into his writings. In addition, Ian Robinson writes in “Conrad’s Belief in Victory” that “like Dickens, Conrad is not supposed to be a philosophically sophisticated novelist. But both can get philosophical notions as clear as they need.” Conrad’s writing, according to Robinson, includes either vague or clear philosophy. In fact, Conrad’s writing contains copious amounts of philosophical details and hints which can link his life and philosophy to his writings. All three of these works include a connection to Conrad’s personal life and journey that help to explain how Conrad reflects his worldview in his writings.
Ships create divisions between people and nature that expose Conrad’s views about nature, loneliness, and civilization. In Typhoon, a voyaging ship faces a powerful typhoon in the ocean. In the novel there exist two sides: those aboard the ship and the forces outside the ship. This construct distinctly separates humanity from the power of nature, and illustrates Conrad’s opinion that nature contains immense power, enough to have a “wind [that] strangled[strangles] his [MacWhirr’s] howls” (Typhoon 218). Using this, Conrad goes on to describe the sovereignty that nature plays over the life of everyone, both physically and emotionally. In Falk, living on ships isolate people from each other and shows the displeasure and difficulty of living alone. Falk, a lonely man who “lived on board his tug, which was always dashing up and down the river” (Falk 278) finds that “it [is] every day more difficult to live alone” (Falk 300). Due to Falk’s living aboard a ship alone, he finds life difficult. The use of a ship emphasizes Conrad’s disgust of loneliness by creating a division between Falk and society. In Heart of Darkness, characters aboard ships possess qualities of nobility and civility, while the people not on the ship act savagely and thus bear the name ‘savages.’ A fight breaks out between people on the shores of the river and the colonists aboard the steamboat. Marlow “made out, deep in the tangled gloom, naked breasts, arms, legs, glaring eyes, — the bush was swarming with human limbs in movement, glistening, of bronze color” (Heart of Darkness 476). He fails to see people, but parts of them, deep in gloom. On the other hand, the men aboard the ship retain visibility and humanity. When the conflict breaks out, “the arrows came in swarms” (Heart of Darkness 476) while the “the report of a rifle just at my back deafened me” (Heart of Darkness 476). Noticing the qualities associated to the respective weapons, the arrows retain a swarm-like, animalistic, savage quality while the rifle simply contains the word report, a much more civilized word used more in societies when one reports to a leader. From the qualities of words and the imagery associated to the ‘savages,’ Conrad uses ships here as the decisive factor that distinguishes the civilized from the barbaric. Using ships as an agent of division, Conrad develops his ideas about loneliness, nature, and civilization.
Characters in solitude express Conrad’s opinion that men don’t function well alone. Numerous examples in Conrad’s works highlight this perspective. In Falk, Falk becomes damaged by his singleness and responds by speaking to the narrator. In their discussion, “He[Falk] caught my [his] hand and wrung it in a crushing grip. ‘Pardon me. I feel it every day more difficult to live alone . . .’” (Falk 300). The derangement Falk endures from his desolation causes him to physically attack and harm someone. In this state, he mistakenly assumes that the narrator wants to marry a woman he liked. Falk’s desire for a wife comes from a sense to not be alone because he says that he finds life more difficult everyday to live alone, not because he wants children or love. Similarly, in Typhoon, sailors become drawn to write home to their wives. An example would be the ship’s engineer, “Mr. Rout [,who] likewise wrote letters; only no one on board knew how chatty he could be pen in hand, because the chief engineer had enough imagination to keep his desk locked. His wife relished his style greatly” (Typhoon 201). This means that while the engineer appears quiet among the other sailors, he wishes to communicate with his wife. He longs to not be around people who voyage with him primarily for financial gain. He yearns to come home to be with his wife and family. Clearly, he wants to leave the confinement of the ship and live a social life. In Heart of Darkness, shallow understandings of characters leaves little knowledge of whether men at the colony in Congo wrote letters to their loved ones, but they all share a respect and admiration for the man named Kurtz. When Marlow asked “who Mr. Kurtz was, he said he was a first-class agent; and seeing my disappointment at this information, he added slowly, laying down his pen, ‘He is a very remarkable person.’”(Heart of Darkness 456). Many men at the colony share a similar view of Kurtz. The universal admiration of Kurtz symbolizes the need people have for other people, and in this case these men want to talk with a remarkable man. These colonists have an eager expectation and hope that they will get to be with Kurtz. Holger Nüstedt, in his literary criticism “Joseph Conrad’s “The End of the Tether: An Old Man’s Rite of Passage,” writes that Conrad “leans rather heavily on the idea of initiation,” which means “the transition of young people from childhood to adulthood in so-called ‘primitive’ societies and may therefore seem a plausible enough metaphor for a number of changes experienced by young persons in literature.” The concept of initiation comes up in all three of these books in that characters who possess mature traits communicate with others (their wives or Kurtz). They all have someone they want to communicate with, and without communication they feel dismayed. Having been initiated into society as adults, they strive for a similar goal of relating to other people. Thus, the enjoyment of others’ company in all three books exposes Conrad’s disbelief in joyful isolation.
Ships remove people from the superficiality of life to enable characters to observe and ponder the world. Some characters engage in a change described by Shirley Galloway in her critical essay “Joseph Conrad: The Sense of Self” as “deal [dealing] with a process of maturing that involves the loss of youthful illusions, a process usually precipitated by an actual “trial” that challenges the protagonist’s professional skills as well as his assumptions about his identity and sanity.” All three novels reflect a trial that a character experiences. In Typhoon, the narrator personifies a battle between sailors aboard a ship and a raging typhoon. When the typhoon first breaks out, “in an instant the men lost touch of each other” (Typhoon 212). Separated at sea from their fellow seamen and loved ones at home, the men became attacked, and “the storm penetrated the defences of the man and unsealed his lips” (Typhoon 236) with a force “like the sudden smashing of a vial of wrath. It seemed to explode all round the ship with an overpowering concussion and a rush of great waters” (Typhoon 212). Conrad makes it clear that the typhoon not only attacks and hurts the ship (which it does), but also intervenes on the inner reaches of the men aboard, singling them out and pouring wrath on and in them. In this separated and distressed state, the men are forced to think about the storm, the might of nature, and the state of their lives. The sailors focus all of their strength to attack the storm not merely physically, but mentally and emotionally to keep their lives from breaking down internally into despair. Furthermore, the narrator in this story fits Galloway’s understanding of trials in Conrad’s works, which makes the story contain numerous depictions of inner destruction wrought by the storm. Conrad’s narrator Marlow in the novel Heart of Darkness describes with great thought and feeling the journey he had in Africa. Separated from his former life and catapulted into a new job far from home, Marlow ponders the essence of nature. He states that “going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest. The air was warm, thick, heavy, sluggish. There was no joy in the brilliance of sunshine” (Heart of Darkness 467). Marlow sees nature untamed (mostly) by mankind, where the big trees were important rather than skyscrapers. The nature stands strong, steadfast, and dark. Marlow believes that the forest’s seclusion resembles how he felt that he “lost your[his] way on that river as you[he] would in a desert” (Heart of Darkness 467) even though a river contains a set path one travels on. The lostness Marlow experiences comes from internal thoughts created from his remote adventure, not from any navigational failures. In this river, left to himself, he ponders nature much as the narrator in Typhoon describes his battle against the sea. Marlow embodies the youthful person described by Galloway in the sense that Marlow becomes privy to the expansiveness of nature and becomes lost, losing his identity due to the trial he finds himself in. In contrast to the other two books that start with people in society that enter secluded thinking, Falk describes a mysterious single man becoming a married man. He “would come along unsympathetically, glaring at you with his yellow eyes from the bridge, and would drag you out dishevelled as to rigging, lumbered as to the decks, with unfeeling haste, as if to execution” (Falk 279). Falk hates his job, and “feel[s] it every day more difficult to live alone” (Falk 300). Due to Falk’s complete isolation on a ship for many years filled with feeling and internal depth, Falk wishes to have company. The social abandonment Falk faces causes him to feel pain and depression, and walks to work as if he were walking to die. Galloway’s concept of finding identity amidst a trial resembles the pain Falk experiences while single, and his plight to leave this pain exposes his loss and forces him to acknowledge his own weakness. While this book incorporates desolation differently from the other two books, it still creates significant meanings about Conrad’s worldview. In all three books, men cut off from others ponder the world they live in.
Characters in faraway lands, isolated from their homeland, give Conrad a unique vehicle to discuss white supremacy and the commonly held belief of social Darwinism. In all three works people of other races are looked down upon as barbaric, chaotic, and duplicitous. The majority of passengers in Typhoon called ‘China men’ all congregate together in a big room in the ship with big chests that store valuables. When the storm struck the ship, the chests burst open, and suddenly “all these clumsy Chinamen [are] rising up in a body to save their property” (Typhoon 229). The Chinamen fought so much that with “every fling of the ship would hurl that tramping, yelling mob here and there, from side to side, in a whirl of smashed wood, torn clothing, rolling dollars” (Typhoon 229). The fight in the ship during the storm symbolizes the carnage brought on by the inner depths of everyone on board the ship, and further describes how the storm effects the entirety of people, threatening the separation between ship and sea. In covalent validity, the storm overwhelms the Chinamen early and completely, pushing them as a group differentiated by race, into depravity and greed. The sudden change of the Chinamen amidst the storm mirrors social Darwinism because only the Chinamen group falls into chaos while all the other white men aboard the ship maintain their ability to continue working. In addition, Chinamen don’t work for the ship, but live under the authority of the white men on the ship. Adding to the perspective that the Chinamen symbolize the storm’s effect on individuals, the Chinamen only serve to disturb the other race attempting to survive the brutal storm. In Falk, a similar situation occurs in which the narrator hires a Chinaman to help on his ship, and “before the end of the third day he had revealed himself as a confirmed opium-smoker, a gambler, a most audacious thief, and a first-class sprinter” (Falk 274). In short, the only prominent person of another race garners significant disrepute for his inability to do work correctly. This minor, cameo appearance of a person from another race illustrates the idea that people from other races do not possess the necessary skills and discipline required to work a ‘white man’s job’. In Heart of Darkness, Conrad separates the colonists from the colonized to describe how the white race contains more nobility and civility while the indigenous Congo people consist of savagery and primitiveness. Marlow describes the Congo as having “Sandbanks, marshes, forests, savages,—precious little to eat fit for a civilized man, nothing but Thames water to drink” (Heart of Darkness 447). This statement elevates Marlow and the colonizers above the Congo people, saying that good food for civil people comes up rarely. In general, the way Marlow describes the Congo as dark, with “no joy in the brilliance of sunshine” (Heart of Darkness 467) relates exactly with how Marlow describes the Congo people. The people and the environment also mix in several occasions, one being before the fight at the river when Marlow finds that “the bush was swarming with human limbs in movement, glistening, of bronze color” (Heart of Darkness 476). Marlow not only finds the Congo repulsive, but the people who live in it as a natural extension of his dislike of the Congo. He suggests that one race, the white race, contains civility and nobility that no other race can match. Conrad’s stories across the world bring Conrad to specialized discussion about social Darwinism and racism.
Conrad’s placement of ships brings to light his belief about the sovereign hand of nature over human action. Out on the open seas in Typhoon, the ship comes under an attack from nature. The typhoon holds the existence of everyone aboard in the palm of it’s hand and can sink the ship at any moment. Like an actual person, “The Nan-Shan was being looted by the storm with a senseless, destructive fury: trysails torn out of the extra gaskets, double-lashed awnings blown away, bridge swept clean, weather-cloths burst, rails twisted, light-screens smashed — and two of the boats had gone already” (Typhoon 215). Throughout the novel, Conrad employs personification to describe how the sea acts like an independent person. This storm’s personality also contains attributes, in this case a large amount of wrath. Nature does not act out of chance because it retains the qualities of an actual person. The nature described here acts not out of chance but out of will, and the life of all aboard the ship comes under the omnipotent authority of nature. Building off of this idea, Falk includes an accident that would never have happened unless nature had intervened. The character Falk spends his days pulling boats up and down the river, yet damages the ship he tows. This ship happens to belong to Captain Hermann, whose niece Falk wishes to marry. With so much at stake, Falk fails at doing the task he was supposed to do for one of the most important jobs in his life! The narrator exclaims “The damage! The damage! What for all that damage! There was no occasion for damage” (Falk 287). This event could not have come out of mere chance, because Falk put lots of effort into making sure it didn’t become damaged so he would have a better chance of marrying the niece. Under the authority of nature, however, the ship becomes damaged. In Heart of Darkness, Marlow describes the river as “dead in the centre. And the river was there—fascinating—deadly— like a snake. Ough!” (Heart of Darkness 450). Marlow notes that nature itself looks fascinating, yet deadly as a snake. As an archetypal representative of Conrad’s own experience in this story, he acknowledges the power nature holds over his head, knowing how deadly and powerful it can be. Conrad’s placement of nature constructs his thoughts about how nature controls the fate of human beings, trumping their free will.
Seamen without direct communication home have to act on a whim, paralleling Conrad’s endorsement of adaptability and improvisation in remote places. In the middle of a storm in Typhoon, Captain MacWhirr reads a book on typhoons. After reading and thinking about it, he stolidly states “You don’t find everything in books” (Typhoon 233). With his experience at sea, MacWhirr believes that simply studying books does not teach men enough, and that they need to learn more outside of books, such as an experience at sea, to truly know and understand the gravity of the storm. While factual books supply MacWhirr with facts and figures, they fail to tell him of the internal conflicts he would experience during the storm that Conrad describes. When books fail, Conrad believes that one must improvise to ensure the survival of the ship, and when the storm strikes, events occur that cannot be easily discussed at length in a book. For example, some passengers’ chests break open and they start fighting over everything in the middle of the ship. Events like these force the captain to act on a whim for the given situation and not rely solely on what the book says. In Heart of Darkness, Marlow travels to Africa for a job as the captain of a ship, and after he meets a man and “told[tells] him who I [Marlow] was, [said] that my steamer was at the bottom of the river. I was thunderstruck” (Heart of Darkness 458). After this accident, Marlow’s plans change to “fishing my[Marlow’s] command out of the river” (Heart of Darkness 458) instead of starting to tread up the river. Marlow must now change what he plans to do, and for some months he must now work on repairing the ship. His profession, similar to MacWhirr’s, requires spontaneity. It must be noted that the ship sunk mainly because the company, “in a sudden hurry” (Heart of Darkness 458) hired a “volunteer skipper” (Heart of Darkness 458) to move up the river. In this sense acting on a whim maliciously forces Marlow to change his plans. Conrad, therefore, makes a distinction between intelligent improvisation and being unwise because he includes negative and positive improvisations. If he had wanted to only describe how useful all improvisations are, he would have used another story that did not include a great hurry which demands improvisation. Improvisation in Heart of Darkness describes the indispensable need for good improvisation and the downfall if situations are not handled correctly. Falk includes some spontaneity when Falk tries to arrange a marriage. Falk wishes to marry the niece of another captain named Hermann while at a seaport on the Eastern coast of China. Hermann serves as the man who oversees the marriage for the niece, while the narrator helps Falk. As noted earlier, Falk wants to be married, and feels pain every day he remains single. In Conrad’s time, a father would supervise the process of courtship. The narrator starts the process, assuring Falk that he does not have affection for the niece by saying, “I am ready to do all I can for you in that way[for Falk’s marriage]” (Falk 298). In this situation, everyone improvises and the niece’s uncle takes authority. Falk also tells everyone a gruesome story that includes his act of cannibalism to stay alive. At this distance from home, everyone improvises and ignores the father. The process happens relatively quickly and the marriage becomes a reality, started from some voyagers at the right place and the right time with the right actions. Whether from navigating a ship or arranging a marriage, Conrad expresses the need for empirical improvisation.
Conrad’s reflective writing not only captivated millions but also subtly incorporated in Conrad’s concepts about life, many discovered on his adventures. Above all, he employed the repetitive use of loneliness and separation to address meaningful ideas and concepts. According to Conrad, people should respect the power of nature, socialize with others, ponder the world, be willing to improvise, and accept that some races are better than others. From all of his ideas and beliefs, it can be clearly observed that what one experiences in their life greatly influences the perspective they take on the world, which can have harmful effects. An example of this being Conrad’s racism. This warns everyone to read these works with definite discernment of what contains truth and what was simply an old idea proven false long ago. Joseph Conrad’s writings about ships and sailors specifically delineate Conrad’s worldview.
Review On “Heart Of Darkness” Written By Joseph Conrad
From his introduction in the beginning of the novel, the character Kurtz presented himself as a robust personality. In the words of the author, Kurtz is a man of “sombre pride,” (Conrad 2.29) and his undying will “consumed his flesh,” (Conrad 3.24). Most of Kurtz’s character is presented by Marlow the narrator and a new traveler into what the audience has come to call, the Heart of Darkness. Kurtz was both adored and despised for his vast degree of influence in the Congo. He often appeared hardened and stout to his fellow Europeans as well as to the natives of the island.
Overall, despite his rugged appearance, Kurtz came to be admired for his leadership, freewheeling spirit, and the salvation he shows Marlow. With such ideals, Kurtz’s personality tends to stand out among the plethora of ‘civilized’ European officers. Unlike the other European leaders, Kurtz sees the ‘primitive’ society as more than a workforce. He creates a persona of superiority, ultimately, winning the influence needed to become a symbol of leadership to the natives. In one situation involving the company manager, Kurtz is criticized for being outgoing and adventurous with his tactics rather than cautious. As the company manager explains, “Mr. Kurtz has done more harm than good to the Company. He did not see the time was not ripe for vigorous action. Cautiously, cautiously–that’s my principle. We must be cautious yet. The district is closed to us for a time. Deplorable!” Armout 2 (Conrad 3.19).
In this case, what makes Kurtz such a commendable leader is his ability to shift away from the practical option to further advance the productivity of the company. Kurtz becomes a vitual part of this system so much so that when he is rumored to be ill, repairs of the ship become even more apparent. Overall, aside from his intention being for personal gain, he conceives a system which generates success unlike others who followed the cautious and practical route of leadership.While his leadership lies above the surface, his freewheeling spirit is what drives Kurtz’s through his indeveres throughout the novel. Such a spirit can only be revealed through a man’s behavior and his intentions. Kurtz’s actions were guided by two principles: superiority and the end product. In a way, Kurtz represents a ravenous hurricane set to entail the European ideals on the still and peaceful Congo. As the hurricane grows, winds heighten, debris becomes more unpredictable, eventually, turning action into desire. Kurtz’s determination doesn’t just intimidate the people of the Congo, but in brickmaker who fear him as a threat to their position on the ship.
From the start of the novel, Marlow followed Kurtz’s example blindly. He first describes him as “I was curious to see his mingled eagerness and reluctance…The man filled his life preoccupied his thoughts, and swayed his emotions,” ( Conrad 3.2 ). Marlow viewed Kurtz as an investigation waiting to be solved. Kurtz embraced the attention, however, his actions changed Marlow in an unexpected manner. Later in the plot, Marlow comes to realize the wrongfulness Kurtz’s intentions, specifically, his lust for greed and power. Marlow, in a way, starts to resent such a notio. Kurtz represents the African Palm Civet, who preys on the weak for their own gain. His looming shadow blocks the drifting breezes of the once untouched Congian society. While Armout 3 unintentional, Kurtz’s blatant disregard for morals help aid a change of behavior, developing Marlow into the sympathetic and inclusive African Forest Elephant by the end of his journey.
All in all, while ill-intentioned, Kurtz’s leadership, determination, and influence on others is something to be admired. His leadership guided natives and European sailors to the unexplored depths of Congo. Kurtz’s determination and free wheeling spring remained incessant to the challenges to his position as well as those provided by the environment. Lastly, he taught Marlow, a Russian from a similar background as himself, a valueless lesson. After all, he himself was never given the opportunity to understand the same lesson as his final words stand, “the horror, the horror” (Conrad 3.12).
Disrupting Colonial Subjugation
In “Heart of Darkness”, Conrad distances himself from the eurocentrism of the 19th century, offering a view of scepticism over dogmatic belief in the duplicities of colonial rhetoric. Through this, Conrad subtly undermines the claim of the colonial conquest as an agent of progress and ‘forerunner of change’.
Conrad reveals the colonial enterprise as an institution of cavalier indifference. Congo, merely reduced to ‘a place of darkness’, is constructed as an omnipresent entity, impenetrable, unfathomable to the European realm of cognition. By referring to Congo as a ‘blank space of delightful mystery’ and a ‘snake’, a sense of triviality is evoked through the denial of historical context and value; instead, the country is summarised as an animal, its exotic nature and “charm” seemed to only serve the purpose of satisfying colonisers’ desire to ‘lose [themselves] in all the glories of exploration.’ There, Conrad renders the colonial conquest’s claim to enlighten as insincere by unveiling Marlow’s sentiments for Congo as a ‘white patch for a boy to dream gloriously over’.
Colonial discourse, as an apparatus of power, is shown by Conrad to disavow its own real motivations. The title of ‘brickmaker’ alludes to a sense of real work being done; the ostensible appearance implies advancement, progress and accomplishment. However, the main concerns of the brick maker is revealed to be about the material, tangible influence, power, rank and position. (‘my..aunt’s influential acquaintances were producing an unexpected effect upon that young man’) Thus, this juxtaposition between the exterior of the colonial rhetoric— to be ‘an emissary of science and progress”— and its interior of inefficiency acts to subtly undermine its claim of ‘progress’.
The evocative imagery of a ‘beaten nigger groan[ing] somewhere’ in passage two acts as an allegory for the barbarisms of the colonial empire. The repetition of ‘pitiless, pitiless’ affirms the false sense of civility amongst the colonial agents, evoking a sense of cruelty and detachment instead. The brick maker’s ironic claim of ‘what a row the brutes make’ is at once rendered hypocritical by the air of decay and death surrounding the description, ‘the hurt nigger moaned’. By exhibiting a strain of savagery within the civilised, Conrad exposes the colonial agent’s own blindness to discern the brutality of the colonial enterprise. The lilting cadence of Marlow’s tone that lingers still albeit the images of wanton suffering, encapsulated by the abrasiveness of “bang!”, undermines his own sentiments for the colonial rhetoric. The frame narrative of the novella thereby introduces a critical distance between the reader and narrator, allowing the former to mediate on what the latter fails to recognise.
The most salient irony in the novella revolts around Kurtz. Kurtz, ‘a man all Europe contributed to the making of’, is constructed as the epitome of colonial imperialism, offering lofty, awe-inspiring ideas on ‘science and progress’. Albeit attaining this air of superiority and ‘virtue’, upon being placed in a landscape outside the realm of European cognition, without the familiar confines and restraints of civilisation, the civilised man frees himself from all moral bounds. The ‘faint sounds’ and ‘dim stir’ of the ‘forest’ creates a narrative landscape of echoes and ambivalent boundaries, rendering moral restraints deliquescent. Kurtz is thus provided a fertile ground where savage tendencies, baser instincts and primordial emotions overpower civilised restraint; the concrete and vivid imagery of hi, ‘wander[ing] alone, far into the depths of the forest’ thus symbolises the abandonment of the civilised self and subverts the power and dominance of civilisation.
Kurtz’s succumbing to his primitive emotions is rendered palpable through his ‘fancy’ to kill ‘whom he jolly well pleased’. In Kurtz’s metamorphosis from a member of the ‘gang of virtue’ to a ‘terrible man’, Conrad elicits a parallel between civilisation and the wilderness, suggesting an interconnectivity and a ‘common kinship’ between the two juxtaposing binaries—Kurtz, whilst still ‘no ordinary man’ and beholds grand, magnanimous ideals regards progress and civilisation, he is also persuaded by his baser instincts. Through this underlining sense of the uncanny, Conrad brings the barbarisms of the colonial conquest to the foreground, rendering its ‘punishments’ as man’s inhumanity to tore men, rather than to ‘brutes’ or ‘savages’.
The honest account of Kurtz ‘rad[ing] the country’ reveals the commercial exploitation behind the duplicities of the colonial rhetoric to be a ‘beacon on the road towards better things’. Through the absurdity imbued in the description of Kurtz having ‘no goods to trade’ ivory with, Conrad shows that, despite being a ‘Company for trade’, the very absence of a standard monetary system only acts to accentuate the failure of the colonial enterprise to instil a system that stands for advancement and progress. Thereby, the duplicities of the colonial rhetoric is made appearance and once more, the futility in the colonial conquest’s efforts to enlighten is exemplified, negating its own claims of efficiency and change.
Hence, by focalising attention upon the implicit truth beneath the veneer of the enlightening, civilising mission, Conrad reveals the inefficiency and inefficacies behind the dualities of colonial rhetoric, ultimately subverting its claim to be the ‘forerunner of conquest, of trade’.
The Characteristic of the Novel “Heart of Darkness”
Adaptations can come under great criticism when they do not remain faithful to every step of the original text as often it is claimed the adaptation will lose the original meaning of the text. “Apocalypse Now” as an adaptation deviates from the original novel ‘Heart of Darkness’ but retains the same values and morals. I will be focusing on the similarities in character development of Willard and Marlowe despite the circumstantial differences in each text and also the similarities of Kurtz and his influence within both versions.
At the time the novel ‘Heart of Darkness’ was being written the concept of colonisation was viewed positively which is seen within the text. While colonised populations initially did see some benefits, colonialism was not “simply a matter of Europeans imposing themselves upon African societies.”(Rassool 2017) However empire builders had to be able to justify their actions and they did that by imposing their ‘superiority’ on the colonised. Colonialism quickly acquired a hostile meaning linked to theories of white racial supremacy and was condemned by Conrad as little more than an example of violent robbery. Despite this Conrad does not portray Marlowe as particularly anti-colonisation but that he believes in the civilising aspect of it but not the savage robbery. This is reflected in the novel mainly through Marlowe’s observations as they get further up the river. The difficulty in comparing both the themes and the characters in the adaptations is of course we are not dealing with colonisation but instead the Vietnam War in ‘Apocalypse Now’.
The key similarity is both of the characters developing realisation of the futility of war and violence and the lack of action each of them takes in retaliation to it. Both characters feel a certain kinship with Kurtz, Marlowe showing a kind of revere to the extent that he alienates himself from numerous individuals by aligning himself with Kurtz. Willard begins to show an understanding of Kurtz and his decisions more and more as he descends into the madness of the war as he travels further up the river. While much of the content of the adaptation was changed to appeal to a more modern and diverse audience and also to fit the time it was created the main theme of imperialism remains prominent as the American occupation in Vietnam is portrayed as a type of Western Imperialism.
Conrad used Kurtz as the embodiment of colonialism, turning him into a crazed individual that sees himself as a God that was entitled to do whatever he wished to the natives because of his European identity. He is essentially a condensed metaphor for colonialism as a whole. In his report he claims that “by the simple exercise of our will we can exert a power for good practically unbounded” but he does not say how they could do this is until the end of his report which directs them to “Exterminate all the brutes!” (Conrad PG 45) In ‘Apocalypse Now’ Kurtz is used not as a metaphor for colonialism but more the consequence of war. He is quite clearly psychologically damaged by the things he has seen and done for the army, much like Captain Willard who cannot reassert himself into civilised society because he no longer feels he belongs there after his first tour in Vietnam.
We can see examples of Kurtz’s insanity from the various corpses and heads that adorn his camp. Kurtz does not appear to be at all bothered by them however and this is possibly because of the atrocities he has already seen and committed when compiling his war record. The hypocrisy of the US army is referenced to throughout the adaptation in the same manner that the true motives for colonisation are revealed in ‘Heart of Darkness’. We see a band of helicopters performing an airstrike on a Vietnamese village with no remorse and yet when a member of that same Vietnamese town throws a grenade into one of the army helicopters Colonel Bill Kilgore refers to them as ‘Fucking Savages’.( Duvall, Apocalypse Now) Marlowe also recognises the hypocrisy of the authority in the novel. He sees colonisation as a help to the uncivilised people but begins to see it for what it truly was as the novel progresses. ‘They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind’. (Conrad, PG 8)
It seems in both examples it was not what Kurtz did but who he did it to. When he labelled himself a God in ‘Heart of Darkness’ he was threatening the authority of the colonial powers and in ‘Apocalypse Now’ it wasn’t the manner he was killing that originally drew attention to himself but the fact that he killed some Vietnamese intelligence agents. The soldiers that are giving Willard his mission even recognise the struggle for morality that comes with being a soldier. ‘In this war, things get confused out there—power, ideals, the old morality, and practical military necessity because there’s a conflict in every human heart between the rational and the irrational, between good and evil. And good does not always triumph.’ (Spradlin, Apocalypse Now) In the Novel it seems that Marlowe is one of the only people to acknowledge that there is something wrong with the treatment of the natives. There are parallels between Kurtz preaching about judgement in ‘Apocalypse Now’ and numerous characters in ‘Heart of Darkness’. ‘‘Certainly,’ grunted the other; ‘get him hanged! Why not? Anything –anything can be done in this country. (Conrad, PG 48)
Race plays a much larger role in ‘Heart of Darkness’ than its adaptation and we can see throughout the novel the numerous references to colour and nationality that Conrad makes. The colour of these African natives is mentioned numerous times but Conrad does not necessarily portray them in a negative light. Marlowe almost appears to have a certain kinship with some of them like his helmsman, which we realise when he dies. ‘The black man lays a claim on the white man which is well-nigh intolerable. It is the laying of this claim which frightens and at the same time fascinates Conrad,”… the thought of their humanity — like yours Ugly.’ (Achebe, PG 257) We also see Willard begin to realise how wrong the entire war was and how much it would affect him and his crew to continue their mission. ‘Oh man, the shit piled up so fast in Vietnam you needed wings to stay above it’ (Sheen, Apocalypse Now)
One of the main similarities between Marlowe and Willard despite the stark differences in the setting and circumstances of their situation is that while they acknowledge the wrong that they see they don’t actually do anything about it. When the crew meets the Vietnamese peasant boat Willard kills the wounded woman simply so his mission does not have to detour. Marlowe acknowledges that he doesn’t fully agree with some aspects of colonialism but attempts to take Kurtz home anyway. At the end of ‘Apocalypse Now’ Willard kills Kurtz despite it appearing that he did agree with him to an extent and returns to civilisation, presumably to go on and be promoted to a Major as he referenced earlier in the film. Despite the message both versions offer, the futility of violence and the effect such actions can have on the mind, there is little action actually taken to stem these atrocities by either of the protagonists.
Both versions are set in very different circumstances and timeframes but the theme that highlights the futility of warfare is rampant in both texts. In ‘Apocalypse Now’ they use war as an example of Western Imperialism like ‘Heart of Darkness’ uses colonisation. Although they are different methods they both promote realisation and development of character for Willard and Marlowe. The character of Kurtz in both versions is complex and can be viewed as a conundrum as it is left up to the viewer and reader whether he is in fact insane or if he has just shed the restraints of judgement as is almost encouraged in warfare. Despite the strong differences between them ‘Apocalypse Now’ serves to promote the same values and moral lesson that can be captured in ‘Heart of Darkness’ and therefore acts as a unique type of adaptation that deviates from fidelity but still manages to create the same feelings and principles as the original.
The Use of Philosophical Ideas of Hobbes in Conrad’s Novel
Though Joseph Conrad and Thomas Hobbes lived during different time periods and never had the opportunity to meet each other, both shared several ideas regarding human nature while they also harbored a few differences in ideologies. Conrad’s Heart of Darkness highlights several of these similarities and differences between Conrad’s views and Hobbes’ philosophies.
Conrad’s characterization of Marlow and Kurtz cause these two characters to resemble two sides of Hobbesian philosophy that a society is necessary to control the people and prevent them from living in a primitive and chaotic state free of moral restrains and regards. Conrad depicts Marlow, before he leaves for the Congo, as a man who comes from Britain, a wealthy, organized and structured country full of “high houses, innumerable windows with venetian blinds” (Conrad, 1899, p.13). According to this aspect of Hobbes’ philosophy, the central government of the western civilization suppressed Marlow’s innate primitive characteristics, and when Marlow reaches the Congo, Conrad portrays him as a confused man, initially having a hard time accepting the fact that both natives and the people of Western civilizations are ultimately all part of the same race, for to Marlow, the natives appear more as animals than humans and he ponders about the horrific thought of “[the natives’] humanity – like yours – the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar” (Conrad, 1899, p.58). Seeing this wild state of the people in the Congo comes as a deep surprise to Marlow at first, but contrastingly, Conrad soon indicates that Kurtz, a veteran of the area, adapted to this situation during his time in the area. Though Kurtz also once spent his days in Western civilization, Conrad characterized his activities to show that his time in the depths of the Congo heavily impacted him, for “the wilderness has patted him on the heard, and, behold, it was like a ball – an ivory ball; it 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 the inconceivable ceremonies of some devilish initiation”(Conrad, 1899, p. 79).Away from a central government such as the one in Britain, the chaotic nature that Hobbes describes in his philosophies arises as Kurtz, surrounded by the wildness of the non-Westernized Congo, returns to a primitive state.
Not only does Conrad reflect this philosophy in the characters of Marlow and Kurtz, but he also scatters it in less prominent characters who also exhibit this natural state. For example, Conrad mentions a captain called Fresleven who he initially describes as “the gentlest, quietest creature that ever walked on two legs” (Conrad, 1899, p.12). Conrad, however, does not further characterize this character in a manner that follows that statement –instead, he chooses to then state that the captain beat one of the native chiefs in front of a large crowd until the chief’s son speared the captain and chooses to have Marlow mentally justify this man’s action by believing that this act had happened because “he had been a couple of years already out there engaged in the noble cause” (Conrad, 1899, p.12). This mental justification falls right in line with the Hobbesian belief regarding the importance of an authoritative force, for without it, the captain acted in a manner that completely went against the European description of the captain once he had spent a few years living in the Congo. Conrad’s depictions of these characters, from Marlow to Fresleven, align with the branch of Hobbes’ philosophy regarding the nature of mankind, for these characterizations follow this line of thought: once people are away from a central government, they will face primitive transformations such as the ones that Kurtz and Fresleven faced.
Conrad fostered a belief that humans exist in a natural state of conflict and internal war based on self-interests and desires. The pilgrims and Kurtz embody this belief as Conrad creates westernized imperialists who obsess so much over obtaining this wealth that they almost exist in a state of worship as “the word ‘ivory’ rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it” (Conrad, 1899, p.35). Conrad centers the interests of Kurtz and the pilgrims on wealth in order to highlight their internal conflicts involving the ivory. Eventually, their love for ivory shapes them into greedy creatures whose desires for wealth triumph against their moral restraints as the pilgrims exploit the natives for labor and “[snap] ivory from the natives” (Conrad, 1899, p.52). Conrad places Kurtz at the head of this pack that obsesses over wealth as Kurtz “[steals] more ivory than all the other agents together” (Conrad, 1899, p.77) with no regard to the consequences that his actions will have on those from which he stole from. Conrad reflects this internal war, as described by Hobbes, over and over again as he mentions the consequences of these conflicts due to the desire for wealth.
Additionally, Hobbes fostered a belief that people naturally fear that other people will invade them, and therefore may choose to strike first as an anticipatory defense. Conrad echoes this belief in the interactions between the Europeans and the natives that live in the Congo. When Conrad depicts Marlow floating down the river in the fog, he incorporates an attack from the natives even though the Europeans had not directly acted out in any way to threaten them as “sticks, little sticks, were flying about – thick: they were whizzing before my nose, dropping below me, striking behind me against my pilot house” (Conrad, 1899, p.73). In line with the Hobbesian belief, Conrad chose to have the natives along the river strike first against the Europeans because they feared that the Europeans would cause them more harm if they chose not to strike. After Kurtz passes away, Conrad illuminates Marlow’s mental turmoil as he fears “the possibility of a sudden onslaught and massacre, or something of the kind, which I saw impending” (Conrad, 1899, p.108). Conrad once again incorporates Hobbes’ belief by opening a window to Marlow’s thoughts about the fear of an attack functioning as a defense.
One area that Hobbes and Conrad adopted contrasting ideas on was women. Hobbes insisted on the equality of all people, explicitly women, because he believed that all people face domination and possess the ability to potentially dominate other people. Conrad, however, portrayed women in Heart of Darkness in a different manner than he portrayed men, observing “how out of touch with truth women are. They live in a world of their own, and there has never been anything like it, and never can be” (Conrad 1899). Conrad implies that woman harsh reality around them while men face the facts. Instead of forcing Marlow to tell the Intended Kurtz’s true last words that reflected the horror in the Congo, Conrad chooses to have Marlow preserve the innocence of the woman because he does not think she can handle the truth and chooses to have him lie to the Intended, informing her that “the last words he pronounced was – your name” (Conrad 1899). Conrad prefers this deception so that Marlow does not disillusion the Intended and destroy the idealistic version of Kurtz that she has developed over the years. While Conrad writes initially in a way that implies that women are lesser than men, Conrad eventually implies ironically that Marlow is actually the person who cannot handle the truth. Hobbes would have most likely chosen to allow Marlow to tell the Intended the truth about the horrors that Kurtz committed and experienced, but alas, Conrad, not Hobbes, wrote Heart of Darkness.
Attitude to Feminism in Hod
In Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Marlow’s preconceived notion of the naïve and sheltered woman is revealed early in the novel: “It’s queer how out of touch with truth women are! They live in a world of their own and there had never been anything like it and never can be. It is too beautiful altogether, and if they were to set it up it would go to pieces before the first sunset.” (Conrad 10) However, it is because of the women’s purity and naivete that the female characters in the novel–Marlow’s aunt, knitters of black wool, the African mistress, and the Intended–possess a sense of mystery and wield power over the men. The women eventually lead the reader to the discovery of a new truth—not that of the stark reality of the Congo, but of the fact that men yield to women’s will as a way to discover and assert themselves. The women are powerful enough to present the men with a direction, a literal journey, and a sense of purpose.
Though Marlow’s aunt and the wool knitters appear for only a short period, their presence precipitates and steers the course of the novel. Marlow’s aunt, who is presented as a disillusioned woman stubbornly adhering to the notion of “White Man’s Burden,” is the one who actually directs Marlow into his expedition of self-discovery and truth in the first place. This irony is compounded by the fact that it is Marlow’s aunt who comes to the rescue when his own efforts prove fruitless: “The men said ‘My dear fellow,’ and did nothing. Then–would you believe it?–I tried the women. I, Charlie Marlow, set the women to work–to get a job.” (6) This passage implies that, regardless of Marlow’s condescending views of women, he too realizes (though without admitting it outright) the female influence and his and other men’s powerlessness. It is his aunt’s belief in the fundamental goodness of humanity that gives her power over men; she justifies male imperialistic goals and becomes the object onto which these men project wealth, power, and status.
The women in the Belgian company office knit black wool, symbolizing and foreshadowing a sealed fate, dark and tragic. Their power rests in their possession of this fate, and their presence is so domineering that later in the journey, Marlow yields to their unquestionable authority: “The knitting old woman with the cat obtruded herself upon my memory as a most improper person to be sitting at the other end of such an affair.” (59-60) If Marlow’s aunt is the usher into Darkness, then the knitters are the Darkness’ gatekeepers, and Conrad’s representation of fate as two women is no concidence. The connection between the aunt and the knitters, and eventually the other female characters, binds them in a sisterhood, and their roles only complement their own respective goals in maneuvering the men.
The ending of the book is shaped by the African mistress and the Intended. In physical contrast to the ailing Kurtz, the two women are towers (literally, by the descriptions of their height and outstretched arms) of strength, devotion, and purity. Throughout the book, Kurtz is the “remarkable person” (16), the “exceptional man” (19), and a quasi-Christ-like figure, but, to Marlow, the Intended is a god: “bowing my head before the faith that was in her” (70) and “silencing me into an appalled dumbness” (69). While Kurtz holds truth, the Intended holds illusion, and Marlow’s ultimate lie proves the world of women overcomes the world of truth. It is women’s illusion that shelters men and gives them strength and purpose. This protection can be clearly seen with the Intended: her depiction of Kurtz is drastically different from the reader’s observations, and her distorted image of Kurtz creates his pristine legacy by cleansing him of his corruption. Her “inextinguishable light of belief and love” (69) manages to extinguish the darkness of humanity, of the man’s world.
Marlow’s asserts women are “out of it” (44), that they exist in their own ideal space, void of vision and possibility and unbeknownst to truth and reality. Yet Marlow’s journey into the Congo places him into a dreamlike state in which he similarly cannot discern truth from fantasy. The implications of a thick, dark jungle signify a world where “the reality fades” and “the inner truth is hidden” (30). Thus, though both the female and male worlds are dark, the female characters dominate because they have not fallen into the male abyss—due to their purity and pledge of responsibility and faith. Marlow’s hazy journey into the Congo and hazy views of the female gender are similar, and this similarity is made even more apparent when he encounters the African mistress, who actually embodies the wilderness itself: “And in the hush that had fallen suddenly upon the whole sorrowful land, the immense darkness, the colossal body of the fecund and mysterious life seemed to look at her, pensive, and though it had been looking at the image of its own tenebrous and passionate soul.” (56) Ironically, he is strongly attracted to her powerful feminine force, the force of nature, of the female world, which he had once made an effort to avoid. With his travel down the Congo, he has been forced to immerse himself in the female realm, an image of the African mistress with receiving arms, which has similarly “caressed him [Kurtz]…taken him, loved, him, embraced him, got into his veins, consumed his flesh, and sealed his soul…”(44).
Marlow’s confused view of women can be read in parallel with Conrad’s own struggle to overtly and covertly balance the strong female presences in his work. In the beginning of the novel, Marlow is disoriented by his aunt, who manages to throw his opinions of gender and power into question. Thereby, Marlow becomes uneasy about his own powerlessness and the fact that women might have an existence aside from his problematic interpretations. In order to adhere to his viewpoints, however, Marlow refuses to admit the nuances he himself allows the reader to observe (i.e. the unmistakable power of his aunt, the knitters, the African mistress, and the Intended beyond his own), and his omission reveals a fear which in turn imparts an independent and potent sphere to those women. It is with this sphere–and the mystery within–that Conrad is able to reveal female power beyond a literal portrayal. That power is deeply psychological and subconscious, and closely intertwined amongst the women–the aunt ushering, the knitters guiding, the African mistress embracing, and the Intended cleansing–to conform the male characters to the female will.
Joseph Conrad. Heart of Darkness. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1990.
The Value Of Sacrifice In “Heart Of Darkness” By Joseph Conrad
The Value of Sacrifice
What you value can often be determined by what you are willing to sacrifice. People may believe that they will honor what they value, but that usually only lasts until we are faced with benefits from sacrificing. Many people can say they have “good values” but the truth is that actions speak louder than words.
Upon reading, Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, I knew instantly what I wanted to write about. Mr. Kurtz is a star agent in the Company who was once thought of as a normal man with good intentions. Kurtz is an ivory trader in the heart of Africa. He brings in more ivory than all the other stations combined, making him sort of a legend among the other traders. He is spoken about in high regards and viewed in almost god-like fashion. In order to achieve that status, one would question what he had to sacrifice to get there? The answer would be that he sacrificed one of the most sacred values that any human being should have, morals. Kurtz, in many ways, could be considered greedy. He went into Africa with high hopes and ambitions, but the savagery of the land took its toll on him. His desire for ivory drives him to make alliances and enemies among the native Africans, and together, they raided village after village in search of ivory. He gave up his morals in order to secure his spot as a top trader.
Kurtz’s belief that he was a God of sorts, started after the following of the African natives formed. Africa was behind on the times, so when Kurtz came from Europe, he brought new technologies and advances with him. This made the natives view him as a God, and they were willing to protect and help him. This was a major factor in how he became the highest earning ivory trader. He used the kindness of the natives in order to advance himself in life, and to earn more money for himself. The Harlequin had told Marlow, “You can’t judge Kurtz as you would an ordinary man”. (56) This just proves that Kurtz was viewed as more than an “ordinary man”, and he placed himself above the rest.
Marlow appears to be more like the old Kurtz. The man Kurtz was before he became immoral and savage. Marlow goes to Africa with the dream of piloting a boat, but he sees how savage Africa is. Unlike Kurtz, he does not sacrifice his values and manages to keep civilized throughout the novel. In the beginning of Kurtz’s drive for power, he had simply created a persona of this “god like” person. However, as time went on, this persona of his had slowly become his true self. It shows that if you let something grab a hold of you, it can take over your life. The worst part about it, is that Kurtz does not see anything wrong with what he is doing. He is completely blind to the fact that he is power and money hungry, and is taking advantage of the African natives. It is not until the end of the novel, when he is dying on his deathbed, that he realizes what he has done. That is why he yells out “The horrors! The horrors!” (69) He sacrificed one of the most basic human values, his morals, to advance himself and gain power. Even the people around him were blind to that fact, so in a way, they gave up their morals as well.
Kurtz went to Africa with somewhat good intentions, and had dreams of becoming this great ivory trader. His dreams came true, but at expense. Marlow was able to keep civilized throughout his journey, so it shows that keeping civil and staying true to your values can be done. However, Kurtz sacrificed them because it was the easy thing to do, and he let greed and power corrupt him as a person.
- Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Global Classics, 2014.
How Do Early and Late Feminists Have Read “The Heart of Darkness”
Smith asseverates that she has “tried to show the utility for imperialist ideology of a gender ideology that constructs a feminine sphere as ‘too beautiful altogether’” (Smith183). She presents her thesis through an engagement with feminist “rethinking” (169), successfully noting the binary relationship between men and women. This paper pares down Smith’s argument into its most elemental form: By clannishly attributing undesirable feminine interpretations of imperialist ideology to women, using the literary tools of silencing and symbolizing, Marlow is empowered to formulate his personal masculine construction to obviate the collapse of the separate spheres of genders. In her supporting points calling on the representation of each significant woman in the novel, Smith indeed stays true to the ‘first-wave’ feminist methodology of, “identifying and opposing the various ways women are excluded, suppressed, and exploited” (Lynn 212). However, an important point to note is that she only sporadically ventures beyond, into post-feminism thinking of, “exposing the arbitrariness of this (male) privileging by reversing it, advocating matriarchal values” (214). Evidently, Smith has an ambiguous rending of feminist criticism.
Smith’s analysis of the representation of the laundress can be condensed into this statement: “That the laundress is silenced indicates Marlow’s power” (Smith 173), connoting that Marlow has full control over the portrayal of the laundress. The work of a feminist critic is “to expose this opposition … thereby undermining its power by exposing its artifice.” (Lynn 220) However, Smith does not go beyond stating “the laundress becomes vividly present by virtue of her absence” (Smith 173). In my opinion, her silence does not just render her “present”, but also ratiocinate a form of strong hold over the men. Marlow “respected” the accountant purely on the account that “his starched collars and got-up shirt-fronts were achievements of character” (Conrad 33) and the accountant’s appearance is wholly contributed by the laundress. To add on, the fact that the men are discussing about her in her absence also indicates her importance in the accountant’s life. Hence, Smith herself should do away with the assumption that it is only “natural that a native woman should do a white man’s laundry” (Smith 173) and gain new feminist perspective that the laundress might indeed be the silent ‘power-holder.’
Smith rightfully identifies that Marlow has a “condescending construction” (Smith 177) of his aunt. However, the closest Smith goes about to reverse this binary relationship is to admit that the aunt’s belief is not “unambiguously feminine,” but a “variant of the masculine imperialism”. (178). She advocates that Marlow “uses (his aunt) feminine lack of experience” (179). In Smith’s perspective, his aunt is likened to be Marlow’s chess piece – her only function is to produce “an ideological defense of masculine belief” (179). Indeed, her feminist criticism is undeniably right, showing that Marlow manipulate women’s representation to achieve his own aims. However, she falls short of elaborating the fact that Marlow might be the aunt’s chess piece. Dependent upon his aunt for his position as ship’s captain, Marlow realizes that he has been “represented to the wife of the high dignitary” (Conrad27). “Represented”, he is the object of someone else’s signification over which he has no control. “A piece of good fortune for the Company” (27), he is also an object of economic exchange. When Marlow says of his aunt “she made me quite uncomfortable” (27), it has been repeatedly assumed that his discomfort emanates from her naïve religiosity. A more covert, but more plausible, reading suggests that Marlow, sensing that he has become an object of someone else’s discourse, becomes uncomfortable in the realization that the ideology of male dominance might not hold true.
Smith decorously points out “the Intended is Marlow’s construct” (Smith180). Just before Marlow visits the Intended, he concludes from her portrait “she seemed ready to listen without mental reservation” (Conrad 90). However, Smith does not conform to, “the most obvious critical strategy” of feminist criticism, which is “to look for contradictions … as the author speaks different things to different audiences with the same text” (Lynn 224). She fails to enumerate that when Marlow encounters the Intended, he finds his representation of her challenged. She desires to talk far more than she wishes to listen, and her focus is more on herself than it is on Kurtz: “He needed me! Me!” (Conrad93). Instead of her listening to him, Marlow finds that he listens to her. In effect, she presents to him with an alternative representation, which threatens to undo his constructed theory of male superiority. Marlow in the opening exchange with the Intended is reduced to echoing the Intended’s words. It is uncanny that Marlow, who propagates a constructed narrative about women as narrative truth, who attempts to subjugate women as the weaker sex, is reduced to the same fate.
Moreover, her ratification of Marlow’s lie does not “break down our preconceptions and prejudices” (Lynn 215) which feminism criticism ought to. She surmises “Marlow’s lie functions to stabilize both the feminine sphere of “saving illusion” and the masculine sphere of “confounded fact” (Smith 181). In my opinion, that assay of Marlow’s lie is just brushing the surface of feminist criticism. His lie supplants the woman that it names, rendering woman and lies interchangeable. Lies or the untruth become linked with the body and the feminine – that which Marlow wishes to escape. Therefore, Smith should bring up that it is highly paradoxical that Marlow himself lies, which creates a blurring of gender within his character.
On the other hand, Smith does a competent feminist critique of the representation of the savage woman and the Company women. She goes beyond the basics of determining that Marlow symbolizes and commodifies the woman’s body as the enigma of the jungle and as a thing on which “value” is displayed respectively. She achieves that by challenging the notion of a female identity, advancing that “she might not be the conventionally feminine or conventionally native figure constructed by Marlow’s ideological narrative” (Smith 175). Smith also uses the woman’s silence to indicate ideological stress, thereby revealing “ideology as ideology” (Smith 175). Similarly, Smith’s assertion that the company women “dramatizes the futility of Marlow’s attempt to separate the realm of domesticity from that of colonial adventure, the feminine sphere from the masculine” (Smith 176) is developed relevantly in feminist methodology. By showing the dismantling of the separate spheres, she managed to “deconstruct the binary, dismantling the very oppositional structure that makes oppression and prejudice possible” (Lynn 214). In the substantiation of these women, Smith succeeds in “(undermining) the very idea of stable sexual oppositions” (Lynn 215), holding true to feminist methodology.
In my summary and evaluation of Smith’s article, I have endeavored to show the limitations of her argument, which attempts to hold on to feminist criticism by fundamental identification of sexual oppression and rather sketchy analysis of how Conrad had presented women in his novel. Attempts to “replace dualism with diversity and consensus with variety” (Lynn 214) are too exiguous to regard it as a commendable piece of feminism criticism.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Ed Ross C. Murfin. Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism. Bedford/St. Martina, 1996.
Smith, Johanna. “Too Beautiful Altogether” Ideologies of Gender and Empire in Heart of Darkness. Ed Ross C. Murfin. Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism. Bedford/St. Martina, 1996.
Lynn, Steven. Texts and Contexts. 4th Ed. Pearson Education, 2005.
The Depiction of Devastation in “The Heart of Darkness”
Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness presents an exciting exploration of the vast ethnic and geographical depths of Africa and the Congo River. The novella is a tale of immense conquest of new ground and culture, but under the primary level of the plot, it reveals one’s journey to self-discovery on a distorted road, intertwined with impediments and enigmas. The author utilizes extremely rich vocabulary and a plethora of varied descriptions to evoke the sense of being obstructed from moving forward with the story. The extensive usage of elaborate, convoluted adjectives, which induce a feeling of faint confusion in the reader, effectively infuse the text with the ominous feeling of mystique and confusion. In addition to this, Conrad makes use of specific word choice to convey the bleak, desolate nature of the whole world of the novella. Through the diversity of the figurative language and the use of literary devices such as metaphors, gradation, symbolism and imagery, Joseph Conrad exemplifies the portentous, yet inscrutable and barren landscape of the world that the characters are forced to stagger through.
The novella carries the sense of imminent doom throughout the whole story, creating a feeling of hopelessness and inevitability, effectively augmented through the calm, resigned embrace of this danger by the characters. The first ill omen of the journey is presented early on though Marlow’s remark upon setting foot in Belgium: “I arrived in a city that always makes me think of a whited sepulcher” (4). This comparison between the city and the imagery of the “whited sepulcher”, in effect a tomb, immediately gives the passage an ominous tone. This crypt-like town, carrying the intrinsic connotation of sorrow and death, sets off the evil-boding tone of the upcoming travel. As the time for sailing off approaches, the threatening feeling seems to wrap tighter and tighter around Marlow, creating an uncharacteristic sense of anxiety, a mood that gradually makes him realize that something is amiss. The protagonist detects this as he is tending to the business details of the voyage in the office of the Company, confessing that “[he] began to feel slightly uneasy … and there was something ominous in the atmosphere. It was just as though [he] had been let into some conspiracy—I don’t know—something not quite right” (4). Marlow’s words explain what he is feeling reasonably, but what truly illuminates his fear of the menacing vibe of the impending journey is the stuttering tone of the passage, stylized through breaking the sentence with em dashes. Furthermore, the ascending gradation of the sentiments “uneasiness”, “ominous atmosphere” and “conspiracy” creates a crescendo in the passage that mirrors the overall feeling of slow-burning danger, present in the novella. The sensation of looming peril escalates as Marlow ponders about the two secretaries, who “seemed to know all … about [him] … [he] thought of these two, guarding the door of Darkness, knitting black wool as for a warm pall, one introducing, introducing continuously to the unknown, the other scrutinizing the cheery and foolish faces with unconcerned old eyes” (4).
The portentous, mysterious depth of the passage is evoked through the imagery of the women “guarding the door of Darkness, knitting black wool as for a warm pall”, which evokes a strong connection to death and tragedy, amplified through the symbolism of the color black, traditionally associated with morning, and the simile “as for a warm pall”, tying in with the mausoleum-like representation of the city. In addition, the imagery of the two women knitting while deciding people’s faith alludes to Greek mythology, and more specifically, the three Moirai, who control the metaphorical thread of life of every person in the world by actually knitting their destiny. This mythological reference and the repetition of “introducing, introducing continuously to the unknown” further highlight the already heightened feeling of wariness palpable in the passage.
Conrad incorporates even more symbolism pertaining to impending doom in Marlow’s account of entering the office: “I was going into the yellow. Dead in the center. And the river was there—fascinating—deadly—like a snake” (4). The author utilizes the color yellow as a harbinger, hinting at the troubles in the future, as the color carries importance as a symbol of alertness and danger, and the snake, also as an ominous symbol. The figura etymologica “dead” – “deadly” more explicitly reveals the portentous character of the passage, setting the bleak tone of the journey very early on. While the string of ill premonitions is very easily noticeable in the opening pages of the novella, these forewarning passages continue to manifest themselves, albeit more rarely, but with greater fervor as Marlow is exploring Africa. One of his first impressions of the continent and more specifically, the land itself, is that he “would become acquainted with a flabby, pretending, weak-eyed devil of a rapacious and pitiless folly” (7). The personification of the land as a scheming devil immediately establishes the whole landscape as an omen of imminent peril, and Marlow is completely aware of this. The juxtaposition of the “flabby, pretending” nature of the evildoer and his “rapacious and pitiless folly” creates a sense of bewilderment and uneasiness as the conflicting qualities make the image of the “devil” questionable.
This general feeling of anxiety grows stronger and stronger as Marlow begins to recognize the same ominous atmosphere in the gestures and words of others. While Marlow, the narrator of this story, is eavesdropping on a conversation between the manager and the manager’s uncle, he becomes terrified of the evil-boding nature all around them as “the forest, the creek, the mud, the river – seemed to beckon with a dishonouring flourish before the sunlit face of the land a treacherous appeal to the lurking death, to the hidden evil, to the profound darkness of its heart” (15). Through the personification of “the forest, the creek, the mud, the river”, the whole landscape seems like a harbinger of imminent peril. The passage again works with juxtaposition to emphasize the “lurking death” of the journey, creating contrasting imagery such as “dishonoring flourish” and “before the sunlit face … to the profound darkness”. Moreover, the descending gradation of “lurking death”, “hidden evil”, “profound darkness” aims to downplay the importance of the characters’ physical peril as if this fate has already been established for them. The novella creates a sense of constant threat through the use of varied language, and the use of this ominous atmosphere cleverly introduces the motif of uncertain darkness.
The inscrutable nature of the novella’s world is conveyed through many bizarre moments during Marlow’s retelling of the story, with all of these unfathomable events establishing a metaphorical impenetrable darkness, clouding all possible clarity and judgment on how to act accordingly on this quest. Many aspects of life in and around the Company’s stations in Africa evoke feelings of perplexity and estrangement, starting as soon as Marlow sets foot on the new continent. One of his first encounters with the inscrutable is described in the account of his first steps while exploring: “I avoided a vast artificial hole somebody had been digging on the slope, the purpose of which I found it impossi-ble to divine … It might have been connected with the philanthropic de-sire of giving the criminals something to do. I don’t know. Then I nearly fell into a very narrow ravine, almost no more than a scar in the hillside” (7). The protagonist’s bewildered reaction to this new, inexplicable world is conveyed through his absurd explanation of the matter, suggesting that the only real reason for this pit to exist is to provide actual work to the captives on the land. The curiosity of the situation is also amplified through the slight irony that while he avoided the larger, more dangerous hole, he almost had an accident with the small obstacle, “no more than a scar in the hillside”. Moreover, the “vast artificial[ness]” of the man-made pit is juxtaposed with the natural quality of the ravine, evident by the personification of the land through “scar”, which further demonstrates the unfathomable character of this realm.
At first, Marlow is puzzled by the strangeness of the land and scenery, but this turns out to be just a small part of the whole oddness of the world. Very soon, he encounters other humans, whose living conditions and appearance evoke an even stronger sense of confusion in him. As Marlow continues to explore the land, he comes upon “[b]lack shapes [which] crouched, lay, sat between the trees, leaning against the trunks, clinging to the earth, half coming out, half effaced within the dim light, in all their attitudes of pain, abandonment, and despair … The work was going on. The work!” (7). Again, he is dumbfounded by the juxtaposition of the miserable lives of the workers, coming to their end, and the relentless mining work, stopping for nothing or no one. The enigmatic nature of the whole situation is expressed through the metaphorical degrading of the workers as “shapes”, incomplete human beings and the symbolism of the color black, synonymous with darkness and the unknown. Marlow heightens this sensation through the vivid, rapid enumeration of the labor workers’ actions, which creates a chaotic, perplexing feeling in the reader, and also evokes the sense of dismay through the exclamation mark at the end of the passage. In this incomprehensible world, Marlow does not truly see the Africans as whole human beings; instead, his fragmented descriptions signify just how inconceivable he finds his whole surroundings. The people he encounters are “bundles of acute angles [which] sat with their legs drawn up. One … stared at nothing, in an intolerable and appalling manner: his brother phantom rested its forehead, as if overcome with a great weariness; and all about others were scattered in every pose of contorted collapse … ” (8). Marlow’s lack of understanding of this world is evident by his misinterpretation of the gazes of these people, dismissing them as “star[ing] at nothing” and being “overcome with great weariness” without any knowledge about them. His frustration with the unfathomable permeates through his “intolera[nce] and appal[l]” at the person, who seemingly gazes towards nothingness. The inscrutability of the continent is conveyed again through the descriptions of the black inhabitants as “acute angles”, “phantom[s]” and “pos[ing] [in] contorted collapse”, which all illustrate a bizarre image, characteristic for this strange world. Near the end of the novella, as the crew is sailing back, Marlow finds the physical, human manifestation of this curious world in Mr. Kurtz himself, remarking that “his [life] was an impenetrable darkness” (32).
Despite even this revelation, Marlow never learns to decipher the perplexing nature of life, yet grows to accept things how they are. He muses: “droll thing life is—that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose” (33). The metaphorical “mysterious arrangement” skillfully synthesizes the notion of the inscrutable world, but Marlow’s dismissal of the “futile purpose” reveals this world is nothing to be preoccupied with. The novella portrays Marlow’s tale as a journey into a mysterious, unfathomable world where nothing makes sense, a notion which, through his embracing attitude at the end, is rendered trivial. This world is not only trifling in its inscrutable law and order, but also very desolate and empty.
The barren landscapes and internal reflection and pondering of the characters create a sense of isolation and seclusion in the novella, effectively establishing the notion that every person in this world is perpetually alone, at first physically and consequently, mentally and spiritually. While Marlow does not see this in the beginning of the novella, his personality has changed significantly due to the journey to Africa. He has become extremely moody, often internalizing and analyzing all emotions he feels, choosing only to share out his ideas rather than engage in real conversation. His transformation begins during the trip itself as he evokes the terrible sense of isolation, first present in nature: “not the faintest sound of any kind could be heard. You looked on amazed, and began to suspect yourself of being deaf – then the night came suddenly, and struck you blind as well … just there, standing all around you like something solid” (18). The serenity of the landscape inhibits Marlow’s senses, which starts the internal process of feeling isolated, alluded to by the notion of “suspecting yourself” in Marlow’s own words. The simile “standing all around you like something solid” further heightens the overwhelming quality of this newfound bareness. The change is gradual, with Marlow beginning to connect everything with this imposed seclusion, often amplified in his internal exploration of real world, physical maters. While the helmsman is dying, Marlow contemplates that “as though in response to some sign we could not see, to some whisper we could not hear, he frowned heavily … the luster of inquiring glance faded swiftly into vacant glassiness” (21). The isolation he feels is two-fold, for he feels the helmsman’s misery at not being to adequately respond to the sign only he can sense, and at the same time, he feels insulated himself as he cannot grasp who the addressee of the dying man’s reaction is. The anaphoric repetition of “we could not see … we could not hear” creates a sense of total sense deprivation, and coupled with the bleak connotation of “vacant glassiness”, it establishes the extremity of the world’s desolate effect on humans. Marlow has become so affected by this notion that he finds no refuge in the idea of death, but actually objectifies it as the ultimate symbol of desolation, “tak[ing] place in an impalpable greyness, with nothing underfoot, with nothing around, without spectators, without clamour, without glory, without the great desire of victory, without the great fear of defeat … without much belief in your own right, and still less in that of your adversary” (33). The irrevocable effect of loneliness death possesses is corroborated through the listing of its qualities with the constantly reoccurring “without” and the notion of the “impalpable greyness”, which serve to create a feeling of perpetual isolation. This morbid sensation of life being an unceasingly lonely affair continues to haunt Marlow upon returning to Europe. He feels permanently misunderstood, dismissing people as “in-truders whose knowledge of life was … an irritating pretense, because [he] felt so sure they could not possibly know the things [he] knew” (33). This quote reflects the change Marlow has undergone as previously, in the wilderness, he could not find human contact to remedy his sense of remoteness, yet now, when he is among people, he labels them “intruders” with an “irritating pretense”, which signifies the way his physical isolation has been gradually transformed into emotional. Through the portrayal of the austere landscapes of Africa, coupled with Marlow’s growing internalized sense of loneliness, the novella portrays the complicated notion of how isolation is felt two-fold, physically at first, and later spiritually, thus establishing a sense of involuntary seclusion.
Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is a tale of exploration and travel, emphasizing the inner and spiritual along with the physical. While the plot is driven by a journey to Africa, the novella conveys a story about humans’ struggle to preserve their true self. Through a plethora of literary devices, the author portrays an ominous world, filled with unfathomable mysteries and problems, which ultimately leaves a person feeling isolated and forlorn. In the text, Conrad exposes the world as the miserable place it really is, and by allowing its lonely characters to somehow come to terms with the ill-boding, highly illogical order of things, he reaffirms the trifling nature of people’s existence.