January 13, 2018 at 7:11 pm #455
Heart of Darkness, at least in its first part, is far less about telling a narrative than it is about building a physical and symbolic landscape from which a narrative emerges, but is altogether secondary to the emotion evoked by the descriptions and symbolism of space. In particular, Heart of Darkness paints society of the time as dark, untrustworthy, and selfish- creating an unwelcoming feel, while the sea is open and inviting. It also attempts a rather clunky commentary on colonialism.
The physical environment in the piece is relied upon heavily to create tone. The city which the drew is docked near in the beginning of the story is described repeatedly described as being surrounded by a gloom, accompanied by equally grim adjectives such as brooding and mournful. It evokes a sense of dissonance from society that the author is commenting on. It delivers, then, the idea that in becoming closer and more modern, society has become more unwelcoming and harsh. The sea is his home, lacking the dark secrecy of society. In this sense, the Darkness referred to by the work’s title is in reference to this gloom that hangs around the society of the time. That, however, is not its only meaning. The Heart of Darkness also refers to the area of the Congo where the storyteller finds the majority of the tale. As he travels, the environment is used once again to evoke emotion- much of what he describes on the journal of which he has dreamed of since childhood is grim in contrast to the wonder presented when he narrates as a child. The colours of the environment are grim and plain, and the realities of colonization in Africa paint a grim and hopeless image in contrast to just a few pages earlier, when a young boy was marveling at the possibilities of undiscovered land. This reflects a change in society, not for the better, as the boy aged. It also leads into the book’s critique of colonialism.
I find the novella’s discussion of colonialism to be rather clunky and lacking. Only so much can be disregarded as being a product of the time, and deserves critique even if the idea was perhaps seen as revolutionary. When the storyteller sees African’s being treated as slaves- dying and suffering as they make railways and then starve to death, he is described as horrified. However, more effort seems to go into- perhaps unintentionally- reinforcing pre-existing stereotypes. Repeatedly, the African people in the novella are compared to animals. When the storyteller describes them working on the railway, he likens them to ants. He goes on to describe more animalistic behavior, such as walking on all fours and referring to them as savages. These images would feed into the dehumanization of African people already present in culture of the time, not to effectively dismantle them. Later, he refers to an overweight African boy as insolent- it is the only African present who isn’t a slave, and his defining characteristic is that he is spoiled- not a flattering image. In this regard, it feels, at least in the first part, to be a rather empty critique.
Though Joseph Conrad succeeds in painting an image of how he views a society that has fallen from grace, his critique of colonialism embedded within feels lifeless. The character of focus has life, but much of the description goes into aspects of his life that feel pointless. All the while, the critique of colonialism, which feels as though it should be the focus of the work, falls to the side, and in fact reinforces harmful ideas of the time.
January 16, 2018 at 8:27 pm #462
I agree with your comment about the narrative not being the main focus of the novel. I think that what this piece is doing is projecting the thoughts and the feelings of the main character into the description of nature and the landscapes found in Africa. In the first chapter, this can be seen in the contrast between the city, described as gloomy, harsh and cold, and the sea, which seems to represent a hope and change for Marlow, helps to create an expectation on the reader. However, when Marlow arrives in Africa and encounters all the violence and injustice, this hope is crushed; causing the readers to feel the same disappointment that the main character felt at the start of what he wanted to be a great adventure and a scape of his previous life. Overall, I find the use of the outside as a tool to explore the interiority of the character fascinating and very efficient to express and convey complex ideas. It is thanks to the details on the descriptions of Marlow’s surroundings that we can comprehend how he feels, what his expectations are and what are the values and ideas that shape his character.
The novel also gives a relevant critic to the colonialism in the era, however, I agree with the fact that this critic is not at all what I would have expected. As you said, the critic of the actual injustice and violence in Africa may appear dull and with a lack of passion to the topic. Nonetheless, I believe that the actual critic is not so much against the occurrences that happened in Africa or even against slavery. Instead, I think that what Joseph Conrad was trying to judge was the evil and the darkness found in those men that are responsible for the colonization. The focus, at least on the first part of the novel, is on the terror and horror that caused Marlow to understand that the harshness and badness found in the city were actually settled on the heart of the people, and was, therefore, unavoidable. I understand why this point of view on a matter that affected a large group of people in a negative way, such as the colonialism in Africa, may appear egocentric and selfish, and I certainly wish for this critic to shift to a more interesting and comprehensive point of view in the next sections of the story.
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