October 15, 2014
Joseph Conrad’s, Heart of Darkness is about the character Marlow venturing off to Africa to meet the famous Kurtz that everybody in Europe praises. In the novella, a shadowy second figure is narrating Marlow’s telling of his life-changing journey in meeting Kurtz to a crew of men. In his journey Marlow encounters the demand for ivory, colonial dehumanization and overall the effects of imperialism. Due to the hazy point of view critics looked at Conrad’s novella through the lens of Post-Colonial Criticism, which can also be identified as “post-imperialist criticism” that refers to any time ensuing the establishment of colonial rule. There have been many ongoing arguments questioning Conrad’s perception of race; however, I couldn’t agree more with Patrick Brantlinger’s perspective in his “Heart of Darkness: Anti-Imperialism, Racism, or Impressionism?” criticism. Brantlinger believes Conrad offers a powerful examination of imperialism and racism within the era, even though his faulty, racist language was a product of the late Victorian period. In the novella, the Africans are portrayed as quiet, violent savages in which critic Achebe feels dehumanized and claims Conrad a racist. Having discredit Conrad’s work, Achebe downplays the art of Heart of Darkness. However, if art, in the form of literature, is supposed to rise above the prejudice of the artist’s time, can we Bolanos 2
say Conrad lacks this artistic element or does it depict his personal mindset? Although Conrad offers his anti-imperialist view, there is no exact evidence proving he is not a racist.
The recurring theme in the novella is the contrast between light and dark, which is intractably swapped back and forth blurring Conrad’s perception of good. When Marlow is arriving at Kurtz’s camp he starts describing, “I assure you that never, never before, did this land, this river, this jungle, the very arch of this blazing sky, appear to me so hopeless and so dark, so impenetrable to human thought, so pitiless to human weakness”(71). Marlow feels out of place that he can’t relate to the wilderness surrounding him. Conrad associates dark as a hopeless, mysterious element, which seems impenetrable to the European colonizers understanding. Without Europe’s regulation in Africa the “weak,” being the natives, are shown no mercy by the colonizers in the land that turns people to behave savagely. After Marlow’s trip from Africa he comes to realization of the veiled meaning of light may actually represents. “I know that the sunlight can be made to lie too, yet one felt that no manipulation of light and pose could have conveyed the delicate shade of truthfulness upon those features”(89). Light suggests the truth, however Marlow notices it could be deceitful. When the deceit of imperialism is revealed the truth emerges as “shade.” Shade in this context is represented real which contradicts to his earlier quote of dark that is portrayed as an unknown element. In Bartlinger criticism he claims, “Conrad works with the white-and-black, light-and-darkness dichotomies of racist fantasy in order to subvert them” (311). Quite frankly, Conrad’s meaning of light and darkness represents his own struggle of comprehension of virtue. Conrad indeed was surrounded by a fueled racist era so his intention to use the contrast of dark and light was not to subvert the racist fantasy, but to guide his own understanding of his ethics.
Bartlinger states Conrad distinguishes Kurtz as the “main hero” of the novella, but an Imperialistic villain would be more appropriate. Africa had major imperialistic domination to the point Conrad compares it to several patches on the Russian character’s clothing: “His clothes had been made of some stuff that was brown Holland probably, but it was covered with patches all over, with bright patches, blue, red, and yellow – patches on the back,...
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