Heart of Darkness

Part 1 Joseph Conrad — well, check out the biography on-line.  A fascinating man. For our purposes, the most important part of his pre-author life was as a merchant ship captain.  He traveled all over the late-19th-century world — and was profoundly troubled by what he saw. He began writing a few years before Heart of Darkness, which originally appeared in 1898.  And he asked the question — how can you write, how can you speak about the unspeakable?  About things so horrific or insane that language fails you? One of his attempts is Heart of Darkness, his fictionalized trip up the Congo River.  Conrad went on what was essentially a trade mission.  What he discovered was Imperialism at its worst — slavery, mass murder, the destruction of entire peoples, all undertaken under the names of Civilization or Enlightenment or Name-Your-Own-Poison. He puts his thoughts — his observations, his profound questions — into the mouth of a narrator he uses in one short story and three novels, Charlie Marlow, a typical Englishman, clear-thinking, hard-working, and nearly destroyed by what happens in Africa. Conrad tries to capture that horror, that insanity, that corruption, in elusive language.  And also with a profound sense of irony: the profound difference between appearance, or what is said, or how things appear, and reality, how they really are. His characters simply march off the page.  In addition, in an astounding exercise of place-placed fiction, he makes the gloom, the jungle, the darkness a character in the book.  There’s good reason why this is a true classic. Part 2 Well.  No doubt you have finished the novel.  Not only was Conrad horrified by what he saw, and experienced, in Africa (and other places), he felt was it ultimately corrupting for everyone.  Not only the jungle, which has the force here of is own brooding, malevolent character, but the human spirit, which, left to its own devices, turns to horrid, despicable impulses and actions. Mr. Kurtz uses that genius for mass murder — and for human sacrifice offered up to him as a deity.  His scrawled message “Exterminate the brutes!” has eerie consequences in the 20th Century — a time of the greatest mass murders in history (Europe, Soviet Union, China, Cambodia, et al).  His utter corruption has affected our view of character — at least in literature — for a century.  As has Marlow’s inability to tell the tale in a clear, declarative way. In addition, his own change, from someone who abhors a lie into a liar at the end, indicates just how corrupting everything about imperialism can be. In a last note, the line about Kurtz being a great political speaker — “what party?  Any party” — has become one of most quoted lines in literature.  We hear its echoes endlessly in every political season BOOK “https://www.planetebook.com/free-ebooks/heart-of-darkness.pdf”

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