Heart of Darkness

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<tr><td colspan="2" style="text-align: center;">Image:Conrad66 Improved.jpg</td></tr><tr><td colspan="2" style="text-align: center;">Joseph Conrad</td></tr> <tr><th>Country</th><td>United Kingdom</td></tr><tr><th>Language</th><td>English</td></tr><tr><th>Genre(s)</th><td>Frame story, Novella</td></tr> <tr><th>Media Type</th><td>Print (Serial)</td></tr><tr><th>ISBN</th><td>NA</td></tr>
Heart of Darkness
AuthorJoseph Conrad
PublisherHesperus Press

Heart of Darkness is a novella by Joseph Conrad. Before its 1902 publication, it appeared as a three-part series (1899) in Blackwood's Magazine.

This highly symbolic story is actually a story within a story, or frame tale. It follows Charlie Marlow as he recounts, at dusk and into the evening, his adventure to a group of men aboard a ship anchored in the Thames Estuary.

The story details an incident when Marlow, an Englishman, took a foreign assignment as a ferry-boat captain on what readers may assume is the Congo River, in the Congo Free State, a private colony of King Leopold II; the country is never specifically named. Though his job is transporting ivory downriver, Marlow quickly develops an intense interest in investigating Kurtz, an ivory-procurement agent in the employ of the government. Kurtz has a reputation throughout the region.


[edit] Background

In writing the novella, Conrad drew heavily on his own experience in the Congo: eight and a half years before writing the book, he had served as the captain of a Congo steamer. On a single trip upriver, he had witnessed so many atrocities that he quit immediately after. Some of Conrad's experiences in the Congo, and the story's historic background, including possible models for Kurtz, are recounted in Adam Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghost.

The story-within-a-story device that Conrad chose for Heart of Darkness — one in which an unnamed narrator recounts Marlow's recounting of his journey — has many literary precedents. Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein used a similar device, but the best examples of the framed narrative include Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales and Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

[edit] Motifs and themes

The motif of "darkness" from the title recurs throughout the book. It is used to reflect the unknown, the concept of the "darkness of barbarism" contrasted with the "light of civilization" and the ambiguity of both - the dark motives of civilization and the freedom of barbarism, as well as the "spiritual darkness" of several characters. This sense of darkness also lends itself to a related theme of obscurity — again, in various senses, reflecting the ambiguities in the work. Moral issues are not clear-cut; that which ought to be (in various senses) on the side of "light" is in fact mired in darkness, and vice versa.

To emphasize also the theme of darkness within all of mankind, Marlow's narration takes place on a yacht in the Thames tidal estuary. Early in the novella, the narrator recounts how London, the largest, most populous and wealthiest city in the world at the time (where Conrad wrote and where a large part of his audience lived), was itself a "dark" place in Roman times. The theme of darkness lurking beneath the surface of even "civilized" persons is further explored through the character of Kurtz and through Marlow's passing sense of understanding with the Africans.

Themes developed in the novella's later scenes include the naïveté of Europeans — particularly women — regarding the various forms of darkness in the Congo; the British traders and Belgian colonialists' abuse of the natives; and man's potential for duplicity. The symbolic levels of the book expand on all of these in terms of a struggle between good and evil, not so much between people as within every major character's soul.

Through the novel, Conrad stresses the importance of restraint; in his view a person’s "primitive honour" against his or her basic impulses. From the perspective of existentialism, people without restraint will be trapped in the destructive cycle and their lives will be absurd and insane.

[edit] Controversy

African professor Chinua Achebe, author of Things Fall Apart (1958), famously criticized Conrad in 1975 for having a racist bias throughout the novella. Achebe objected to the treatment of Africans who are de-humanised, denied language and a culture, and reduced to a metaphorical extension of the dark and dangerous jungle into which the Europeans venture. Controversy over Heart of Darkness first appeared in Achebe's 1975 lecture An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's "Heart of Darkness"."[1] In his lecture, Achebe branded Conrad "A bloody racist," and emphasized the implicit and explicit statements of the inferiority of African people to the white explorers.

An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” is part of the Postcolonial critical movement, which advocates considering the viewpoints of non-Westernized nations and people that are coping with the effects of colonization. At the time however he was met with dismay and outrage from one of his peers: "After I delivered my lecture at Harvard, a professor emeritus from the University of Massachusetts said, 'How dare you? How dare you upset everything we have taught, everything we teach? Heart of Darkness is the most widely taught text in the university in this country. So how dare you say it’s different?'" [2]. Others, such as Cedric Watts in A Bloody Racist: About Achebe's View of Conrad, refute Achebe's critique. (A quick 'Point by Point' refutation of Achebe's critique to Watts' rebuttal was done by one Alexis and Carla.) Other critiques include Hugh Curtler's Achebe on Conrad: Racism and Greatness in Heart of Darkness.

Counter-points to the racist argument typically include the following. The work is a frame tale; it is not the narrator's words, they are the words of Marlow, a Victorian imperialist with prejudices appropriate for his time, who would naturally use derogatory phrases. The work is supposed to be a nightmare atmosphere and thus the derogatory names used by Marlow and those he meets are stylistically appropriate to show the injustice of European exploitation. In addition a work of art is not always "autobiographical" in nature. Finally, however 'racist' Conrad's depictions of Africans may be, the African 'savages' are portrayed far more sympathetically than the European characters in the novel.

In King Leopold's Ghost (1998), Hochschild argues that literary scholars have made too much of the psychological aspects of Heart of Darkness while scanting the moral horror of Conrad's accurate recounting of the methods and effects of colonialism.

[edit] In the arts

  • 1940 - Orson Welles attempted to make his first film based on Heart of Darkness but abandoned the project.
  • 1958 - Playhouse 90 episode# 3.7, aired November 6th - American television version of Heart of Darkness starring Roddy McDowall, Eartha Kitt, Richard Haydn, Inga Swenson, and Boris Karloff as Kurtz.
  • 1972 - Aguirre, The Wrath of God, a German film directed by Werner Herzog, is remarkably similar to Conrad's novella — like Conrad's book, it mocks European colonialism and mimics the trip in to the jungle with the madness and depravity of the characters increasing the deeper they go in to the wilderness.
  • 1975 - Song titled "Heart of Darkness" by band Pere Ubu
  • 1979 - John Milius based his script for Apocalypse Now on the novel. It was filmed by Francis Ford Coppola.
  • 1980 - In A Confederacy of Dunces, the theme of "modern slavery" in America during the Jim Crow period is explored. There are two divisions in Levy Pants, a business that makes and markets pants: white collar (office work) and blue collar (factory work). Most (perhaps all) of the underpaid factory workers in Levy Pants are American Blacks. When Ignatius J. Reilly enters the factory, he is reminded of Heart of Darkness: "Perhaps I likened myself to Kurtz in Heart of Darkness when, far from the trading company offices in Europe, he was faced with the ultimate horror. I do remember imagining myself in a pith helmet and white linen jodhpurs, my face enigmatic behind of a veil of mosquito netting." In addition, the terms Outer Station, Central Station, and Inner Station are used in association with Levy Pants.
  • 1993 - Nicholas Roeg filmed Heart of Darkness for television with Tim Roth as Marlow and John Malkovich as Kurtz.
  • 1993 - Animaniacs parodied both Apocalypse Now and Heart of Darkness in a segment in episode 20 called Hearts of Twilight. (This sketch was a perfect example of how Animaniacs entertained both adults and children: adults would get the "Apocalypse Now" subtext, while children loved the strange theme song and the Jerry Lewis "Mr. Director" character.)
  • 1993 - In the novel Headhunter by Canadian author Timothy Findley, a schizophrenic spiritualist accidentally sets Kurtz free from page 92 of Heart of Darkness, and is forced to find a Marlow to defeat him. The novel recasts Kurtz and Marlow as psychiatrists in an apocalyptic version of Toronto.
  • 1995 - Heavy metal group Iron Maiden included a song based on Apocalypse Now on their album The X-Factor. The song in question took its name from these novella.
  • 1996 - The episode of Seinfeld entitled The Chicken Roaster paid homage to both Apocalypse Now and Heart of Darkness in a scene where Jay Peterman has become a "white, poet warlord" in Burma. In the closing scene of the show, Jay Peterman repeats the famous line "The horror, the horror."
  • 1998 - Star Trek: Insurrection took plot inspiration from Heart of Darkness.
  • 2004 - Dead Ringers parodied John Kerry's campaign in the 2004 US Presidential Election using an Apocalypse Now/Heart of Darkness setting.
  • 2005 - Peter Jackson's King Kong has many references to Heart of Darkness, such as a scene where Jimmy holds a copy of the book and says “It’s not an adventure story, is it?” As King Kong itself is a story of the cruelties of men, the film suggests that Conrad meant to explore human cruelty towards others as much as he meant to explore the Belgian Congo—and thus also the film is more than an adventure story but also explores the human will to exploit others. [3]
  • 2006 - Lost. The novel is one of many to be mentioned in the popular television series Lost. It has been hinted that the literary works that are featured in this series are clues to its mysterious plot.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

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Heart of Darkness

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