Joseph Conrad – Heart of Darkness

Posted on | December 28, 2013 | No Comments

“The horror! The horror!” is one of those phrases that will haunt one, long after the last page of the book is turned. This book, or novella, is a ninety page almost-monologue, where the narrator is Marlow, who recounts his adventures searching for Mr. Kurtz in the darkness of Africa. Honestly, despite some incredible lines, I couldn’t wait for the book to end. Yes, I know it’s a classic, describing the horrors of the ivory trade in the Congo, and is one of those must-reads. However, the emphasis on the allegory of darkness being the heart of the African jungle, or the darkness that pervades the hearts of the European imperialists upon entering here, resulted in me struggling through. For the most part, I like layered narratives, overflowing with metaphors (or any literary device, really), but, to me, this almost came across as forced.

Mr. Kurtz, who Marlow only meets in the last third of the book, dominates the narrative. By all accounts, prior to his arrival in the Congo, Mr. Kurtz was a remarkable man. However, as heard through the grapevine, his adventures in the jungles show him as anything but. Thieving, looting, killing, and other barbaric acts seem to define his time in the Congo, while the primary mission that the Company had sent him on was to civilise this uncivilised world, while sending back ivory. Was his fall from grace a result of his environment, or was it simply his innate self being revealed at an opportune moment?

“But his soul was mad. Being alone in the wilderness, it had looked within itself and, by heavens I tell you, it had gone mad.”

Yet, as Mr. Kurtz lay dying, he acknowledged the futility of his endeavours.

Anything approaching the change that came over his features I have never seen before, and hope never to see again. Oh, I wasn’t touched. I was fascinated. It was as though a veil had been rent. I saw on that ivory face the expression of sombre pride, of ruthless power, of craven terror–of an intense and hopeless despair. Did he live his life again in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete knowledge? He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision–he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath:
The horror! The horror!

Marlow’s observations on his milieu were fascinating, and disheartening. It was incredibly bleak, and while one can take solace in the fact that the observations were based on Conrad’s own stay in the Congo which was over a century ago (1890), it still leaves one feeling fairly unsettled.

A slight clinking behind me made me turn my head. Six black men advanced in a file, toiling up the path. They walked erect and slow, balancing small baskets full of earth on their heads, and the clink kept time with their footsteps. Black rags were wound round their loins, and the short ends behind waggled to and fro like tails. I could see every rib, the joints of their limbs were like knots in a rope; each had an iron collar on his neck, and all were connected together with a chain whose bights swung between them, rhythmically clinking.

This is probably going to be my shortest review yet, for I don’t really have much else to say. I can see why it’s a classic, but… I really didn’t enjoy it!

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