Book Review

#3 Book Review

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HEART OF DARKNESS

by Joseph Conrad

-“Hunters for gold or pursuers of fame, they all had gone out on that stream, bearing the sword, and often the torch.”-

Genre: fictional narrative prose

 

As I said in my last review, today I’ll talk about a novel written by a male writer.

Joseph Conrad was born in Poland in 1857, when it still was under the Russian rule, and his father died when he was almost twelve.

At the age of seventeen he went to Marseilles (France) and from there he started to go to sea, as he had always desired.

He went to the Caribbean and Africa.

When he settled down in London he did not speak English, so he learnt it living there.

He married an English woman and he started his career as a writer.

He died in 1924.

Heart of Darkness was published in 1899 and it is written in English, like all his other works.

The tale is told by an unnamed narrator who is travelling on the boat Neille with other four men.

Among them, Marlow, the protagonist of the novel, who starts relating what happened when he went down the Congo River.

Marlow had to find a man called Kurtz and to bring him back to civilisation.

While going deeper and deeper into the jungle, Marlow discovers how negative the colonial presence in that country is, natives are tortured, enslaved and killed.

Marlow finds Kurtz in bad mental conditions, and on the return Kurtz dies.

Once back home, Marlow wants to visit Kurtz’s wife to tell her what happened to her husband.

But he is not able to tell her the truth about the mental breakdown Kurtz suffered and also his last words “the horror! The horror!”, so he says that Kurtz spoke her name as he died.

Sincerely, I did not like it.

It is not my genre, my fault.

But there is an interesting theme that is worth discussing.

The horrible and negative consequences of colonial activities in Africa damaged not only the natives, but also the colonisers, the institutions.

For us, it is normal to believe in the co-existence of good and evil in the same person, a feature of human beings that is also represented in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Stevenson, and it is clear – I hope so! – that colonisation didn’t bring anything good to the whole humanity.

Well, for Conrad’s contemporaries it was something astonishing and unbelievable.

When Heart of Darkness was published, and most importantly, while Conrad was writing it, Queen Victoria was still reigning.

It means that it was a time in which religion – according to Victoria’s attitudes – had a relevant importance and that the society was based on limited ideas.

Let me explain it better; in 1851 Prince Albert, Victoria’s husband, celebrated the construction of the Crystal Palace in London with an exhibition.

In this exhibition the anthropological theories of that time were shown to the public, and they were about the supremacy of the white – European man, who was figured as the highest form of evolution.

This idea of the unquestionable supremacy of the white man is negated in Conrad’s novel.

Conrad shows us that since the “superior” white – European men arrived in Africa, and in other many countries too, the situation collapsed.

The identity and humanity of the natives were destroyed in the name of civilisation.

Oh, remember, Hitler was white and European, like Mussolini, Franco and many others, also all those “superior” white – European men who went to the New World to get the situation better.

So, the analysis that Conrad made through this novel is bloodly innovative.

And the idea of bringing civilisation and better conditions to uncivilised countries is connected with the critic that I noticed in the novel on religion.

Religion was the most popular excuse used by Europeans for their missions.

For me, men are not worthy of God.

Their religion ruins the order He created, because religion is just a product made by men.

God talks about love and peace, not about how to torture or kill other human beings.

Another element of the novel is the descriptions Conrad makes; they are hard to get through, but there’s an explanation.

Conrad wanted to show also the limits of language, of communication; for certain experiences of our lives – negative or positive – there are no words to describe or tell them.

So, strong experiences like those in Heart of Darkness can’t be expressed, the interrupted and senseless language used by Conrad  is perfect for this purpose.

While reading Heart of Darkness you will be carried deeper and deeper into the impenetrable mysteries that lie at the centre of human personality.

The geographical voyage described in the novel simply represents a discovery into the self, and you will learn that the white man who wants to civilise the savages of Africa is more savage and cruel than the black man he claims he is trying to “civilise”.

How tiny is the borderline that separates the limit between civilisation and savagery; for me, we have one foot per each side, we are not completely aware where we feel more comfortable.

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