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Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
Member Name: KingHerrod
Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
Date: 13/07/02, updated on 13/07/02 (3259 review reads)
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Heart of Darkness, written by Joseph Conrad at the turn of the twentieth century has become one of the seminal pieces of English literature. Conrad, an exile from Polish Ukraine, whose true name was Jozef Korzeniowski (I like true names better, but then call me old fashioned - I am not about to change my name to Geoffrey now!) and whose true language was not English is cherished as a great English writer. It is perhaps because of Conrad's background that his books are hard to read and at times read like translations from his mother tongue to English. I have never finished any of Conrad's previous books, despite being told just how good the Secret Agent and the Heart of Darkness are - but this time I was determined to start and finish the Heart of Darkness and I did. After all it spawned one of the most critically celebrated films of all time, Apocalypse Now and the story lines of the book and film are closely matched - despite the shift in geographical location and political direction of the film.
The premise of Heart of Darkness is simple, take away the trapping of civilisation and place a supposed civilised man back into the wilderness - which is of course what happened throughout the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries as certain nations went hell for leather at imperialism and stripping nations of their natural riches and resources. A trait of course continued by America, by more subtle means at the start of the twenty first century - with a scramble for the new ivory, oil. Conrad's book
is based on his own personal experience. It was in 1890 that he went to work in Congo as a trainee steamboat captain on the Congo River, so that he could glimpse the greed of imperialism first hand and by virtue of certain accounts so that he could find himself and his true nature. What we have is a simple book, the tale of Marlow, a seaman, who recounts his own trip down the Congo River to rescue an ivory trader named Kurtz - what Marlow finds is that the civilised man is at his heart, barbaric and selfish and that imperialists are nothing short of burglars with no desire to do anything except exploit for personal and national gain.
Marlow's tale is also a metaphor for a person's journey within himself or herself - what is the true nature of a human? Kurtz has undertaken this journey and perhaps left whatever notion of sanity the West has along the way and as for Marlow, his own journey is just beginning - will he go the way of Kurtz, or will he simply observe with an amused air?
Heart of Darkness is undoubtedly a book with atmosphere and a deep sense of brooding, there are times when the narrative draws you in as Marlow (Conrad) must have been drawn in to what was happening around him. There are other times when the narrative is little more than a confused stream of consciousness, as Marlow in the telling of his tale seeks to recount what he couldn't quite grasp at the time and therefore cannot convey in his re-telling. This leads to a book that is incredibly difficult to read and is at times incredibly confussing - but perhaps critics of the book, who say it rambles and is poorly focussed should recognise that the rambling and the coming in and out of focus of what is actually happening are a means for Conrad to convey the atmosphere and to convey what Marlow (Conrad) felt as he undertook his strange journey. In this respect, the disjointed feel of the novel is little different to the somewhat disjointed feel of the film, Apoc
alypse Now. Heart of Darkness conveyed to me the feeling of a man in strange and barbaric circumstances who escapes the reality of his predicament by not really being there at all - except in the physical sense. This is true both of Marlow and of the manic Kurtz. When Conrad's narrative is in focus, he has some pertinent and interesting points to make about the base and selfish nature of all of humanity and when it is out of focus it drifts and loses itself. Whether this is meant or not, I do not know, but it makes this a damn hard book to read and not one for a relaxing read in the sun!
Heart of Darkness is a very clever book, it is written in a way that makes it stand out from the crowd of the vast plethora of literature available - but that style makes it difficult to read. If the reader pays attention there is a great deal of depth and insight into some of humanities more wicked ways to be gleaned, but perhaps the picture that Conrad paints is just a little too dark. I am not sure that humanity is quite as selfish, barbaric and dark in its nature as Conrad portrays. I do think that he was spot on about Imperialism and the scramble for loot and personal gain; I just don't think that the heart of the human soul is as dark as Mr Kurtz found - but then what do I know, I have never been down the Congo at the height of imperialist aggression and certainly never abandoned myself in the jungle to trade local commodities and seek the worship of the native inhabitants!
Personally, I found the ending a huge disappointment, but then it is probably realistic, the myth of the great man is usually far more impressive than the man himself.
This is a hard book to rate - it is, at times so hard to read and hit and miss that it could easily warrant 1 or 2 stars, yet at times its clarity of vision and conveyance of atmosphere would warrant five stars. I will settle for 4, but warn you, it is not everyone's cup of tea or rancid hippopo
<br>Published by Penguin.
111 pages long, but it is not a fast read - this is a book that needs to be taken in slowly, paragraph by paragraph, or I fear some of the atmosphere and deliberate confusion may be lost.
This is for Jill and her celebration - to more years free of Cancer and more years of friendship.