Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
Again I need something between one and two stars… because obviously the content and language made me hate it. Whereas read in a post-colonial view and considered as an insight into the white male Gaze, it is quite potent.
Narrator 2, Marlow, is deeply racist. I am not going into the meta-fictional aspect of his narrative because I find that rather unnecessary in this case.
So we have a racist narrator, a man of his century. We have Kurtz, who is a dictator to say the least. Everyone else embodies the white male gaze (I am thinking of the question of Alterity), which assures the White Man that his actions are justified and he is ultimately superior. Marlow’s description of Africa reeks of hate. I cannot keep wondering if the readers of the first publications found their deepest fears of the Other justified and whether the novel played a big part in influencing and convincing people that everything and everyone foreign was a threat to their civilization and identity. If that was the case, and I sort of can imagine it, I would no longer wonder how all the stereotypes came into being that in some aspects are still employed.
In reading this novel today, the reader relives the horrors of colonization. If Kurtz is the heart of darkness, it is not because he is the symbolic heart of the dark continent it is because his heart is dark and vicious. He is described as a noble man who fell in a way ill due to his experiences in Africa. I however think, that Africa as a place not governed by a law Kurtz would accept as concerning or applying to him, rendered him ultimately free and in his freedom, his morality was soon lost and his true character revealed. It thus makes sense that his most prominent feature is his voice. His body is failing, his voice is not. Deeds are horrible. But words used a certain way can overthrow and restructure a civilization. We have seen it all happen. It often starts with words.
There is also a bit of sexism in it because the only women are 2 of the three literary types of women of that age: the saint (in Kurtz’s intended) and the barbarous whore (in the native woman who is described by Marlow as exhibiting a “tragic and fierceful aspect of wild sorrow and of dumb pain”), yet she is fascinating. I assume she is the only African who can be “magnificent” because she only is a woman and since women came only by an inch before Foreigners of non-western societies in the great chain of being, she was no threat anyway to the male supremacy. Every other African is seen as a dog or worse.
To conclude, I think if you read it not as a story that is supposed to entertain you but use it as a means to get some insight into thought and understanding of colonization and the views exhibited at the time, then the novel is worth a read. It is disturbing yet intriguing, especially because the lack of the African voice is so prominent. I longed for it but the absence tells you more than had it been there. So all that remains in the end are the illusions and justifications of the conquering people, which the reader can see through and take for what they are: smoke, wrong, fleeting. But I would like to emphasize that reading the novel in a purely entertaining and unreflected can be disastrous because the language alone is racist and disrespectful.
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