Heart Of Darkness 9 Essay, Research Paper
Joseph Conrad s Heart of Darkness relates to the reader through several narrational voices, the story of the Englishman Marlow traveling physically up an unnamed river in the wilderness of the Belgium Congo, and psychologically as a journey into one s self. The frame narrator is an Englishman upon the Nellie , a yawl on the river Thames, who relates the story as told to him by the separate narrator Marlow. Through the frame narrator, Conrad expresses to the reader the theme of the shifting nature of reality.
Marlow s negative views on colonialism and racism (although contradictory) were the new ideologies taken into consideration during the time the novella was set. These views were expected to be adopted by the contemporary reader as evidenced by the frame narrator changing his view of London as “the biggest and the greatest town on earth” to being a “monstrous town marked ominously on the sky a broading gloom of sunshine ” It is important to realize, however, that both the frame narrator and Marlow absent information as affected by their own background and white, European upbringing and also personal experiences. Hence negative views on women and (unconsciously) African natives and strong views on colonialism and to a lesser extent racism arise.
Marlow quickly expresses his view on colonialism that “The conquest of the world which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.” When Marlow arrives at the station he is shocked and disgusted by the sight of wasted human life and ruined supplies . The manager’s senseless cruelty and foolishness overwhelm him with anger and disgust. Also through dramatic scenes such as the Grove of Death Marlow convinces the frame narrator and also the reader the negatives of colonialism. It is only through the insight of Marlow however that this view is attainable. If, for instance, the station leader were relating the story to the reader a far different view on colonialism would be adopted.
Marlows views on racism in the novella are two-faced. He consciously describes the Africans as “men one could work with” and is amazed that “in the name of all the gnawing devils of hunger they didn t go for us”. He then goes on to describe Africans through bestial terms such as “one of these creatures rose to his hands and knees and went off on his hands and knees” and gives them derogatory tags such as “nigger” and “other”. He also continually highlights the blackness of the Africans, through descriptions such as “A black figure stood up, strode on long black legs, waving long black arms….” and it s associations with evil , dark and other . Marlow s racial ideologies are largely contradictory. Consciously Marlow tries to reflect upon the good in the natives, (a view derived from his “journey”) but subconsciously he is still racist towards them (a view adopted directly from his white, European, male background). It is ironic because it is the colonialists racism and putting down of the natives he frequently expresses his concerns about and yet repeatedly throughout the novella Marlow the exact same thing to them.
The novella relates the story to the reader through the male authoritative figures of both Marlow and the frame narrator, both of which are white, European males. The representation of the women in the novella is only through these narrators, and hence the ideologies and portrayal of women is considerably sexist.
It is firstly through the description of the two knitting women that the reader is introduced to the role of women in society. They are described as “uncanny and fateful”, “guarding the door of darkness”. These women are disempowerd by Marlow through his description of them in supernatural terms, thus denying them any real presence in society. Marlow proclaims “They – the women I mean – are out of it, should be out of it. We must help them stay in that beautiful world of their own lest ours gets worse”. The women remain the narrated. This is further established when Marlow represents the women in purely figurative language, as is when he describes the intended (even named in her relation in terms to Kurtz as his fiancee) as a “soul as translucently pure as a cliff of crystal.”
Hence it can be concluded that the confident and mediating narrative account the reader receives from Marlow and the frame narrator Conrad is able to interrogate the theme of corruption and economic motivations behind colonial praxis. It is, however, unconsciously, also made clear that this text, its narrator and its author are products of their time and ideology, as it consistently represents the characters and situations in racist and patriarchal terms, so that the reader is also aware of the Eurocentric and ethnocentric themes running through the novella.