Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
“The Nellie, a cruising yawl, swung to her anchor without a flutter of the sails, and was at rest.”
Rated the 26th greatest book of all times, this novella has been a source of controversy and debate since the day it was first published.
Heart of Darkness was Joseph Conrad’s fourth book. It was released in 1899; eight years after he returned from a Belgian steamer in the Congo. It’s a tale of imperialism, racism and the fine line between the so-called ‘civilised’ Englishmen and the ‘savage’ African tribes.
One of the most analysed pieces of text in history, it’s seemingly both the worst and the best novel ever written. Many post-colonial studies reference it despite many critics declaring it xenophobic and abrasive, a statement which I whole-heartedly agree with.
It tells the story of Charles Marlow, the captain of a steamer ship in the Congo Free State. Almost immediately he hears tales of the infamous Kurtz, an ivory trader whom the workers both respect yet fear. Marlow soon hikes upstream to his post at Central Station. It is here that he learns of Kurtz’s illness. He does his job, repairs a steamer, and as a result, witnesses first hand the deplorable conditions that the natives live in. It reveals the horrendous acts committed against the Congo tribes, the dehumanisation many Africans went through at that time, and the many ill side-effects of colonisation no longer thought about today.
Heart of Darkness is without a doubt one of the most deplorable novels I have ever had the misfortune of reading. It desensitises an entire population, a cruel act that cannot be justified by its historical significance.
- As previously mentioned, this novel is one of the few ‘accurate’ representations of the Africa European colonists created. However, it is not a piece of history that should be celebrated, rather a time that we should learn from and never repeat again.
- Conrad gives an intense and horrifying insight into human nature, a realness that is rare to find in most other works of this time. It shows the gritty harshness as much as it shows the brighter side of humanity and serves as a terrifying reminder for the capacity of human barbarity.
- The voice of Marlow is clearly unsettling, yet elegant at the same time. Every word spoken is spoken for a reason, and the language used throughout the novella is equally harsh and delicate. It’s an elaborate tale that stays in the reader’s mind for long after.
- The novel promotes genocide and even laughs at the death of native Congolese people. They’re tortured for the most insignificant of reasons and mutilated for ‘wrongdoings’ that cannot even be proved. The treatment shown is reprehensible.
- The only real, life-like characters are the white colonists. Not a single black person in this book is humanised in any way, shape or form. They serve no purpose other than the ‘jester’ and this so-called humour is at their expense.
- It describes Africa as a savage land full of wild creatures and immoral ‘slaves’. Yet Africa only became a ‘dark place’ after the Europeans invaded. Colonists made Africa into this power-hungry and cruel nation, a fact that is carefully glossed over throughout the novel.
Overall, I’d give Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness a one out of five. As great as it’s ‘contribution’ to history is, that doesn’t even come remotely close to justifying the character’s actions.
If you are a school or college student reading this for class, then read away. Otherwise, I wouldn’t recommend this novel to anyone. It shows the worst side of humanity and all of the carnage that colonists left behind them in the pursuit of profit.
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