English characters Essay
Adela can be paralleled to Kurtz in Conrad’s novella, who like her is in some ways also aware of the power of imperialism and its negative effects, as well as the changes it forces upon those living under its influence. Kurtz was a bright ambitious man drawn to the Congo by imperialism’s force, however unlike the Anglo-Indians such as Ronnie and Mr Turton, it can be interpreted he became aware of the negative effect imperialism was having upon him, and as a result his “soul [is] mad. ” For me Kurtz’s dying words on his deathbed: “The Horror. The Horror.
” have great significance these final words are open to any number of interpretations, from meaning the horror of the things he has witnessed, to the horror of the Congo environment itself. My own interpretation is that this shows Kurtz’s realization of his own “Heart of Darkness” and the shocking deeds he has done under its corrupting influence. Perhaps the only real difference between a Kurtz and a Ronnie or a Turton, is that Kurtz has recognised the effect imperialism has had on him and has seemingly made a conscious decision to go along with this corruption completely, with devastating consequences.
While characters such as Kurtz and Adela are somewhat aware of their changes and the negative consequences, the majority of characters in Forster’s novel (or at least – the imperialist Anglo-Indians) are also aware of the changes which occur in English people once under the influence of the Raj, but are hypocritical and do not see themselves as corrupted or racist. They simply believe that this is the only proper way for them to act.
Ronnie himself who was once nice to the Indians, after just a brief period under the influence of imperialism in India, now aspires to be like Mr Turton who he sees a character of the utmost wisdom, and as a result has copied his behaviour. Conrad paints a harsh, brutal portrait of imperialism in his novella, giving little or no characterisation to any of the African slaves/natives. He seems to present the slaves merely as objects or machines or even in one instance “angles”.
He does not name any characters but gives them a title according to their job or characteristics, characters such as The Helmsman, who had been educated by Marlowe’s poor predecessor only to perform one task, and that was to steer the boat. Compared to Conrad, Forster might appear tame. Conrad depicts the brutality of imperialism in a shocking way, showing the black slaves being made to perform meaningless hard-labour tasks such as digging holes and describing the physical state of their bodies in disturbingly graphic detail; Marlowe the narrator can see “every rib”.
In Forster’s novel however perhaps the most shocking incident is the alleged assault of Adela which probably didn’t even happen. However Conrad does show some compassion in his novel, the slaves or ‘Hollowmen’, are pitied by Conrad’s protagonist Marlowe: he offers a biscuit to a dying slave and also saves the helmsmen’s corpse from being eaten by cannibals.
Added to this are Marlowe’s views on imperialism itself, apparently similar to Forster’s: “This conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion [… ] than ourselves, is not a pretty thing. ” Forster, it has been argued “looks dispassionately at the phenomenon of imperialism” (John Beer), and indeed, unlike Conrad, Forster in many ways shows imperialism in a much less obviously brutal light.
However, I would argue that he does indicate a great dislike of people’s inner “Heart of Darkness”, which allows for the negative effects of imperialism, and he does so more gradually, through the in-depth characterisation of his characters. He particularly achieves this through those he is sympathetic with, such as Aziz, in whom he shows both the good points and bad (he is not afraid to show racism present in his Indian characters)- making the Indians, unlike Conrad’s slaves, real people, who we as readers can empathise with, rather than simply be horrified by.
Forster’s sympathetic characterisation of the Indians makes the acts of racism against them all the more sad, and by this he does paint, like Conrad, a brutal picture of Imperialism, through use of characters who have had their ‘hearts of darkness’ triggered by imperialism and make such shockingly racist, not to mention patronising, remarks as “The kindest thing one can do to a native is to let it die” (Mrs Callendar).
Forster also gets us to sympathise with English characters who do not look “dispassionately at the phenomenon of imperialism,” such as Fielding (Indeed Fielding is believed by many to be Forster’s representation of himself in the book). He through Fielding attempts to show the good in people, and like Conrad’s Marlowe, but to a much greater extent, shows acts of compassion and liberal mindedness in Fielding: he is the first English professor to teach Indians in his university and has Indian friends such as Godbole, and becomes a friend to Aziz.
However Forster makes it all too clear that Fielding is a on his own, a man swimming in a sea of racists, such as the Turtons and Callandars. The act which sets Fielding most apart from his fellow Englishmen is of course his support of Aziz in the Marabar affair; but even he shows his inner “heart of darkness” when he deserts Aziz at the train station and at the end of the trial.