Realism and/ or modernism Essay
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Marlow seems to alienate himself from urban society in favour of a wasteland. However, it can be said that this was a positive sacrifice. The Africans may have seen the modern bureaucratic Europe as a sterile and materialistic wasteland. Here we see Conrad prompting the reader to reassess his or her own opinions and interpretations of Africa. Conrad has been accredited with writing a ‘Harrowing Critique of Western Colonialism’. This is not only due to his explicit exposure of the atrocities of European colonialism but also his cunning use of vocabulary.
He refers to the ‘merry dance of death and trade’ (p.
31) as well as an ‘inhabited devastation’ (p. 32) when illustrating the horrors of the colonisation of Africa by Europe. ‘Heart of Darkness’ was written at a time when Africa was entirely carved up and shared out between a number of European countries. Conrad seems to be exposing the predatory nature of these countries and their attitudes towards colonisation, and particularly focuses on the Belgian Congo. He does not however, entirely condemn colonisation. He does not suggest any alternative, nor does he suggest that African natives are capable of running their own country.
Marlow does not make any attempt to understand the African culture, nor does he consider them as equals. Africa is seen very much as an antithesis to Europe, and therefore to civilisation. Even the title of the novella “Heart of Darkness” presents Africa as an uncivilized and primitive land, and could be accused of dehumanizing and dispersonalising Africa. Marlow views what is happening to the African natives from a distance and although he does respond to their treatment by the colonisers he does not react in any way. He claims he is on a “heavenly mission to civilize”(21).
It therefore seems as though Conrad views the colonisation as a civilising robbery, but includes very little discussion of the social or economic effects of the expansion of Europe. It is not only Conrad’s presentation of the African natives that is modernistic. Women are also viewed in very different ways throughout the novel. Kurtz’s intended is depicted as a typical Victorian woman. Marlow feels that he must look after her, and therefore protects her from the truth about Kurtz. Conrad’s description of African women creates a great contrast.
Here Conrad creates an image of a much stronger character. However, although African women seem to be presented as much more powerful and capable, the entire novella is written through the eyes of a male, and the entire focus is on male experience. There is much evidence of Conrad’s exploration of the Eastern world in ‘Heart of Darkness’. It is however, his examination of the inner life that is most evident. The image of the ‘black fellows’ rowing the boats is described by Conrad as ‘a momentary contact with reality’ (p. 30) implying that all humans share a common spiritual heritage.
This presents ‘Heart of Darkness’ as a cross-cultural almost mythical journey, suggesting that racial archetypes emerge only in dreams and myths. Modernists were also concerned with reassessing the ordinary and the everyday, and often invited the reader to reconsider their text. In ‘Heart of Darkness’ there are a number of adjectives used to describe the coast; ‘smiling, frowning, inviting, grand, mean, inspired or savage’ (p. 29). This is not a traditional presentation of a coastline, and the almost contradictory list prompts the reader to reassess his or her own interpretation of the coast.
The presentation of the edge of the ‘colossal jungle’ as a ‘ruled line’ (p. 29) is another modernistic feature of Conrad’s work, as it was not previously common to view natural creations in such scientific or geometric ways. This once again causes the reader to re-evaluate the text as well as their own perception of the ordinary and everyday. A sense of vision and perspective was of great significance to modernist writers. Marlow’s vision of the various ‘trading places’ passed on his journey is a thoroughly modernistic one.
The place names are listed before being described as belonging to ‘some sordid farce’ (p. 30). This is not only a slightly unusual presentation, once again prompting the reader to reassess the ordinary; it also gives a great insight into Marlow’s, and indeed Conrad’s own vision and perception of the outside world. Modernist writers often presented the world as desolate, and Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ is no exception. Marlow describes his ‘isolation’ within a ‘mournful and senseless delusion’ (p. 30), and the coast is illustrated as ‘formless’ bordered by ‘dangerous surf’ (p. 31).
Marlow’s journey is at one point described as a ‘weary pilgrimage amongst hints for nightmares’ (p. 31). This all seems to help create the common modernist image of a desolate world. Although Conrad does not celebrate the state of the modern world, he, like so many modernist writers, was concerned with honoring the creativity of language. His presentation of ‘insanity’ is followed by a glorious use of vocabulary; ‘lugubrious drollery’. His description of the ‘black fellows’ is also somewhat creative. He describes their faces as ‘grotesque masks’ and illustrates the ‘glistening’ (p.
30) whites of their eyeballs seen from afar. The inhabited devastation is described as ‘drowned’ in a ‘blinding sunlight’ (p. 32). Both the words, ‘blinding’ and ‘drowning’ have negative connotations and are used here to create the desolate negative image of the modern world Conrad was keen to present. This ‘recrudescence of glare’ (p. 32) created by Conrad is an incredibly creative use of language and vocabulary. Not only through the content of his text, but also through the use of his vocabulary and narrative, Conrad has created in “Heart of Darkness” an exemplary Modern Text.
Its exposure of the precarious bases of civilisation and its sceptical inquiry into what sustains value and meaning to human life are typical modernist traits. The political and social subject matters of “Heart of Darkness”; imperialism and colonialism, race and gender have proved increasingly controversial in the course of the twentieth century, and this is why the novella has received so much criticism and analysis.
Bibliography. Ackroyd, Peter, 2000. The Times. Barry, Peter, 1995 (2002). Beginning Theory, Manchester: Manchester University Press. Brooks, Peter.
Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1984 Conrad, Joseph, 1902 (1995). Heart of Darkness, London: Penguin Classics Hampson, Robert, 2000. Heart of Darkness, The Congo Diary, London: Penguin Classics. Student number: 200404375 Year: One Tutor: Richard Capes Module: Introduction to Modern Literature 14107 Essay 1 Show preview only The above preview is unformatted text This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE Joseph Conrad section.