Saturday, November 4, 2017

Heart of Darkness

For such a short novel - novella may be more accurate - I found this surprisingly heavy going and I'm not really sure why. The plot is simple enough. Charles Marlow, who is based strongly on the author, recounts his adventures deep in the African Congo  during the time of the 'Scramble for Africa'. Marlow is employed by a Belgian ivory company and is on a mission to relieve Mr Kurtz, a top trader who has a fearsome reputation and whom Marlow is soon obsessed with. While the writing style is not the simplest it is no more complicated - in fact probably simpler -  than that by Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo which I have enjoyed and been engaged by in the past. I think part of the problem may have been that the story lacks immediacy. Marlow is recounting his adventure years later and has had time to order the events and ponder their meaning. He doesn't just recount but attempts to explain and put things in context. In doing so I felt some  potential intensity and vibrancy had been lost. I struggled to connect with  either Marlow or Kurtz and thus didn't really care what happened in the story as a whole. Some of the themes were interesting - the dehumanizing nature of colonialism for all parties, madness vs sanity,  the essential emptiness at the core of humanity. However, many of them were tied to Africa - the darkness of the interior was tied to the darkness of man for instance, while the "strangeness"  and perceived threatening nature of the setting seemed inextricably linked to - even contributing - to man's madness, violence and greed. Such a portrayal felt racist, wrong and alienating to me, a modern reader.

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