Book Review: ‘Heart of darkness’ by Joseph Conrad
July 3, 2013 § 1 Comment
The book is an extra-ordinary account of a sailor going into Africa during the era of British imperialism in the region – specifically, at a time when the British are bereaving the continent of ivory, a product that is very high in demand back home.
Conrad has narrated the story from the viewpoint of a sailor who goes into the ‘darkness.’ Conrad does seem to believe in the supremeness of civilization and of a more ‘advanced’ ideology but is equally in sheer awe of the primitive, untouched portions of Africa which haven’t witnessed a hint of civilization. When speaking about these areas, he sounds almost religiously subdued, which shows both his passion for the exploration of the new and at the same time, his desire to keep the ‘darkness’ intact, for that is the beauty of it.
At the same time, the central character in the novel, Mr. Kurtz, is portrayed as someone who had gone into the darkness, experienced something extraordinary and in his lust for ivory, had adopted extra-ordinary measures, looting and plundering entire villages. And yet, and this shows the duality and fickleness of all morality, Kurtz is like the God incarnate for the natives in the area, who nearly worship him and a gesture from him suffices to affect them instantly.
The most extra-ordinary thing about the book is the style of the narrative. During the course of reading it, you feel as if you are flowing on the wild ebb of a delirious wave, drunk with a restless freedom and trying to find some kind of truth to life. The delirious narrative plucks you from your immediate world and leads you deep into the dark forest where strange things stir and the darkness itself becomes a yawning, breathing, living being; nay, a living god, with mighty powers and mightier wisdoms to offer.
While some have styled the verdict of the novel as that Kurtz eventually goes awry and evil, and thus Conrad is dishing out a conventional critique of imperialism, I disagree. I believe Conrad fashioned Kurtz in a manner that the man was a perfect emblem of all things good and all things evil. He is greedy, yet exceptionally gifted; he is cruel and yet too sensitive to the slightest of things; he wants to forward his career but does not wish to part from the remote continent, with no pining for home.
Thus, Conrad leaves us with no way of devising as to what Kurtz really is – and the reader, by the end of the last page, is left perplexed, although still revering the mighty Kurtz who may sway many to love him but couldn’t sufficiently convince, despite his many evils, anyone to hate him definitely. Even the chief narrator of the story, Marlow, is left in a fix, thanks to this conundrum.
So while Conrad may be starkly opposed to imperialism, the more prominent theme in the book seems to be the objectivity of morality. For his ‘civilized’ peers, he is someone who has taken preposterous liberties and must be held accountable for them. But for the natives, who seem to be the victims of this alleged cruelty, Kurtz is still a higher being, gifted with greater powers and treated with veneration.