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Heart of Darkness

October 6, 2012

I recently read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.  Most people studied this book in school, but I never did.  I wanted to see what I had been missing.  I found it difficult reading, even though it’s quite a short book.  I fact, I had to read it three times to get something out of it.  Maybe this was because it’s contrary to my normal scientific mode of thinking.

The story is told by Marlowe, who was once captain of a steamer on the Congo River.  He travelled to a remote station to make contact with Kurtz, the trader at that station.  He had heard many rumours about Kurtz.  Some said he’d gone mad.  Some praised him as a brilliant man.  Some feared him.  Much of the story is about anticipation.  As Marlowe got more and more impressions of Kurtz, he longed to hear his voice.

The story is also about the restraints that people have.  At home, there’s a policeman and a friendly neighbor who tells you what people are saying about you.  Out there in the jungle, there are no restraints except what you carried within you.  You could do anything.  Kurtz claimed that the natives would treat you as a god and would do anything that you wanted.  Kurtz struggled to define his restraints until he died.  On the other hand, Marlow saw the essential humanness of the cannibals who formed the crew on his steamboat.

Marlowe spoke often of the primeval land, of the black jungle had been there forever.  The natives were at the beginning of time.  They had no history, no way to learn from their ancestors.  Of course, this is a false concept.  It’s the European colonial attitude.  The natives did have culture, society, and language.  Even without a written language they still had stories and legends to transmit knowledge from their ancestors.

Ultimately, I’m glad that I read this book.  It does paint a vivid picture of this incident in Marlowe’s life.


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