Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Heart of Darkness

After the first page of Heart of Darkness, I decided it must be one of those "discussion" books. By that I mean it's one of those books that hardly has any meaning until it has been discussed by a group. As I read, I could pick up on cool elements -- the story within a story, foreshadowing, themes, common phrases or images -- but I never felt like I completely understood. Why so much distance between the reader and the true story? Why wasn't it enough to simply have Malow tell his story? Who was this unnamed narrator and what was his purpose? And, most of all, why were single paragraphs going on for three pages? I decided that Joseph Conrad and the author of The Scarlet Letter must be twins separated at birth.

There were, however, so points that I did find interesting. Over and over, I found phrases or descriptions indicating a lack of reality. Malow told the story to people who had never seen Africa and most likely never would. Everyone in Africa knew that what they didn't wouldn't make it to the "civilized" world. Other times, as Malow tells the story, it sounds as if he doesn't believe he was really there. Everything takes on a dream-like state. Even the setting, a man telling a long-winded story at night to men who are falling asleep, indicates a non-real quality to his story. This feeling of no reality (and therefore, no consequences) sets up an environment where a good man like Kurtz can become such as savage. Even Malow becomes apathetic because he doesn't believe what he does has any consequences.

Heart of Darkness could be a book about obsession -- Kurtz gets so obsessed with money that he looses himself and becomes evil -- but that obsession came from apathy. Stop caring about the future, stop caring about others, and you're open to be overcome with greed. 

And, as Kurtz so vividly shows, greed leads to destruction.

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