Thursday, November 1, 2007

heart of darkness

my brit lit class is mulling over joseph conrad's heart of darkness for the next week. i'm still looking for a good angle to pique students' interest. (i suspect only two of them have actually read the assigned reading.)

here's what i'm working with:

--the novella details the rot at the core of the european 'whited sepulchre' (marlow's term for brussels--or some other unnamed belgian city), magnifying stevenson's jekyll/hyde mystery to cover the entire continent of europe--africa, the so-called 'dark continent,' is portrayed as a 'prehistoric' world, the id of europe's hypocritical ego

--the novella addresses the difficulty of expressing human experience in words--any experience, but especially an experience of the dull, 'flabby' cruelty resting in the hearts of the white race (or, actually, all human beings)

--kurtz is a sort of 'byronic hero,' + the novella is conrad's critique of romanticism's adoration of individualism + nature, exposing the 'horror' that rests in the heart of either--as well as the hypocrisy + arrogance at the heart of victorian ethics

--the novella depicts the degradations that come of colonialism--first, there is the obvious degradation of native people's cultures, religions, + lives + the exploitation of the colonized + their lands' resources; second, there is the degradation of the colonizers, who, in distant lands, answering to no one but themselves, lose their conscience (their superego), which never, perhaps, was anything more than the pressure exerted by their visibility to others like themselves, holding the same values + morals (i.e. without oversight there is no conscience or sense of duty to others)

--unwittingly, underlying its intended themes, the novella expresses racism, certainly the racism of the european characters (including marlow, although he shows more sympathy + tolerance than his fellow 'pilgrims'), + quite possibly, as chinua achebe has suggested, conrad's own racism

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