On my reading list for this week was Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, and I know what you are thinking, why are you writing a review about one book and talking about another? Once I have finished reading that book it is definitely going to be making its way onto here soon because I have so much to say. But what interested me the most about it was the frequent references to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness which I read a few years ago.
Heart of Darkness is one of those novels that you have to just grin and bear. Take it with a pinch of salt. Imperialism has so many emotional strings attached to it that it can often spark outcry and rebellion if the wrong thing is said, and I am a little nervous attempting to review it on here. But from reading it, it seemed to be about the issues of alienation and confusion and not just imperialism.
The novella follows the story of Marlow, a sailor who has gone to Africa in the hope of filling in the blank spaces on the map. He meets the man Kurtz who has become a local hero to the villagers and is worshipped like a God. Even the idea of “filling in the blank spaces on the map” seems to suggest a Western superiority that Conrad seems to be criticising in his book. The treatment of the local Africans in the Congo is horrific to read and really brings home the cruelty and harshness of colonialism.
But what makes the novel really hard to read, for me, was the ease at which the soldiers who were stationed in Africa changed. Kurtz is a man who has gone mad with power. He has been left alone to his own devices for too long and has “gone native”. He collects ivory by brutally killing locals in a manner that doesn’t seem to bother him. This made me most uncomfortable. How everything is just accepted. Although Marlow as a narrator often questions the actions of his colleagues, he is not a reactionary, nothing is done. His inability to see that he could do something and doesn’t is saddening.
Despite all of this, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. For some reason the brutal realism that was present throughout was refreshing. Conrad hasn’t attempted to hide and cover up the horrors of imperialism, he has stripped it bare. Revealed it for what it truly was and it is for this reason that I feel this novel is so widely considered a ground-breaking novel.