Review: Animal Farm: Politics and Fantasy

Now that I am finished reading for exams it is quite nice to read for fun again. The pressure is off, there are little to no time constraints, I can just sit back, relax and enjoy turning the pages as slowly as I like. However if I a to finish Ulysses and then Anna Karenina any time soon I should probably get a move on.

Not like Animal Farm, I whizzed through that little novella like a boy racer down the motorway (not the M25 of course, nobody really whizzes down there…). Aside from the political aspect of the text which I will come to later, George Orwell has written a relatable story that can easily be transferred and understood by various audiences. Both adults and children can appreciate the songs, poems and the slogans that are used to create the revolution, regardless of the propaganda agenda they possess. But the story is simply about animals that decide to run their own farm. To a child that can be nothing but comical. How can a pig that likes to roll around in mud and walk on four legs possibly run a farm that would normally require a farmer and the rest of the family to do it well? To me, I can’t help but see Napoleon and Snowball as the character from one of my favourite childhood books The Pig in the Pond. Yes they are malicious and easily corruptable and seem to represent everything that is bad and tragic about the human condition, but at the bottom of it, they are pigs.

How Napoleon should be through our eyes, regardless of the transcendental nature of politics.

How Napoleon should be through our eyes, regardless of the transcendental nature of politics.

What I remember liking most about this book was Boxer. Boxer is the loveable character that tries to be his best, he is the ultimate hero and has the characteristics many people would like to possess. He is dedicated and loyal, perhaps to the point of his own detriment and ultimately his hard work goes unappreciated. But like most things in life, this remains pessimistically universal. He is the figure that holds the farm together, although nothing more than the epitome of the working class exploited labourer he is crucial to its’ success and development. While Boxer is present to work on the farm, rebuild the windmill and plough the field when the other animals are just too tired, Animal Farm effectively experiences the roaring 20’s.

Why I think this novella is most successful is because it transmits its’ message through animals. The story of the Russian Revolution  is not a nice one, in fact most of it is pretty grim. Trotsky threatening men to sign up to the Red Army whilst he has their wives and children under threat, not an easy thing to narrate. Telling a story through images or animals somehow lightens the load, dulls down the harsh quality of it. Art Spiegleman’s Maus is a graphic novel that tells the story of a family who survive the Holocaust and does so by depicting the Nazi’s as cats and the Jews as mice. Some may consider this derogatory, or demeaning but I disagree. By representing troubling but important issues through animals it takes away the direct human quality and makes them relatable. They are less likely to be judges; but as with the case of cat and mouse, animal instincts are implied intuitively.

Rows and rows of mice from Maus.

Rows and rows of mice from Maus.

Although the novel resembles the Russian Revolution and the changes that were implemented under Stalin and Trotsky’s rule of terror, the main characters can be seen as general symbols for authorial figures. Napoleon could represent his namesake, a political tyrant who at first used his power for the good of the public but then once he had declared himself Emperor and had supreme power, those ideals altered somewhat. Mao, Tito and Stalin are just a few more examples of despots who can be represented through Napoleon the pig. At the heart of Animal Farm is a socialist agenda, the novel critiques the corruption of the Soviet State and the impact that it had on the people. Similarly the novel contains a striking class division between the animals in power and those that work. The intellectuals and the physical labourers; which is a symbolic reflection of the Bourgeois/Proletariat relationship. The working class are naive and believe the animals in charge, with Boxer being a tragic example. The novel is a literary example of Marx and the Russian Revolution in action.

Unless you were aware of the history of Russia, then this becomes apparent. It is more than possible to read the novella without having any knowledge on that part, and it is more than possible to enjoy it as such. I read the text a few years ago before I had studied Russia in depth and loved it just for the characters that are lovable and the hope that they represent despite the gloomy circumstances. Plus the story is only 100 pages long and so can be read over a couple of lunch hours. Easy peasy.

Feminism and The Yellow Wallpaper

Women. Females. Men. Males. What really is the difference between them. Gender and sex, another two words that seem to be pretty interchangeable in our society, and yet they both mean completely different things. But that one word, that word that has so much negativity attached to it, needs to be corrected.

Feminism.

A status was posted onto facebook about Angelina Jolie’s recent operation: “Our thoughts and prayers go out to Brad Pitt today after the news about Angelina Jolie”. I like to hope that this was just an inconsiderate and poorly worded post and that the painfully obvious sexist undertone was a mistake. Sadly, I doubt it. The double mastectomy was to decrease her risk in getting breast cancer. If anyone was able to prevent a potentially painful, horrific, upsetting and stressful event, they would. This post also follows on from the lecture by Jackson Katz I wrote a couple of weeks ago. What is the problem is that sexism is embedded so deeply within our society, due to years of patriarchy that it almost acts incognito. Often going unrecognised and with an invisibility cloak.

Feminism is not bad. It is not a movement of bra-burning, hairy misandristic’s who would do anything to see men pay for what they have made women suffer over the years. No. Simply no. Ok, that is a fairly exaggerated statement, and I am sure that most men understand that feminists just want equality. But what also seems apparent is that there are a lot of women who are unaware of what feminists want. That is the problem. A woman who is not a feminist is like saying they are happy to be second best. When in fact there is no best, because there is no competition. Or at least there should not be.

In Charlotte Gilman Perkins’ short story The Yellow Wallpaper the protagonist, narrator (possibly called Jane, although it is not explicitly stated, so for all intents and purposes she is not given a name), is locked in the attic of her house as a treatment for her hysteria, which turns out to be nothing more than post-natal depression. She is prevented from writing because it tires her out too much, and so her only pleasure is taken away in order to help her recover. Her husband John is also her physician. He has prevented her from using her imagination as he fears that it will only cause her condition to deteriorate, but it does so because she is not allowed to use it, and so does it in secrecy. The story is written in the form of her diary entries and so skips around a bit, is rushed in places when she can hear her husband approaching.

To the kitchen.

To the kitchen.

To me, this novella is a criticism of the patriarchal society and the way it is organised. Jane, or the narrator, or just another Victorian woman notices a woman trapped in the yellow wallpaper that covers her room. It isn’t until she makes the connection between herself and the wallpaper woman that she realises that all women are trapped within their marriages and the societal conventions. That women have to creep around, avoid breaking the social rules, lurk in the corner. In order for the narrator to realise this, she has sadly lost herself. She no longer is just imagining these dark things, but is actually experiencing them, in some form of breakdown. She cannot return to the life she had before with her husband, she has noticed the cracks, the invisibility cloak has been removed.

Charlotte Gilman Perkins was a utopian feminist. Writing over 100 years ago she had her sights set high for the work that women could achieve. Granted there have been many improvements in most cultures around the world. But in no society has sexism been abolished, nowhere has sexual equality. Cultures have adapted to the reforms that feminists have pursued and forced into the public eye, but they are still very much controlled by men, for men.

Like the narrator in the novel, she was blind to the truth and then once it was discovered it completely altered the way she saw life. This is what we need. We all need the cloak to be revealed for us. Men and women together. Then we can deal with the changes together.

 

The Great Gatsby: Fitzgerald’s novel and Luhrmann’s film

Seeing as the film is set to come out in cinema’s tomorrow, and I am in love with the soundtrack, it only seemed appropriate that Gatsby should feature on my blog. It even features on the about me section, so it definitely deserves to be here. In fact I love it that much that I refuse to listen to the criticism that the academics have written about it, the words that I need to know for my exam in a couple of weeks. I know that studying a text can ruin its beauty, simplicity, take away certain qualities that make it perfect for the reader; but it also allows you to understand it at a deeper level. Different elements come to life that may not have at first been apparent from your own independent reading. So I guess I will just have to grin and bare it…

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby

The first time that I read Gatsby was for my IB English exam so I have been unable to read it from a purely pleasurable reason. The second time was for the exam coming up so I am still struggling along. Other people who haven’t had the pressure of exams have told me that they found the story to be less exciting and almost bland in comparison to the praise it has received. They agree that it is beautifully written and Fitzgerald creates a perfect and yet simultaneously a distorted version of a perfect life throughout the pages.

The Great Gatsby in my opinion is fantastic. It has elements of good and bad, on the surface it presents a romanticized view on life, and it isn’t until you scrape away at the perfectly constructed language that the realities of that lifestyle present themselves. Daisy is nothing more than a rich woman who enjoys being at the centre of everybody’s attention, in love with money and the life that it buys. “Her voice was full of money” summarises it pretty nicely I think. Tom is nothing more than a bored rich American, who enjoys to dip into the women that the proletariat has to offer, because Daisy is nothing more than a trophy wife. She is not a working woman who aspires to be a woman of leisure. Nick, a biased author is probably the reason for the romantic construction of 1922 New York. He is unable to see the political and sexual agenda’s that are prevalent throughout the story. He doesn’t question where Gatsby’s fortune comes from – he is completely oblivious of any wrong doing.

I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.

I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.

Although set in 1922, which was an important era for modernism, Fitzgerald wrote it 3 years later in 1925. Ezra Pound a contemporary  poet and critic even argued that 1922 marked the beginning of a new modern era. The invention of the car, end of the war, economic boom and rise of America, development of cinema and television and thus the creation of the BBC, publication of Ulysses and The Waste Land all had a huge impact on the direction that culture chose. It could have merged, or stayed separate, or ultimately and what was most likely to happen, there would be a collision. An inevitable explosion of opinion and division.

Gatsby, although written over 90 years ago is an extremely modern novel still. The creation of money. Inherited or stolen or made honestly. The need for one to fit in, into social circles that are higher than your status, that inherent desire to succeed and improve. They are all very human qualities and I think this is one of the main reasons why the novel is considered one of the all-time best pieces of literature to come from America.

I could go on forever, in fact upon looking over what I have mentioned I have barely touched the surface of how passionately I love this novel. In fact, I didn’t even realise I loved it this much until I wrote this post. For those of you who haven’t read the book and are planning to see the film, I cannot recommend it more than I hope this post has done. It will be completely different from the film, because no Baz Luhrmann film is ever similar to anything else except other films he has directed. Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge both completely different in tone, musicality, pace, culture and yet they have been united by the modern music. They have been brought forward into the present, and in some ways, that is exactly what Fitzgerald and other modernists were trying to achieve. Unite the past and present, whilst refining and progressing down the literary canon.

And to end, of course there has to be a link to the soundtrack. I love all of the songs so much that I am just linking the entire thing. Click here to listen! 

 

Morality in All Change Please by Danielle West

Yes, it is time, I have finished All Change Please, and honestly it was such a good book I found it hard to stop reading it once I reached the final 100 page stretch. Only being able to read it on my laptop was sometimes a pain, but I struggled through – although I say it was a pain, I was going to read the novel regardless of what form it came in, so I guess it doesn’t matter particularly.

The book focusses around the lives of three women who are all grieving after their friend Laura suddenly passes away, and it follows them through their lives after the funeral and shows how they cope with her death. It was great to read a book that was set in London and so I found it entirely relatable, the crowded tubes, the disgustingly and yet beautifully unreliable weather, millions of tourists and the good old iconic red bus.

Tube disruptions. Again.

Tube disruptions. Again.

What I really liked was the three-way narration. The skipping between Ophelia, Kat and Elise while they all lived their different lives that were all linked through their friendship and their grief. The lives of the women all developed differently at and different speeds and intensities which made the book even harder to stop reading. Once you would reach the end of a section about Ophelia, there would be an indent and you would want to read how Elise had got on at her job interview. Furthermore, the repetition of Laura and her presence in the three lives was very interesting. She appeared at times when they needed a shoulder to cry on most. Someone to tell them to get a grip and man-up. At times when there was the most tension and conflict she appeared.

This leads me on to the morality question that is developed throughout. Each of the friends dealt with Laura’s death differently. Life re-evaluation occurred. Travel. New jobs. Reuniting and reconciling with old friends and family. There were times in the novel when I was really taken back by the issues that face everyone. Death is a guarantee and is unavoidable, but it is taken for granted that it won’t happen to most people until old age finally gives in during a peaceful night.

What is your greatest regret?

Does everything happen for a reason?

Have you settled for mediocrity?

How do you define happiness?

I don’t want to give off the wrong impression. This book has a few pessimistic moments, moments that make you evaluate your life and the path you are travelling down while the characters are doing that too. But there are moments of hilarity, cringiness and the quotidian lives that we all know so well. It is a novel about three women who are coping with the loss of a friend who was such an important part of their lives, that even after she has died, she is still impacting the decisions that they make for the better.

Losing my graphic novel virginity: Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home

Another one of the texts that will be making an appearance in my exam in a few weeks alongside The God of Small Things, Lunch Poems and various others is Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, a graphic novel. Surprisingly, I loved this book. I honestly cannot express how much I enjoyed reading it contrary to my expectations. Having never read a graphic novel before I didn’t know what to expect from it. I was unsure if the combination of images and writing would work effectively enough to portray the important issues that Bechdel was writing about.

But I could not have been more wrong. Not only did the form make the text simple and elegant to read but the images helped exaggerate what Alison was talking about in the text. My favourite example of this was at the end of the first chapter when Alison commented that the obelisk her father wanted instead of a headstone was ironic as it was a similar shape to a shape he enjoyed in real life…then just to make sure that all the readers picked up on the joke, the next page was dedicated to a single of image of a large obelisk, looking particularly phallic. Bechdel writes about pretty heavy-handed material. Death (or potential suicide), homosexuality, coming-out, growing up, a dysfunctional family. None of the subject matter is easy on the emotion. Yet expressing them through the medium of a graphic novel makes them more accessible and reader friendly.

The non-linear narrative means that we know her father is dead and that there were questionable circumstances around it, but we don’t know the full picture until the very end of the novel. Alison herself doesn’t seem to understand her father’s life until she has mapped it out for the reader, almost as if the text is her stream of consciousness. After his death she looks back and seems to evaluate her and her father’s lives, to try and notice if there were signs. Indications of what would follow. At the time she didn’t notice that her father would stare at the choir boys while they were in church. She didn’t notice that he had an overly friendly relationship with their gardener and babysitter. She also didn’t notice that her father wanted her to look pretty and dress up while all she wanted to do was wear boys clothes. I like this type of narrative. The kind that doesn’t make sense at the beginning, but it is interesting enough to draw you in and make you read on. Similar to The God of Small Things, it doesn’t make sense until you turn over the final page.

The eyes give everything away.

The eyes give everything away.

 

Perhaps I enjoyed this book more because it was my first graphic novel. In fact, although a thick book you could easily read it within a couple of hours because there is barely any text. After re-reading it I also discovered many other pieces of information, symbols and motifs that appear throughout which are not necessarily apparent the first time round. You may not even pay attention to the images whilst reading, or just look at the pictures and ignore the text. In fact, by  doing either you would still understand the plot of the text. Which is what just makes the book so fantastically clever. This could just be the medium acting here, and I being a graphic novel virgin I am unable to compare.

However after enjoying this so much I went ahead and ordered Bechdel’s follow up graphic novel Are you my mother? which I will be reading as soon as the exam season is over. Then perhaps I will be able to offer a less subjective opinion.

The Metamorphosis by Frank Kafka: Political agenda or utter fantasy?

I am currently reading an eBook that was sent to me to read by a publishers, and I am nearly finished so that review will be up here soon. The book is focussed around a funeral and the impact that the death of a loved one has on those who were close to her, the characters all feel alienated with themselves, life and those around them. Which got me thinking about the same topics and all I could think of was Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. 

In The Metamorphosis Gregor Samsa is transformed into a cockroach and then struggles to adapt to his new life. His family and those who visit his house are not particularly bothered by this change, they don’t question its impossibility but instead worry about money. How will they know fund their lifestyle that the breadwinner is incapacitated? The father and sister will have to do jobs they don’t like now Gregor isn’t doing the job he didn’t like. They will have to rent some of the spare rooms out to lodgers to create extra income. Hire a cheaper maid to do the cleaning.

There was a complete disregard for Gregor’s feelings. He was the one who had metamorphosed overnight into a bug that was unable to communicate with anyone, unable to protect and defend himself against his family; and yet his family don’t care. He is completed isolated and alienated (similar to Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Ryeis unable to do anything about it. Although alienated, Kafka appears to be critiquing society, with particular reference to Marxism and the exploited worker. Gregor has worked hard to support his family and seems unaware that they take him for granted. he just assumes that his family are incapable of working and doesn’t question their actions, which is interesting to compare at the end of the novella when the family does work. They found work easily, it tires them out and exhausts them, but that is nothing more than what the work did to Gregor. His metamorphosis could potentially have been cause by his physical exertion in order to provide for his family. He felt so alienated from his family, that he physically transformed so that he is also alienated from humanity. He is unable to interact with others and hides behind his sofa to protect himself. This alienation is just a demonstration and exaggeration of the alienation he felt as a human.

It's a bugs life.

It’s a bugs life.

I don’t want to put people off. Although this book is a bit of a criticism on humanity and the treatment of individuals, it is not all doom and gloom. Gregor himself seems unaware of his exploitation and so remains relatively optimistic throughout the novel which shows that not everyone is willing to take and give nothing back. Moreover the text is so full of the impossible, implausible and the absurd that it is hard to take the novella as a serious criticism of society. The possibility of a human metamorphosing into a giant cockroach is next to none and so the text has to be taken as a piece of fantasy. The story never explains why Gregor transformed and so I guess my theory is as good as the next.

Despite the often pessimistic outlook on life, the novella is truly a fantastic piece of literature. Whether it has a political agenda or whether it should be read as nothing more than the story of an overworked man who wakes up as a bug one morning – it is still bursting with value and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Dreams in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre

I thought that it was about time that I tackled one of my favourites. I didn’t really want to review books that I unconditionally love because it leaves them open to attack, and I know that every book has its faults, none of them can be prefect because statistically speaking perfection cannot exist; but some of them are pretty darn close.

I recently wrote an essay on the function of dreams in Jane Eyre and it really got me thinking because there seems to be so much relevance, all the events in the novel are so perfectly interconnected and almost mystical that it seems like an obvious observation. Yet the first time I read the book, which has to be at least four years ago, I didn’t pick up on any of the uncanny elements of the text. To me it was just a romance, set in the my favourite time period. Jane was a strong-willed woman who was an inspiring character to both the reader and the other characters in the novel. She always followed her brain, often to the detriment of her heart, but she wanted independence – financially and socially. Once she had achieved this, she was able to wrap the story up with a marriage and happily ever after.

But Jane doesn’t have it easy. She is locked up by her aunts, attacked by her cousins, alienated for the entirety of the novel, even at times by the man she loves. Jane’s experience in the Red Room seems to establish her entire story and future, it is such an important part of her childhood that it influences her in later life. It pops up frequently throughout the novel, particularly involving the incidents with Bertha before her wedding. The Red Room symbolises Jane’s alienation and therefore warns her of her heart and her passions, it protects her from becoming dependent on other people. Jane wants to be independent and marry someone on equal terms, but being financially dependent on her husband is contrary to this.

On the search for independence

On the search for independence

Bertha is also an interesting dream-like character as for the majority of the novel she isn’t seen, isn’t even spoken about she is just heard and the consequences of her actions seen. She is entirely invisible, the madwoman in the attic, locked up because she is ‘crazy’. To some extent she is mad, setting the bed on fire and destroying Jane’s veil, but she is only this way because of her treatment. Abused, mistreated and confused. Jane relates to Bertha, she is the passionate side of her character, the side that let herself become dependent on Rochester, marry him and then be traded in for a younger model.

Of course I don’t read the book in such a cynical way, it is still a love story in my eyes – but something about Bertha and the haunting aspect of dreams has revealed the harshness of the text. Imperialism and the role that Britain played in the colonies is hinted at in the novel, with Bertha and Mason coming from Jamaica. The Lowood institution that Jane is sent to as a child is another example of Victorian cruelty and the expectations of children and orphans.

Yet despite all of that, the suggestions at a political agenda, the hauntings, dreams, deaths, the novel is still beautiful. It is written so eloquently, with Jane as a character dropping in and out of her opinions, talking to the reader as it makes the book personal. Jane is talking to you. Jane is in search for a man she can marry and live happily with, it just so happens that certain events have to get in their way before Edward Rochester is her man. The hauntings are only there to make the novel more realistic. Reading a romance is enjoyable regardless of the likeliness of the conclusion, but when one is so heavily soaked in truth and at the same time impossibility it seems impossible for such a thing to occur. Yet Charlotte Bronte has done it, and created a book that is pretty close to perfection in my eyes.

 

Review: Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things is NOT a small book

Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things  is one of those books that seems to come along once in a blue moon. It seemed to defy all the conventional ‘rules’ of literature and in the process created a sensation. The characterisation, non-linear narrative, and unfamiliar and yet at the same time familiar setting make it hard to put down.

The story is set in Kerala, India and retraces the lives of an upper caste family in the lead up and aftermath of a tragic drowning accident, with  focus on the destruction of the fraternal twins Estha and Rahel’s lives. The story starts at the end, finds the beginning in the middle and finishes somewhere in the middle which allows the characters to be developed and seen at different stages of their lives. The vast array of characters also aid the storytelling because the narrative is not restricted to one person’s viewpoint; third person narrative enables us as readers to experience India through the eyes of children, grandparents, women, men and untouchables.

What I liked most was the political aspect of the novel. At the very heart of the plot was the transgression of the laws that have built Indian society and yet they were so easily broken, broken by ordinary people. The laws that surround religion, nationality, caste, gender, sexuality, incest: the laws that lay down “who should be loved, and how. And how much.” But it remains relatable, although it discusses and leaves those issues open for criticism it is not a political attack on the system. It questions the importance of the small things over the big, or in this case the social ‘laws’.

Love Laws

Love Laws define who we can love, when and by how much…

I found one of the characters particularly interesting. Velutha who is the God of Small Things. What I most enjoyed was his presence in the text, for the majority of the opening he is only referred to, and is not seen or given a large role because of his place as an untouchable in the Indian caste system, at the bottom of the hierarchical system. But as the ‘laws’ were starting to become more apparent as the plot picked up and they started to be questioned and broken, he became a crucial character. Despite the stereotype associated with the untouchables to the other characters he was, and is for me, one of the nicest characters. He was not aggressive or violent towards those who were ranked higher in the heteronormative society.

Although set in India between 1960-1990 depending on which part of the narrative we look at, the text was familiar. I have been to India and was able to imagine the places I had seen and compare that to the descriptions in the novel, but regardless of my experiences I still felt that I was able to relate to the characters. The descriptions of the exotic didn’t feel like Roy was trying to sell India, like some people have criticised, but it just felt like a description of a family home in India. For Roy, the scenes that she writes about are quotidian, nothing more.

Review: Lord of the Flies by William Golding

I can’t bring myself to write that I didn’t like this novel, declaring that outright seems almost like an offence. But I certainly didn’t love it. There is something so completely and utterly chilling in the thought that boys as young as 6 are capable of killing. I understand that this is an allegorical novel and that the children represent both sides of humanity, both good and evil, but Golding has used young boys as his medium to tell the story. Which for me almost made it too uncomfortable to read.

Lord of the Flies

I am glad that I did read it though on a few levels however, and so I don’t want to turn readers away because of my experience of the uncanny. Firstly, the character development is fantastic. Jack particularly interested me because he is determined to win, determined to receive more support than Ralph and determined for things to be run his way. Jack represents all that is bad with mankind, savagery, brutality, an instinct to prey on the weak and vulnerable and most importantly the desire for power. Without Jack acting as the novels antagonist there would be no need for Ralph. Without this murderous 12 year old boy the book would perhaps have been more enjoyable to read, which is why I like him. He manipulates fear to his own advantage, even for a brief moment convincing Ralph and Piggy, the figureheads of order and civilisation, that being a member of a tribe is the only option.

Secondly, glasses. Piggy and his glasses. For me this was a crucial aspect of the novel because so many of the events relied on who had possession of the glasses, and therefore who has power over fire. Although the glasses were crucial to the boys survival on the island, something about them experimenting and playing with an ordinary object helped them to be children again, no matter how briefly. Similarly at the begin of the novel when they swim in the lagoon, this is easy to read because it is children acting the way we expect them to in society. This becomes uncanny and uncomfortable to read when events turn sour very rapidly.

Finally, the Lord of the Flies himself. The dark and confusing island that the boys inhabit is a hot bed for the mythical and savage. The boar’s head represents all that is wrong with humanity whilst at the same time offering salvation, without sounding too philosophical. The head declares that the beast lies within all the boys and they are the only ones that can do anything about it. SPOILER ALERT Simon’s death however takes the truth with him and this has a strong resonance, I felt in reality. For everything that is good, there are far more things that are evil.

It was this that I found so disconcerting and uncanny, the book offers no real salvation, no optimist opinion of the future. The future is bleak because all humans are instinctively savage and brutal and those who do possess rare inherent moral values would be “dealt with”.

The only redeeming point that I can pick out from that would be that at least those people do exist.

Review: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

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.

Heart of Darkness

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.