We are experiencing Leopold II's Congo from an enlightened perspective. We can see the choice between the two nightmares without having to live in either. Without that distancing effect this would be a bleaker story by far. In travelling into the Congo Marlow stresses how he was travelling back in time and since speaking of London, the Essex and Kent marshes, the mouth of the Thames "And this also,' said Marlow suddenly, 'has been one of the dark places of the earth" the Congo of the late nineteenth century is understood by Marlow to be like prehistoric Britain and by extension prehistoric anywhere.
And with those words Polish born under Russian occupation Conrad has set us up to see Britain under the Romans as being like the Congo under the Belgians. To grasp that all empires are at best self-deluding and at worst outright lying about their activities and motivations, or perhaps this is narrow minded on my part, cognitive dissonance might be a nicer way to think of it. The incoming white man is repeating a universal drama. What Marlow witnesses and re-enacts has in his narrative happened before, explicitly in Roman Britain view spoiler [ and judging by An Imperial Possession David Mattingly would agree view spoiler [ and along similar lines an article on the reception and attempted prosecution of the play The Romans in Britain hide spoiler ] hide spoiler ] implicitly everywhere view spoiler ["Only the gloom to the west, brooding over the upper reaches, became more sombre every minute, as if angered by the approach of the sun" p38 that resistance to illumination and seeing the City of London clearly takes on a peculiar and contemporary emphasis in the light of Treasures Islands hide spoiler ].
Prehistory doesn't have the same social furniture as modernity and like blind people in an unfamiliar space the colonists are lost, not spatially but morally. Fresleven "the gentlest, quietest creature that ever walked on two legs" ends up beating a chief with a stick p Similar stories of people entirely decent in a particularly furnished room yet who behave astonishingly badly in very different circumstances may come easily to mind.
A person is a fluid thing. The nightmare chosen by the chief accountant is the banality of evil. He attempts to rebuild the familiar in the midst of the unfamiliar with "his collars, his vast cuffs, his brushed hair" but this appearance is only possible by teaching "one of the native women" to do his laundry even though unsurprisingly she has "a distaste for the work" p Presumably this didn't involve chopping off one of her hands but given everything else we see in the story nothing else can be ruled out.
Kurtz on the other hand chooses pure ego. This finally becomes clear when Marlow returns to Brussels "He could get himself to believe anything - anything. He would have been a splendid leader of an extreme party. Whether in Brussels or along the riverbanks of the Congo they are all in thrall to his ego.
The fine words of the noble societies in Brussels about the mission to save and to civilise degenerate into 'kill them all' by the time their speaker has reached the end of the Congo river. But it is the 'kill them all' spirit of the rawest exploitation that has funded the sepulchral buildings of Brussels in which those societies meet and discuss the moral importance of taking up the white man's burden purely for the benefit of those natives - whose fate, left to die by the side of the track, we see very nicely drawn for us.
Equally the 'kill them all' is an inevitable reaction of thwarted desire against all those Luddites who don't adore the dream of the Crystal Palace. We might pause to see a symmetry between civilisation and destruction. By setting us up with the comparison between the civilising missions of Rome and Brussels we are left with a timescale for recovery from colonisation - fifteen hundred years from being conquered to striking out as raider traders and slightly longer from being colonised to becoming colonisers by also implicitly a cyclical model of history.
First you are colonised, later you will become colonisers, in time your dominion will also end leaving you in turn open to be conquered by others. This is a very physical story. There is a strong sense of how the narrator feels to be an intruder "They wanted no excuse for being there" Marlow says of some "black fellows" paddling a boat by the shore p The very landscape rejects the incomers, the coast is formless, banks were unstable, water thickening into slime, mangrove swamps blocking up the outlets to the sea.
A European warship shelling the jungle suggests the impotence and asymmetry of the conflict. With the technology of railways and paddle-boats, going upstream, against the flow, slowly but force-ably man's dominion is breaking nature's social union in the course of this story. The physicality and Kurtz's egoism come together. Rising up from the ground he seems to have grown into this landscape and there is a fever of possession: my ivory, my river, my intended.
The my intended coming across as viscously and violently possessive as all the rest adding to the irony of Marlow's eventual meeting with her. Some of the ambiguity here may well be coming from Conrad the writer rather than Marlow the narrator.
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The writer was in exile from his native land to avoid living under the Russian dominion but in the Congo was employed by those coming in to dominate, during which time he came into contact with Roger Casement. There's a natural flow in both from their feelings for their native lands to opposition to the exploitation of the Congo. The End of the Tether Another story of how we flow with the tide, a captain brought to the end of his tether reacts differently to how he did in happier times.
There is a lot here in the background about time passing and the changing of the environment socially, politically and economically as sailing ships are pushed out of business by steam ships and lone operators by companies. Colonies develop, settlements grow from simplicity to complexity.
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Two of the lead characters and several in the background are in their places but out of their time. The key is knowing when to stop, sell up or change and then to move on which our main characters with the exception of Mr Van Wyk are not able to do. Nice point about race and attitudes. Captain Whalley asks "is he a white man" p of the owner of the steam ship yet the four white men who officer it are a circus of people chasing unrealisable desires.
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The elderly Malay Serang who keeps the captain's watch perhaps suggests the reader's attitude: "He was not troubled by any intellectual mistrust of his senses. If his captain chose to stir the mud it was well. He had known in his life white men indulge in outbreaks equally strange. He was only genuinely interested to see what would come of it" p View all 23 comments. The horror! Well, just last year I began to make some research about it.
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There's a great gamma of those techniques and regardless of your religious or spiritual beliefs, all of them have one and only purpose: to help he who puts them to practice. Personally, they helped me cope w "The horror!
Waking up with your heart racing: What does it mean?
Personally, they helped me cope with some issues, such as anxiety and insomnia; but, truth be told, there are some things — intrinsic, I've come to think — that seem to cling to the deepest regions of my being — dark things, perhaps. For me, it seemed at first like a simple story about colonialism written in a plain narrative. The error! Conrad is truly a master of prose and he's often regarded as a venturer in the modernist wave. It may be true, if we think of such a literary movement as something related to Proust or Woolf or Joyce, who wrote their masterpieces based on a fluent stream of consciousness that emerges from a simple object or idea.
Thus Conrad introduces the reader to Marlow who relates a story of his days of youth to his mates — a story which is basically the whole tale. Furthermore, just like the modernists aforementioned, Marlow's descriptions of the scenarios, his thoughts and reactions to the events that shape the plot are very insightful; the author's label, nevertheless, rests in the sombre yet alluring way in which all of this is written.
The outcome: a skilful, contrasting blend of a portrayal of the exotic external and the shadowy internal. And I've come to think the sun and the shadows play an important symbolism in this tale. It is impossible. We live, as we dream — alone…. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself—that comes too late—a crop of unextinguishable regrets. However, as the story moves forward, and specially when Kurtz finally enters the scene, the writer's viewpoints become clearer.
For some, this timeout of sorts, this chance to be away from their routines and get to know a new culture, it could be a chance for introspection, to focus on one's mind, like it is done while meditating. However, Kurtz reaches his blackest shade: his heart of darkness. Thus he begins to gain power amongst the natives, but as this happens his greed grows too, so he begins to abuse of his authority towards them, who now see him as some kind of deity. It was an affirmation, a moral victory paid for by innumerable defeats, by abominable terrors, by abominable satisfactions.
But it was a victory! They trespassed upon my thoughts.
They were intruders whose knowledge of life was to me an irritating pretence, because I felt so sure they could not possibly know the things I knew. View all 14 comments. I've read this fairly short novel praised on its back cover in the Oxford World's Classics as "The finest of all Conrad's tales," some three or four years ago and found it a bit tough. This novel's not easy to understand since Marlow, the chief character, enmeshed by the mystery and menace along his dangerous journey up the Congo River to relieve the formidable Mr Kurtz finally made his encounter with him.
However, I found it enjoyable and kept reading it till the end. I know A 3.
I know he's long been regarded as one of the great English authors but his writing style is still impeccable, unique till, I think, few native speakers can match him. One of the reasons is that he wrote numerous English classics worth reading seriously provided that, of course, you have time, endurance and admiration and, famously, he has written his works in English as his third language! View all 16 comments.
One of the reasons is that the front color cover, such a picture is worth a thousand words, according to a famous Chinese saying; consequently, it is enticingly an overture to the novel itself in which it has since been read, hypnotized and lulled and so forth more than a century ago.
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