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Heart of Darkness and the Congo Diary by…
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Heart of Darkness and the Congo Diary (edition 2007)

by Joseph Conrad, Owen Knowles (Editor), Robert Hampson (Editor), J. H. Stape (Editor)

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499720,441 (3.68)3
Member:DetailMuse
Title:Heart of Darkness and the Congo Diary
Authors:Joseph Conrad
Other authors:Owen Knowles (Editor), Robert Hampson (Editor), J. H. Stape (Editor)
Info:
Collections:Read in 2011, Read but unowned
Rating:***1/2
Tags:Fiction, Historical Fiction, Novella, Classics, Africa, Congo, Imperialism, LT Inspired, @D, a2008, BOYS11, 2011

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Heart of darkness : with the Congo diary by Joseph Conrad

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“The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed sombre under an overcast sky-seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness”. Thus ends Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness: the imagery of the obscured distance, the gloomy reaches of the world. After Marlow's recount of his experiences in Africa provide for him a meditation on what is light and what isn't, there is the symbolism of darkness looming in the future for audience, symbols themselves as the leaders of England and civilization. Where they are-where every character in the book is, Marlow especially--and where they go reflects their states of mind.

The binary of sanity versus madness is one of the major and relatively explicit themes of Heart of Darkness. As a doctor inspects Marlow's cranium before he departs for Africa, he remarks “the changes take inside, you know”. Those changes in mind come in response to the shift in setting, as Marlow's own mind is altered very noticeably upon his travels, eventually distinguishable from his past. His adventure begins with the rationality of an educated man searching for work in a place that he has always wanted to be, the charming, snake-like Congo River. As he goes about preparing, he is puzzled and uneasy by the peculiar behaviors of the people he deals with; he comes across two morbid-looking women knitting black wool (images of the Fates from Greek mythology), the doctor who seems awkwardly adept at analyzing the senses of men in Marlow's circumstances and unaware of any returners. He leaves, and doesn't understand anyone around him on the voyage to his destination. He doesn't see the work that he admires, and he is intimidated by the slaves laboring under chains and Europeans. He is totally lucid, and then he hears about a Mr. Kurtz. At this point, he begins to construe the natives, despite his fear of them still, and his growing distrust of his fellow Caucasians begins to form.

Finally, he arrives at the Central Station at which he will be serving, which swells the inclination that prompts the fade of Marlow's wits. In the middle of Africa, he begins to find more in common with the natives. His sole friendship on-board is with the boiler-maker (with whom he exclaims like a lunatic the need for rivets). He admires and indistinctly empathizes with the cannibals in the crew for their restraint from eating any of the “pilgrims”. And even though he has never even met the man, Marlow is enraptured by whoever Kurtz is, in what seems like the same need that in the end brought him to Africa. The closer the ship gets to the final station where Kurtz is posted, the less rational Marlow appears. When the ship is attacked right before they arrive, everyone panics, as if they didn't know what to do or they weren't expecting anything. Marlow throws off his shoes (symbols of his journey hitherto and perhaps his sanity) when they are soaked in the blood of the dead cannibal helmsman.

The climax of the journey, the novel and Marlow's mental change comes when they arrive at the post. When he would have previously thought that the heads on posts that serve as Kurtz's fence were disturbing and horrifying, Marlow is merely disappointed with Kurtz's “lack of restraint”. He confuses the distant, hypnotizing drums of the natives with his own heartbeat. When Kurtz tries to escape to the natives, Marlow threatens to throttle him instead of trying to express reason, because neither of the men, in the middle of the foreign continent, have any reason to offer. The ship leaves, and, subsequently, the men regain their thoughts. Kurtz dies on the voyage back to Europe when he comes to terms with the darkness that previously enveloped him. Marlow, however, is a permanently changed man. He contends easily with “civilized” men in England, and lies to Kurtz's Intended, in spite of his former execration for dishonesty, and his friend has to remind him to “be civil” in the middle of his account.

The various settings of Heart of Darkness symbolize the psychological drives and motivations that propel the action and the characters. Kurtz's persistence to remain in Africa, the hub of primitivity, conveys his intrinsic need for power among the natives and Europeans, disguised as the extrinsic want to hunt for ivory. Despite his initial goals of a successful career and a marriage to a beautiful woman, he is impelled to shed his “sentiments” to essentially wander the jungle. It is in the “impenetrable darkness”, in a frenzy of desperation, terror and hatred, that Kurtz comes to his senses, on the way back to civilization, and croaks from it. Marlow, at first, seeks an adventure and an excuse to go on one. He is motivated by the possibility of having a steamboat to explore the Congo enough to find a job that will give him that exact opportunity, and that desire sustains him all the way to another continent. Upon a change of setting, from Europe to the foreign, equatorial Africa, Marlow subconsciously loses his primary needs, as he comes to want to understand where he has gone and what that entails for himself and those around him. He compares the trail the Congo provides into the heart of Africa as into a center of night, and he feels the need to see something in the obscurity. He makes to the final destination, the last station, and he discovers the darkness only as he leaves, keeping the madness with him that consumed and killed the imaginary hero that Kurtz had been made out to be.

Conrad nonetheless portrays Marlow, sailing on the Thames, as an enlightened being, a “meditating Buddha” sans religiously symbolic and significant lotus flowers. The madness that destroyed the paragon Kurtz was ultimately made Marlow so much more informed and rational than any of the other survivors of the trip. His prior ignobility in comparison to the leader archetypes his friends are finally reveals that he is the ideal that no one else could achieve. Perhaps the ominous darkness the Nellie sails into is their forthcoming wisdom. ( )
  champerdamper | Aug 13, 2014 |
Very powerful. I already want to keep going back and dipping in to odd pages. I shall have to look out for my own copy as this one is going back to the library. The odd thing is how contemporary it all sounds, I'm having trouble placing the book in 1899, and the introduction Joseph Conrad wrote in this copy was written in 1917, the year my Dad was born. Apparently it was serialised in a magazine when it first came out - just imagine how awful it would be to miss a chapter of this! And I've no firm idea of what Joseph Conrad meant by it all - there is such a complex texture of voices - the author, the narrator, Marlow. For now I shall keep dipping - and re-read it again in a few years. ( )
  Ma_Washigeri | Jun 17, 2014 |
I really loved this book but cannot for the life of me explain why. Perhaps it is something about the lively writing style. Conrad's descriptions of people and places were simply superb. Will definitely read more of his work. ( )
  notmyrealname | Aug 16, 2010 |
I'm somewhat torn. The English Major in me would really like to give this book a higher rating. The reader in me has a hard time doing so.

I read this book back in High School and could honestly not remember anything about the plot, the reading or the discussions aside from the fact that the story was about some guy on a boat going deep into Africa and that I distinctly remembered struggling to stay awake while reading it.

I thought that approaching it a second time as a seasoned English Major would result in a better perspective. Admittedly, I think I got more out of the plot this time and see much more depth and symbolism in the book...but I still found myself struggling to stay awake at times.

What's sad is that this is not necessarily a slow paced or boring book. It's filled with exploration, political intrigue, violent deaths, savage attacks and other moments of suspense and tension. And yet, it is also filled with lengthy monologues on the nature of man and the perspectives of our narrator Marlow (who is actually a secondary narrator if you want to get technical, since he's telling the story to an unnamed narrator who appears very little in the book at all...a very strange setup).

The craft or structure of this novel is intriguing and I suspect is a large reason why this is such a classic. As I mentioned briefly above, the narrative style is a little different. The "official" narrator of the book is an unnamed man sitting on a boat. However, the meat of the story is actually told by another man on the boat (Marlow) who is actually telling this story to our unnamed narrator. There are also segments where Marlow is re-telling something someone else said to him or something he read, thus leaving us three or four times removed from the actual events of the story. His spoken narrative is also sometimes a little disjointed and sometimes conversational as though he's lost his train of thought while telling the story or he's distracted or interrupted by something or someone on the ship with our actual narrator.

The book is full of symbolism and allusion. It can definitely be taken as a commentary on many different aspects of Africa, colonialism, Imperialism, savagery, humanity, principles, beliefs, truths, and many other high level themes. However, the book doesn't seem to come up with any concrete answers about any of these and even leaves us in the darkness as to exactly which commentary we should be paying attention to. Truly, many social commentaries leave off just short of prescribing a plan of action, but they generally make their arguments fairly clear. In the case of Heart of Darkness, I feel like I came away more muddled than when I began. Yes, I acknowledge that oppression of so-called savages is not to be condoned, but I knew that ahead of time...and honestly, I'm not entirely sure that oppression is the core meaning of the novel.

I appreciate that this novel has depth to it that I don't understand. It's definitely a difficult novel that's hard to truly access. It's high level plot and themes are intriguing, but I don't feel that they stand well enough on their own to warrant an outrageous following. In order to truly appreciate this book, I feel that it requires very in-depth study and discussion of weeks or months. Maybe I'm just looking for too much, and if that's the case, then my view of the book goes down even more. Maybe I'm just obtuse and missing the point, which means my review is unfortunately lower than it should be.

Whatever the reason, I don't love this novel and don't anticipate reading it again. If somebody else reads it and loves it and wants to discuss it with me and turn me around, I'd gladly open a discussion, but for now, I stick by my rating.

***
2.5 stars out of 5
( )
1 vote theokester | Apr 14, 2009 |
I found this very dull all through and, despite its high literary reputation, it did not evoke any chords in me. Of course, by modern standards, some of the language is racist, but I am used to this from writers like Haggard and am well able to see this in its historical context. ( )
  john257hopper | Mar 19, 2008 |
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Conrad, Josephprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hampson, RobertEditormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"Heart of Darkness & The Congo Diary" is a longer work than "Heart of Darkness & Selections from The Congo Diary". Please don't combine the two works. Thanks.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0141441674, Paperback)

Penguin inaugurates a series of revised editions of Conrad's finest works, with new introductions

Exploring the workings of consciousness as well as the grim realities of imperialism, Heart of Darkness tells of Marlow, a seaman and wanderer, who journeys into the heart of the African continent to discover how the enigmatic Kurtz has gained power over the local people.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:33:09 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Marlow, the narrator, tells his friends of an experience in the Congo, where he once ran a river steamer. Fascinated by reports about the powerful white trader, Kurtz, Marlow went into the jungle, expecting to find in Kurtz's character a clue to the evil around him. Compelling, vivid, exotic and suspenseful, this is among the half-dozen greatest short novels in the English language.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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