‘Heart of Darkness’ is considered to be the first example of ‘modernist literature’. It was written in 1902 by Joseph Conrad, who was a Polish novelist, though he wrote many of his works in English. ‘Heart of Darkness’ is one of the first novels in which the writer removes the use of grammar and punctuation, in order to convey a ‘stream of consciousness’, like we are viewing the events of the novel from the perspective of the protagonist. The novel is set in Africa, along the river Congo, at around 1902, the peak of colonialism, and the point at which The British Empire covered a third of the world.
However, this was, the ‘peak’ of the British Empire – the empire did not grow after this point. After the Boer War in South Africa, Great Britain had started to decline. Slavery also began to decline, it was outlawed in Britain, but a blind eye was turned towards slavery in the Dark Continent. The West carried on with their occupation of Africa, under the pretence that they were was spreading Christianity, and bringing the ‘light of civilisation’ to the ‘Heart of Darkness’, i. e. Central Africa. In a nutshell, ‘Heart of Darkness’ is about the journey of a man named Marlow into Africa.
The main journey is the narrated tale, of the protagonists’ physical journey, as he goes deeper and deeper into the heart of the jungle, or the ‘Heart of Darkness’, in search of Kurtz. However, as Marlow travels along the River Congo, he goes on a psychological journey into himself, and he discovers that there is evil in the soul of every man, in other words, every man has a ‘Heart of Darkness’. The opening of ‘Heart of Darkness’ begins with a group of men, including Marlow and the narrator, on a ‘cruising yawl’ named the ‘Nellie’, waiting for the turn of the tide. The narrator describes his surroundings and the atmosphere as the sun sets.
The first paragraph of the story conveys a calm, languid feeling, using a blend of euphonic words in order to achieve this effect. Conrad also cleverly uses words that make you think of calm surroundings, such as ‘flutter’ and ‘cruising’, etc. However, straight away, from the second paragraph, Conrad switches from the calm, pleasant imagery, to a sinister, foreboding view of London, this technique is called juxtaposition, and Conrad uses this to show that beneath the initial calm and tranquil exterior, London is sinister and unpleasant place, where many crimes take place.
One of the major themes in the opening of ‘Heart of Darkness’, is ‘jingoism’, which, in essence, is simply ‘extreme patriotism’. Conrad, interestingly, chooses to mention Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Franklin, who are both good examples of the ‘Heart of Darkness’ residing in even the greatest of men. This section is jingoistic, and almost sarcastic, as Conrad describes these two men as ‘great knights’ and ‘men of whom the nation is proud’. Sir Francis Drake is well known for his hand in the slave trade, and Sir John Franklin is known for resorting to cannibalism on one of his voyages.
Conrad carries on with his description of ‘Great Britain’, but one of the phrases he uses is interesting. He describes how the fleets come ‘bearing the sword, and often the torch’ and a few word later, ‘bearers of spark from the sacred fire’. The first statement, taken in its literal meaning, could simply describe how the British invaded Africa, killing and burning; however, it could symbolising how though the British did use brute force and killed many people, they did often bring knowledge and civilisation to the ‘barbarians’.
The second statement, ‘bearers of spark from the sacred fire’, however, clearly represents how the British brought Christianity and God from Britain to the people of Africa. Conrad also implements the use of bathos, undermining the rest of the paragraph, which is very jingoistic, all about the greatness of the empire. The bathos of which I am referring to is ‘The dreams of men, the seed of commonwealths, the germs of empires. ‘ The use of the word ‘germs’ is very negative, and, in a way, ‘cancels out’ all of the writing before. The next section of the novel that I wish to examine is known as the ‘Grove of Death’.