Realizing one’s Heart of Darkness

I thoroughly enjoyed monday’s lecture since it put a new view—an existentialist one—onto Heart of Darkness (HOD), instead of the one I was shown in high school originally, relying on light/dark symbolism, race relations (of course, that’s impossible to avoid), etc. But of course race relations was on my mind when reading the book like before and it did help me relate Conrad to De Beauvoir. Of course, we can see the blacks as the ‘others’ to the whites, where in HOD, the whites work and attack the blacks to assert their superiority and humanity over the ‘brutes’. We can also see this as a master/slave relationship where the Whites gain their identity of superiority and sophistication by keeping the blacks as they are, supposedly inhuman and ‘savage’, where the slave knows he’s a slave, yet the master doesn’t he’s the master; the master is unaware of the relationship. So part of the way the book is read is Marlow going deeper into the Congo—”the heart of darkness”—and realizing that the natives are human, people, like him (he notices his Helmsman is actually able to sustain a job and Marlow starts gaining an affinity towards him). And if they are human and are supposed to have “the heart of darkness”, something evil and ‘savage’, then all humans, have it too. So as Marlow, penetrates “the heart of darkness”, he finds he is just like the natives on the shore, he is just like the other. And we could infer from HOD that this is a sort of traumatizing—or shocking—event as we can see with his reaction to Kurtz. Marlow wants to be amazed by Kurtz, someone who could still do his work, his duty, and have his own ideas while living in such an inhospitable and alien land (to the whites). Yet Marlow is equally disgusted by Kurtz because the very ‘savagery’ he wanted to destroy—”Exterminate all the brutes!”—has become an ingredient in his work; he has become as ‘bad’ as the cannibals on Marlow’s steamboat or worse. Thus, this “heart of darkness” is in us all and so the whites’ identity as some “shining light of progress”, as sophisticated and superior, falls flat because if they are just like their ‘other’, how can they be superior, how can they be who they think they are? So it is not as easy as white is the complete opposite of black; sure they are opposites visually, but they are not mutually exclusive. They both can interact in the same body—in every human no matter how much we think we’ve suppressed it. By the end of the novel, the light is really an ignorance; as Marlow talks to Kurtz’s fiancee, he feels a darkness engulfing the room, but the fiancee’s forehead (head?) stays bright (I’m not going to go into it now, but will note the strange equation of women=ignorance in HOD) because she hasn’t seen what Marlow has seen. From his early days of excitement and naivety to explore the world, Marlow has fallen deep into the darkness. And as Marlow lies, she stays ignorant, innocent unlike him. ‘Light’ was probably ignorance from the start anyway; as in the master/slave relationship, the master is unaware of how he is affecting the slave. The whites went into Africa with the lofty idea of colonizing and sophisticating the natives. This ‘calling’ allowed them to be ignorant of (or turn a blind eye to) what they were actually doing, dominating. Thus the light is not really light, but an equally invasive part of the darkness. The master may be shocked to find out he is the ‘other’ as well, but in the end it was always true

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