Skip navigation

The first thing I noticed about Heart of Darkness is the unusual narrative. Although the story of Marlow is told through the lens of the narrator, it feels as though Marlow himself is the narrator. I then started to wonder the purpose of having Marlow narrating his own story in quotations; why not let the novel be told from Marlow’s perspective instead? What is the significance of having a first person narrator observing Marlow’s story? Perhaps in having a third party to narrate the story, Conrad can present a more complete and solid account, though the narrator faded into the background after the first two pages and did not reappear until the last. I can’t help but think that the narrator is there just to set the scene and describe Marlow.

But after considering the theme of the story, I have come to another conclusion. In the novel, Conrad addresses controversial issues such as imperialism and racism, revealing the corruption that haunts every human existence. The fact that Conrad, an Englishman, writes about the darkness and hypocrisy of imperialism easily makes him a racist from others’ point of view. Hence, the presence of a narrator conveys how it is difficult to address such matters directly without instigating violent responses. There is a barrier to overcome in order to truly represent the darkness within.

Another thing I noticed that the sinister women who were knitting that Marlow came across. Perhaps it’s just me but I see a possible foreshadowing there, or symbolism. The act of knitting represents the entanglement and the struggles. And how difficult it is to extricate oneself….


Northanger Abbey was one of the books I looked forward to reading, as I’ve read her other works in the past, with Pride and Prejudice being my absolute favorite. My first impression of the novel was that it wasn’t quite as interesting as P&P, seeing as it started off quite slow and ordinary. But, one particular aspect in the novel that I really enjoyed is characterization. And what actually captivated me into reading the rest of it was – I shall shamelessly confess – the charming Henry Tilney. To be honest, I was anticipating his appearance since the beginning of the novel because I’ve read a few other Austen novels and couldn’t help but wonder what kind of a character she would introduce as the heroine’s love interest. So when Tilney didn’t appear after the first few chapters until later in volume two, I was slightly disappointed.

However, I’ve come to realize another intriguing aspect of the novel. Basically, if I’m not mistaken, this coming-of-age novel, revolving around Catherine, is a story about her growth as a person. She started off being quite foolish and naive and ignorant – hence my initial indifference towards her as a character – but slowly I became more attached to her, because in her I see a lot challenges that we, as teenagers, would face, like peer pressure. I’m glad that Catherine at one point stopped being complacent and actually voiced out her discontent. Her superficial friendship with Isabella, and how she managed to grow as a person after experiencing the frivolity of her friend and understanding their incompatibility, is another aspect that I find well done. Because of Isabella, Catherine gained more exposure to the real world, making her stronger as she faces interpersonal challenges.

Another thing I noticed was the authorial intrusions, in which Austen addresses the readers directly and comments on various issues…I wonder what effect this has on the novel as a whole?

Rousseau mentions that a state’s purpose to ensure the people’s freedom, yet this freedom seems to be in a way constrained by the presence of a government or the society itself. He also mentions how the freedom can be corrupted as the society develops into a place possible for a person’s dominance over others. I find his insight very enlightening, that society itself, and the laws and others that come with it, reduces one’s freedom, though these societal constraints are viewed as reasonable for those who made the laws.

The existence of society creates a division between people, and as people continue to evolve away from “savage men”, inequality arises and becomes a problematic phenomenon that continues to deteriorate. A modern man’s freedom is compromised, because not only is he enslaved by his own needs and passions, but also by others who dominate and exploit.

It is interesting that Rousseau shows how, compared to a primitive man, a modern man has less freedom. When a person relies on others, his or her freedom is imprisoned by such reliance. Perhaps the fact that modern society highlights achievements and recognition makes a modern man less free that his primitive counterpart. In a state of nature, one does not have to consider the opinion of others, but in a modern environment, a sense of belonging is important, for humans, as a species living in communities, solitude is unbearable. In this situation, the paradox that Rousseau describes comes to light. While one seeks freedom, his or her freedom is restrained by the dependence on others.

(I shall summoneth my unguided train of thoughts on Hobbes, which is likely to be,  according to, well, Hobbes, disharmonious and lacking consistency and pertinence.)

From my understanding, what Hobbes is trying to say is that humans are utterly selfish beings who would do anything for self-preservation. This egocentricity, apparently, stems from our nature. Perhaps humans are born insecure, and this insecurity propels us to take actions to gain control over our surroundings. To achieve a “man’s conservation”, i.e. to protect oneself, one must do so by “augmentation of dominion of [other] men” (Hobbes 75).

In a war of every man against every man, “nothing can be unjust” (Hobbes 78). I never realized that justice and injustice are merely products of subjectivity. A man’s justice may be another’s injustice, especially in a state of war in which both sides present their respective distorted justifications. If justice is influenced by one’s desires, then what would become of a society? Would it slowly degenerate into a state of anarchy?

But mankind are plagued by the ‘fear of death” (Hobbes 78).

Desire for peace is only due to this fearfulness, which makes me think of human’s selfishness. And this goes back to the idea of self-preservation. To self-preserve, humans must compete against each other and achieve mastery over others – a process which is likely to instigate a war of conflicting justice and injustice – until they feel their lives threatened by fear of death that they choose peace as the best alternative to war.

And so Hobbes got me thinking and confused all over again, though I appreciate how he manages to explain almost every single aspect of our state of being, of our mentality, of our thoughts, and of our physical sensations.


I wonder which is more tragic – Blanca’s abusive marriage or her inability to express and defend herself. Time and again, Blanca finds it “hard […] to talk, because it [is] hard for her to say what [is] oppressing her” (Appelfeld 41). I find this rather peculiar: Blanca excelled as a student, one of the brightest even, and was an aspiring mathematician. Yet, shackled by marriage – not that she isn’t intelligent – she fails to exhibit her brilliance. Her academic passion and aspirations are dulled and eventually buried beneath her fear and “muteness” (Appelfeld 167). The fact that someone as bright as Blanca is afraid to fight for her own salvation puzzles me. I cannot comprehend why she chooses to endure. She is far more capable than her husband, Adolf, and has no reason to endure his maltreatment. Then, why does she let fear suffocate her? What makes her so terrified that she submits fully to Adolf’s abusive torture? Even though she kills him in the end to avenge her sufferings, I cannot help but wonder why she does not free herself from his torture immediately. Is it out of love, or because she has Otto? But still, she had plenty of time to escape before she was even pregnant.

Marriage, apparently, sacrificed Blanca’s verbal clarity. In the presence of Adolf’s overwhelming presence, her “tongue cleaves to the roof of [her] mouth and [she] can’t think of a single sentence with which to answer him” (Appelfeld 167). Adolf oppresses Blanca, yet she endures, for reasons I can never understand. The thing is, Blanca is intelligent and supposedly logical and pragmatic – seeing as she was gifted in solving mathematical problems – but why does it take and encounter with Ernst to momentarily emancipate her from her “muteness” (Appelfeld 167)? She is capable to exercise eloquence, but fails to do so. And her fluctuating bravery baffles me even more. Every  time someone lights a mutinous flame in her, it is automatically extinguished by fear. What is her problem? Cowardice, perhaps? Or is Adolf terrifying to the extent that she is convinced to lead an “amputated life” (Appelfeld 66)?

Reading this novel left me with many questions and I do sympathize with Blanca, but her subservience is beyond any logical comprehension. (Maybe as a convert, returning to her old Jewish ways is impossible? But still, who would want to live under constant tyranny?)

Apparently, according to Socrates, “everything that comes into being must decay” – no matter how perfect a constitution is, “dissolution” is an inevitable event that will occur. In Book VIII, Socrates takes us through the degradation of aristocracy by paralleling the four types of (bad) constitutions with four corresponding individual characteristics:

1. Timocracy: the first stage in the devolution of aristocracy, the mid-point between aristocracy and oligarchy; a “mixture of good and bad”, due to the “predominance of the spirited element” (which is the love of victory and the love of honor). This constitution inclines towards “money-making and the acquisition of land, houses”, etc, but the overall structure remains similar to that of aristocracy. The difference is that “wise people” will be less likely to be appointed as rulers. Timocracy corresponds with a person who is secretly “money-loving”, “proud  and honor-loving”.

2. Oligarchy: a constitution “based on property assessment”, meaning that the rich dominates and the poor have no right to be involved in ruling. This occurs because the aforementioned honor-loving and victory-loving people become attracted to money-making to the extent that “money-lovers” – those that are rich – are revered while the poor is oppressed. In an oligarchic city, people other than the rulers are mostly beggars, which reflects the extreme disparity between the rich and the poor. Oligarchy results from the deterioration of timocracy.

3. Democracy: in which everyone in the city has an equal share in ruling the city, but this is a faulty constitution, as power tends to fall into the hand of those without the knowledge of politics and of ruling for the benefit of the others; of course, in this system, the majority thrives. Democracy corresponds with a man who is overwhelmed by unnecessary desires.

4. Tyranny: the constitution Socrates deems worst of all, which results from democracy degenerating in terms of the effectiveness of laws. The rulers of tyranny are driven by lawless and unnecessary appetites, subduing their people through dictatorship. The citizens are oppressed and are likely to detest the rulers, for they would unflinchingly deploy violence and brutality. Tyranny is the ultimate stage of the entire devolution from aristocracy.

Last week, there was a question regarding why people should bother to create an ideal constitution when it is bound to deteriorate. I believe that as human beings, we will always strive for the better, for perfection, for invincibility. Unfortunately, a part of humans, no matter how small, is corrupted and malicious. This reminded me of a Chinese philosopher (Xunzi) who argued that people are born evil and corrupted – it is through education that we develop our morals and learn to restrain our innate evilness. In an environment in which justice prevails, malice grows in the darkness, easily slipping through our scruples, for in the height of stability, people are more likely to succumb to their inner darkness. And with the accumulation of individual darkness, the city as a whole degrades, as the corruption of a soul is contagious.

This book was certainly an entertaining read. Unlike the Penelope presented in The Odyssey, Penelope in The Penelopiad has a witty personality not quite emphasized in the former work. Unexpectedly, despite not having a form or a voice, as Penelope states herself, her narration is filled with humorous twists and turns, one that gives insight on the incidents that unfold in The Odyssey from her perspective, which I find highly enjoyable – after all, her modern take on the classical and ancient tale is truly refreshing, and her stream of consciousness, of course, which I shall come back to very soon.

Another facet of this unconventional presentation of Penelope’s life that I find interesting is the way the maid’s choruses are interspersed among her narrative. I believe – of course this is only blind assumption – that perhaps Atwood is attempting to create a distinction between Penelope and the maids? If she is, I must say she successfully stirred up my sympathies for the maids. In one of the choruses, the main exhibits cynicism towards their destinies as maids and towards their masters as well. From their perspectives, they are nothing but dirt – dirty, unclean, disposable. I sensed bitterness here which made me wonder if Penelope ever noticed that. Ironically, Penelope is under the impression that her supposed benevolence and adoration of those maids, which, by the way, are ultimately made victims of Penelope’s own foolishness, ensured their loyalty. Apparently not. Her plan caused them early, undeserving deaths. It is then perhaps their right to resent Penelope? I think so.

So, stream of consciousness. I think I shall ramble something about this before I lose my consciousness altogether. (It is approaching midnight, after all.) I keep on getting the feeling that my eyes are going to shut down altogether in the near future, in, say, two minutes.

Right. I have digressed, or perhaps streamed my consciousness? (Ha ha.) Well, I find that Penelope has a knack for driving me off the course. One second she narrates a story, another second she digresses and goes into other less relevant topics. In my drowsy condition, I have been quite susceptible to her artfulness – kind of. And, that part where Antinous appears, I am particularly impressed with her response for his vile directness: “Thank you for your frankness. It must be a relief to you to express your feelings for once. You can put the arrow back now. To tell you the truth, I feel a surge of joy every time I see it sticking through your lying, gluttonous neck.”

Penelope would make a great feminist.

Since I am unable to come come up with a more interesting greeting other that the insipid “Hi, everyone!” due to my heavily deoxygenated brain, I shall skip this part entirely and begin with my name, which is Leonni.

I am from Hong Kong and I totally recommend you all to visit this city at least once in your lives, if you have not already. One thing about me is that I am passionate about food, and I cannot reiterate enough the diversity of Hong Kong’s culinary options. Whether it is the scrumptious Chinese BBQ Pork or the luscious rib eye steak, Hong Kong has it all and in excellent quality! It is a paradise for foodies. So if you are one, you should know what to do.

As for ArtsOne, there is no sophisticated reason as to why I chose it – the prospect of unlimited literary excitement is in itself an alluring factor. I took literature as an elective for the past three years and it was one of the most fulfilling period in my academic life so far. I realized then that literature is like an extension of human beings – a component of life that is not so removed from general understanding as people might have thought. Navigating through such profundity is definitely a challenge I wish to take, so that I can fully appreciate the aesthetic beauty of humanity.

I hope that after ArtsOne, I can articulate my thoughts through written expressions in a more fluid and systematic manner, and that I can understand myself better through anatomizing and assimilating various texts.


Spam prevention powered by Akismet