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

Wollstonecraft, the family (wo)man

I definitely liked Wollstonecraft; she made many radical and ground-breaking arguments about women in her society. Her analysis on how women have been shaped—as delicate, pleasure-producers, who are only educated for the desire of men—is right to the point of the whole problem of why women were treated the way they were, as inferior, how people thought this was all just ‘natural’ for them when it was obviously society’s ideals, creations, instead. Yet, through trying to make logical arguments—As of course she is advocating for reason—she seems to say that we should educate women like men so they will be able to raise their children better. Now, we all know, and Wollstonecraft was battling this too, of the stereotype of the stay-at-home woman, who cleans, cooks, and cares for the children while the men are the ‘bread-winners’. Wollstonecraft definitely tries to counteract this by saying how parents don’t let their daughters do physical activities so they can grow up to be a ‘proper’ woman (one who just sits at home all the time) or even how women should have a role in politics. But the fact that she does argue for woman’s education so they can be better mothers, still seems like she is saying women have to be mothers, thus perpetrating the stereotypical ‘stay-at-home mom’. Wollstonecraft had all these radical things to say about how women were treated and their role in society, yet she doesn’t attack the family system, as said in lecture, that ‘private’/’public’ split. Of course, looking at this in our modern viewpoint where women—in the first world—are allowed to have jobs and can work out of the house and earn their own living, Wollstonecraft seems old fashioned; she doesn’t say anything about how the husband could also help care for the child, etc. She did apparently say that unmarried women should be allowed to get a job or a role in politics, yet again, that is unmarried women. If you’re a married woman then you’re a mother Wollstonecraft seems to say. Now, of course, this could’ve been because of her time period; the family ideal was very normative, the nuclear family and such. But she said so many radical things about other aspects of what society thought was ‘normal’ for women, so why didn’t she attack the family structure, a part women have been so central to? My question may also come from the fact that Wollstonecraft is labelled a feminist (an early one) and radical feminists aside, she does seem to advocate for what feminists want (I guess probably because the feminists of the ’60s probably used her ideas), equality between men and women. So if Wollstonecraft seems to still regulate woman to motherhood when we now know that the normative family structure isn’t the only one that works and men and women can have similar duties in the family…well, yea, that’s why I’m questioning her. She did apparently have bad experiences with families—she made her sister leaver her husband and child, the child died soon after, Wollstonecraft was blamed and she had her own rough affair with a man where a child was born out of wedlock—, so those may have affected her view of the importance of the family structure as it was.

Also, I found her look at polygamy interesting. From what I understand, she says “[p]olygamy is another physical degradation” (188) because it seems to objectify women; “if polygamy be necessary, woman must be inferior to man, and made for him” (also 188). So she doesn’t like polygamy. And it makes sense, multiple woman to one man—harem situations—do seem like a man can just have many women like he could have many cars and so of course to our western eyes (marriage is between one man and one woman, again normative family) this seems like a terrible situation. And news stories about isolated polygamous religious groups also have added to our contempt of polygamy. Yet, there are stories now of how polygamy is not as bad as it seems. There are many stories out now about people engaging in polygamous relationships where they attack the standard that you must always be locked to one person and therefore cannot share your love for others, hence adultery. Yet as Wollstonecraft does show friendship can be stronger than love, love can fade, but also advocating for chastity and faithfulness among both men and women. Of course these polygamous relationships aren’t usually the one man multiple woman kind (which I guess is the polygamy stereotype), but are more equalized; with a heterosexual couple, the man can have relations with another woman and the woman be with another man. So I guess, again, Wollstonecraft’s views seem to fall short of our modern perceptions (as what does usually happen in the span of 200+ years).

So I just thought it was interesting to  some of question Wollstonecraft’s views though she is an early feminist and that is of course still a very good thing.