Heart of Darkness
What 1001 Books had to say about it
“Eloquent, audacious, experimental, recessive, satiric, yet deeply humane, since its serialization in 1899 [Heart of Darkness] has continued to provoke controversy and reward analysis. … Written when imperialism was ‘politically correct,’ this brilliantly anti-imperialist and largely anti-racist work shows Conrad at the peak of his powers as a challenging innovator of ideas and techniques.”
I actually found it helpful to read what my copy of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die had to say about this one. It was basically as though after reading the editors’ take of it opened up my eyes to elements of the story that I hadn’t noticed before. I think it definitely aided my understanding of the book, and I find that understanding a book always helps one to appreciate it better.
I definitely agree that the anti-imperialist message is strongly present, and I also think that’s one of the most interesting and valuable things about it. It’s even more interesting knowing that the author lived during a time when imperialism was widely accepted in England and that he’d actually gone to Africa himself and seen firsthand some of the things he writes about.
In a way, this book reminded me of The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. Totally different books written almost a century apart by authors in two different countries, and yet I feel a deep connection between them. Tim O’Brien writes about a platoon of American soldiers fighting in the Vietnam War after having fought in that war himself. Joseph Conrad writes about an Englishman’s journey into the heart of Africa in the late 1800’s, but this was also based on the author’s previous experiences. I think in both cases, these experiences shine through the writing in a very particular way. It’s as if there is a deeper truth in them, in spite of, or perhaps even because of, the fact that they are fictionalized. There’s definitely a something that you can feel when you read these two books.
Beyond that, I thought that the text itself was good. I’ve heard people complain that the language is too dense, but I actually found it to be nice. I will admit that it takes a lot of focus on a sentence-by-sentence level, but, once you add that extra bit of concentration, it’s really worth it. As the sentences unfold, you can almost hear the voice of the man telling the story and almost see the wilderness, the people, the action, playing out inside your head.
“Trees, trees, millions of trees, massive, immense, running up high; and at their foot, hugging the bank against the stream, crept the little begrimed steamboat, like a sluggish beetle crawling on the floor of a lofty portico.”
Sentences like the one above struck me as being very beautiful, and there are many like it in the book. In fact, there are so many that I found that I couldn’t read too much at once. After reading for too long, my mind began to get filled up and I would find myself wanting to just skim through. That was when I knew that I needed to stop and take a break. When I picked it back up again an hour or two later, I would be in a mood to appreciate each sentence once again. It’s a bit like poetry in that way.
Certainly, I did a lot of highlighting in this one. Although I don’t like to highlight or write in normal books, I have no qualms about doing so in an e-book, which was the format I read this one in. There were many interesting passages, but I’ll leave you with this one that both shows an interesting point of view relating to race and also ties in to that feeling I was trying to explain earlier, at least for me.
“It was unearthly, and the men were–No, they were not inhuman,” it begins. I believe any other writer of the time would have had no difficulty calling the Africans inhuman, but Conrad’s character Marlowe says that they were not and goes into further detail: “Well, you know, that was the worst of it–this suspicion of their not being inhuman. It would com slowly to one. They howled and leaped, and spun, and made horrid faces; but what thrilled you was just the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. Ugly. Yes, it was ugly enough; but if you were man enough you would admit to yourself that there was in you just the faintest trace of a response to the terrible frankness of that noise, a dim suspicion of there being a meaning in it which you–you so remote from the night of first ages–could comprehend.”
Given the context, isn’t that fascinating?