Heart of Darkness I – second half, and II

13 Feb

+ Take a look at this interesting edition of HD!

+ Yesterday in class we discussed the beginning of HD in relation to our films and to Torgovnick. We decided to watch Apocalypse Now in its entirety Thursday. Everyone is expected to have finished HD by Tuesday next, when Megan will give her presentation. We will further elucidate the novel, in connection with Torgovnick and AN, continuing, if necessary, Thursday (February 21), when Stana will give her presentation on Tarzan. Our plan for that Thursday, however, is to begin work on selections from Sarmiento’s Facundo, supported by a discussion of Said’s Orientalism, although some of this may be pushed off to the following Tuesday, depending on how comfortable everyone is with HD.

+ Our current study questions are, how is the jungle represented in this novel? In what terms is it described?, how does HD represent the Western self and exhibit the non-Western “other”?, and what can we say about the order of the narration and the structure of narrative voice(s)? will be key questions for us on those days. A journal entry related to one these three study questions, or on a thematic issue in HD of your choice, or a close reading of the HD passage of your choice, will be due Tuesday, February 19th. The following notes are intended to help people get more and more comfortable with HD.

+ Lagniappe question: who are the pilgrims with their staves, and why does Marlow call them that?

HD I – second half

+ The company agent is irritated that this “grove of death” (as Marlow puts it) distracts him from his bookkeeping. He says to Marlow: “When one has got to make correct entries, one comes to hate those savages–hate them to the death.” He is impressed with Kurtz and says the Company intends him to rise high.

+ Marlow starts upriver. The landscape is very strange: there are abandoned villages, dead carriers, a mysterious festive white man, a murdered “Negro,” and Marlow begins to feel within himself those “scientifically interesting” mental changes the Doctor had mentioned back in Brussels.

+ After 15 days Marlow gets to the station, only to find that his steamer has sunk. It will take months to fix. Things are sordid and tense. The station manager inspires uneasiness. He had started up the river with the steamer before Marlow’s arrival because of an emergency. t is rumored that Kurtz is ill, and the situation is considered grave. Marlow is irritated and says, “I was getting savage.”

+ Marlow: “I went to work the next day, turning, so to speak, my back on that station. In that way only it seemed to me I could keep my hold on the redeeming facts of life. Still, one must look about sometimes; and then I saw this station, these men strolling aimlessly about in the sunshine of the yard. I asked myself sometimes what it all meant. They wandered here and there with their absurd long staves in their hands, like a lot of faithless pilgrims bewitched inside a rotten fence. The word ‘ivory’ rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it. A taint of imbecile rapacity blew through it all, like a whiff from some corpse. By Jove! I’ve never seen anything so unreal in my life. And outside, the silent wilderness surrounding this cleared speck on the earth struck me as something great and invincible, like evil or truth, waiting patiently for the passing away of this fantastic invasion.”

+ There is the strange incident with the hut that goes up in flames, and the mysterious, apparently Kurtz-related conversation about “taking advantage of [this] situation.” And there is competition among company agents, and rumors that one may be a company spy.

+ The brickmaker strikes up a conversation with Marlow, who sees he has a sketch made by Kurtz – who, he says, is part of the company’s “new gang,” apparently less dishonest and brutal than the old. People want Marlow to convince Kurtz that they are all right; they, too, can be more modern (less brutal) colonizers.

+ There is much corruption, rapaciousness, cruelty, exploitation, passive agression, intrigue, and inefficiency. By the time the chapter ends, Marlow has still not received the rivets he needs to get his steamer fixed.


* The Eldorado Exploring Expedition, described at the end of the last section, is run by the station manager’s uncle. One night Marlow hears these two talking. They are discussing company politics, and a “him” – Kurtz, and his ivory operations. Marlow is finally able to get an image of Kurtz, who, it is hinted, has ‘gone native’ to some degree or in some way.

* Again, there are many machinations, all only half hinted at, all having to do with money and power; people are envious of Kurtz, glad he is sick, and in no hurry to get him any medical attention.

* Marlow says of the uncle: “I saw him extend his short flipper of an arm for a gesture that took in the forest, the creek, the mud, the river — seemed to beckon with a dishonouring flourish before the sunlit face of the land a treacherous appeal to the lurking death, to the hidden evil, to the profound darkness of its heart.” Is he suggesting that the uncle calls forth the natural evil of the land?

* Finally Marlow gets to start off up the river. “Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest. The air was warm, thick, heavy, sluggish. There was no joy in the brilliance of sunshine. . . . ” “We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness.” There is some horrible inner truth that is unspoken, and meanwhile they are gliding into prehistory, punctuated by the signs of the most sordid colonialism.

* Fifty miles below Kurtz’ station they come upon an abandoned station with a note for them, saying to hurry up. Something is wrong, obviously. But there is also a book there, that seems “real” to Marlow in comparison to all that is going on in this jungle. The book has handwritten annotations in code.

* Eight miles below Kurtz’ station they are surrounded by an impenetrable mist, and there are screams which seem to come from the mist itself. Are they being attacked? Meditation from Marlow: their workers may be starving, yet they have not savagely attacked the whites (to eat them). How is it that these savages can show such restraint? A mystery. [Leslie: in this whole novella, it is as though the whites could countenance neither the Other nor themselves, or their own actions.] Perception: the screams are not war cries, but screams of grief.

* The “attack” is a confused form of self-defense, and the riders on the steamer respond in a confused manner. It is imagined that Kurtz may be dead, and Marlow realizes that what he wanted was to talk to Kurtz, hear him speak, for his gift, apparently, comes in words. It is “the gift of expression, the bewildering, the illuminating, the most exalted and the most contemptible, the pulsating stream of light, or the deceitful flow from the heart of an impenetrable darkness.” Marlow is profoundly disappointed at the prospect of this loss, and sighs as he has heard the inhabitants of the jungle sigh. He is so frustrated that he throws his shoes overboard!

* At this point in his story, Marlow is very agitated. He is going to discover, he says, that in fact he will hear Kurtz speak; Kurtz is very little more than a voice, and then there is a question of this “girl.” He talks wildly about her: women must stay in their lovely, unsullied world, lest the men’s world get even worse.

* Kurtz, meanwhile, has degenerated, but he has a great deal of ivory, which they load onto the steamer, and he seems to have gotten it out of some pact with the devil, and seems to have set himself up as a kind of god.

* Marlow makes several impassioned, interpretive statements: is he suggesting that only through civilization are we not taken over by the powers of darkness?

* Kurtz wrote a report for the Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs, but ended up participating in demonic rites. His recommendation in the report is that the whites set themselves up as deities. With that power, they can go on to do Good. “It gave [Marlow] the notion of an exotic Immensity ruled by an august Benevolence.” Scrawled at the end of the report, though, is the phrase Exterminate the Brutes!

* The “Pilgrims” and the Africans are both childlike and incompetent, it seems. Finally, thanks to Marlow’s efforts, they get up to Kurtz’ place, where Marlow meets the Russian who until recently lived in the station below. The book he found, annotated in code, is actually annotated in Russian. The Russian explains that the natives do not want Kurtz to leave, and insists that Kurtz has enlarged his mind.

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Posted by on February 13, 2008 in Conrad


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