Synopsis: Heart of Darkness, a novel by Joseph Conrad, was originally a three-part series in Blackwood’s Magazine in 1899. It is a story within a story, following a character named Charlie Marlow, who recounts his adventure to a group of men on board an anchored ship. The story told is of his early life as a ferry boat captain. Although his job was to transport ivory downriver, Charlie develops an interest in investing an ivory procurement agent, Kurtz, who is employed by the government. Preceded by his reputation as a brilliant emissary of progress, Kurtz has now established himself as a god among the natives in “one of the darkest places on earth.” Marlow suspects something else of Kurtz: he has gone mad.
A reflection on corruptive European colonialism and a journey into the nightmare psyche of one of the corrupted, Heart of Darkness is considered one of the most influential works ever written.
There is a certain emotion I associate with this book, one of pure malice, a feeling of wishing this novel to be erased from my memory entirely.
To be frank, this novel is very bad. And let’s talk about why.
Heart of Darkness is a book Conrad wrote based on his experiences in the Congo, a novel he wrote to shed light on the various horrors of colonialism. However, readers can’t help but be unaffected by the absolute nonchalance he writes with. A tone as unsympathetic and flat as soggy cornflakes.
Because of this, this book was probably a stale attempt as making money off of race crimes, the biggest problem here is that it did.
This entire book is written in spoken word format, this story is told by Marlow, a seaman who witnessed firsthand some of the atrocities of colonialism. He tells in great length the things he views, and yet? I absolutely couldn’t care less. A description of black people chained together and being forced to carry things on their heads down the street should elicit a sickening feeling, and I was, but Conrad wasn’t. He writes it like it’s a common occurrence, which it could’ve been, but for someone who’s “health was severely affected for the remainder of his life,” you would think he’d elaborate on that matter more.
Another big issue is that Conrad’s prose is deeply long-winded and boring. There are several long passages, (passages that took up most of the page, mind you) that I reread several times, yet still couldn’t figure out what he was trying to say. If one description lasts longer than a few sentences, most readers will lose interest very fast.
There’s another problem with this book. It is deeply racist.
There is a specific scene where Marlow allies himself with the slaves, basically implying he has gone through exactly what they have when he is a white seaman. It is incredibly problematic to compare your struggles to someone else, especially if one of these people have been enslaved.
Especially towards the end of it, Conrad seems to be frantically throwing words in and hoping they’ll create something cohesive, he introduces a character towards the end who had no real significance except he could fill up more page time with her.
A point must also be made that every black character that Marlow meets, he assumes that they will automatically be a “savage” who can’t read or write.
However, is his apathy towards their suffering meant to anger the reader or to make us realize that we’ve gotten comfortable? I will say this the question that haunted me the most and is also the only thing that has stayed with me through the course of reading this book.