2A Tedious Look at Conrad’s Life, Works, Themes, and Motifs in “Heart of Darkness,” and Apocalypse Now
3Joseph Conrad’s LifeJosef Teodore Konrad Nalecz Korzeniowski was born in Podolia, Ukraine, in1857.Conrad's father had studied law and languages at St Petersburg University and wrote radical poems and plays.His father and mother, Apollo and Ewa, were political activists. They were imprisoned seven months and eventually deported to VologdaConrad’s mother died of pneumonia in 1865.
4Joseph Conrad’s LifeApollo tried to educate his son himself, he introduced him to the work of Dickens, Fenimore Cooper and Captain Marryat in either Polish or French translations.His father died of tuberculosis and his funeral was attended by a thousand admirersConrad was raised by his uncle; attended school (he was disobedient)In 1874, Conrad went to Marseilles France and joined the Merchant NavyGun running for the Spanish and a love affair led to a suicide attempt.
5Joseph Conrad’s LifeConrad became a British merchant sailor and eventually a master mariner and citizen in 1886.He traveled widely in the east.He took on a stint as a steamer captain (1890) in the Congo, but became ill within three months and had to leave.In 1896, he married Jessie George a typist from Peckham.Conrad retired from sailing and took up writing full time.Writing took a physical and emotional toll on Conrad. The experience was draining
6Joseph Conrad’s Works Almayer’s Folly (1895) Lord Jim (1900) Heart of Darkness (1902)Nostromo (1904)Under Western Eyes (1910)Chance (1914)
7BackgroundAfter a long stint in the East had come to an end, he was having trouble finding a new position.With the help of a relative in Brussels he got the position as captain of a steamer for a Belgian trading company.Conrad had always dreamed of sailing the CongoHe had to leave quickly for the job; the previous captain had recently been killed in a trivial quarrel.
8BackgroundWhile traveling from Boma (at the mouth) to the company station at Matadi he met Roger Casement who told Conrad stories of the harsh treatment of AfricansConrad saw some of the most shocking and depraved examples of human corruption he’d ever witnessed. He was disgusted by the ill treatment of the natives, the scrabble for loot, the terrible heat and the lack of water.He saw human skeletons of bodies left to rot - many were bodies of men from the chain gangs building the railroads.He found his ship was damaged.Dysentery was rampant as was malaria; Conrad had to terminate his contract due to illness and never fully recovered
9Narrative Structure Framed Narrative Narrator beginsMarlow takes overNarrator breaks in occasionallyMarlow is Conrad’s alter-ego, he shows up in some of Conrad’s other works including “Youth: A Narrative” and Lord JimMarlow recounts his tale while he is on a small vessel on the Thames with some drinking buddies who are ex-merchant seamen. As he recounts his story the group sits in an all-encompassing darkness and passes around a bottle.
10Varied Interpretations There are many different interpretations of this book:Some see it as an attack on colonialism and a criticism of racial exploitationSome see Kurtz as the embodiment of all the evil and horror of the capitalist society.Others view it as a portrayal of one man’s journey into the primitive unconscious where the only means of escaping the blandness of everyday life is by self degradation.
11Themes & Motifs Darkness Primitive Impulses (Kurtz, previous captain) Cruelty of Man (Kurtz, the Company)Immorality/Amorality (General Manager/Kurtz)Lies/Hypocrisy (Marlow chooses Kurtz evil vs. Company’s hypocritical evil)Imperialism/Colonialism (The Company)CrueltyGreedExploitation
12Themes & Motifs Role of Women Physical / Psychological Civilization exploitive of womenCivilization as a binding and self-perpetuating forcePhysical / PsychologicalBarriers (fog, thick forest, etc.)Rivers (connection to past, parallels time and journey)
13CriticismPaul O’Prey: "It is an irony that the 'failures' of Marlow and Kurtz are paralleled by a corresponding failure of Conrad's technique--brilliant though it is--as the vast abstract darkness he imagines exceeds his capacity to analyze and dramatize it, and the very inability to portray the story's central subject, the 'unimaginable', the 'impenetratable' (evil, emptiness, mystery or whatever) becomes a central theme."James Guetti complains that Marlow "never gets below the surface," and is "denied the final self-knowledge that Kurtz had."
14Response to CriticismConrad, writing in 1922, responds to similar criticism: "Explicitness, my dear fellow, is fatal to the glamour of all artistic work, robbing it of all suggestiveness, destroying all illusion. You seem to believe in literalness and explicitness, in facts and in expression. Yet nothing is more clear than the utter insignificance of explicit statement and also its power to call attention away from things that matter in the region of art."Marlowe, the narrator, describes how difficult conveying a story is: "Do you see the story? Do you see anything? It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream--making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream-sensation, that commingling of absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt, that notion of being captured by the incredible, which is the very essence of dream . . .No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one's existence--that which makes its truth, its meaning-- its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream--alone."
15Interpretations: Marxist A depiction of, and an attack upon, colonialism in general and, in particular, the brutality demonstrated in the Belgian Congo.the mistreatment of the Africansthe greed of the so-called "pilgrims"the broken idealism of Kurtzthe French man-of-war lobbing shells into the junglethe grove of death upon which Marlow stumblesthe little note that Kurtz appends to his noble-minded essay on The Suppression of Savage Customsthe importance of ivory to the economics of the system.
16Sociological/Cultural Conrad pursues a sociological investigation into those who conquer, those who are conquered, and the complicated interplay between them.Marlow's invocation of the Roman conquest of Britaincultural ambiguity of those Africans who have taken on some of the ways of their Europeansthe ways in which the wilderness tends to strip away the civility of the Europeans and brutalize themConrad is not impartial and scientifically detached from these things, and he even has a bit of fun with such impartiality in his depiction the doctor who tells Marlow that people who go out to Africa become "scientifically interesting."
17Psychological / Psychoanalytical: Conrad suggests that Marlow's journey is like a dream or a return to the primitive past - an exploration of the dark recesses of the human mind.Similarities to the psychological theories of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung: Dreams offer clues to hidden areas of the individual and collective unconsciousness.Humans are primitive savages, capable of appalling and horrifying impulses. (the Id)Note that Marlow refers to Kurtz as a voice which seems to speak to him from the heart of the immense darkness.
18ReligiousHeart of Darkness as an examination of various aspects of religion and religious practices.Examine the way Conrad plays with the concept of pilgrims and pilgrimages.The role of Christian missionary concepts as a justification for the violent and irresponsible actions of the colonialists.The dark way in which Kurtz fulfills his own messianic ambitions by accepting the role of God.
19Moral-PhilosophicalHeart of Darkness is preoccupied with general questions about the nature of good and evil, civilization and savageryWhat saves Marlow from becoming evil?Is Kurtz more or less evil than the pilgrims?Why does Marlow associate lies with mortality?
20FormulismThrees: There are three parts to the story, three breaks in the story (1 in pt. 1 and 2 in pt. 2), and three central characters: the outside narrator, Marlow and KurtzContrasting Images (light and dark, open and closed, civilized and savage)Center to Periphery: Kurtz – Marlow – Narrator – ReaderAre the answers to be found in the center or the periphery?
21ModernismHeart of Darkness was published in the Late Victorian-Early Modern Era but exhibits mostly modern traits, which include:A distrust of abstractions as a way of delineating truth,An interest in an exploration of the psychological,A belief in art as a separate and privileged human experience,A desire for transcendence mingled with a feeling that transcendence cannot be achieved,An awareness of primitivism and savagery as the condition upon which civilization is built, and a corresponding interest in non-European peoples,A skepticism that emerges from the notion that human ideas about the world seldom fit the complexity of the world itself, and thus a sense that multiplicity, ambiguity, and irony – in life and in art – are the necessary responses of the intelligent mind to the human condition.
22Apocalypse Now: a film directed by Francis Ford Coppola, starring Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, and Marlon Brando.Based on Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.”Set in Vietnam. Captain Willard (Marlow) is sent on a mission to kill the renegade Colonel Kurtz.Parallels: physical setting, colonialism, savage vs. civilized, irony, insanity, darkness…