Tag Archives: Conrad

Experience, Race, and Gender in Fiction

Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899), Stein’s Melanctha (1909), Anand’s Untouchable (1935), and Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) all explore the relationship of class and race. Through the 38 year span in which these novels were published, the gradual expression of race relations changes drastically.  Conrad explores the racial tensions tied to imperialism through Marlow’s close observation of Mr. Kurtz.  Stein stays close to home in her interperspective novel Melanctha, yet ties gender and class together while still depicting an ethnic alternative lifestyle.  Anand, while his novel was published much later, gives the audience a sense of what life is in India’s harsh caste system.  Untouchable explores class closely, but to an English audience, which introduced them to a world other than post-WWI American society.  Finally, Hurston thoroughly captures the relations of gender and race together in Janie Stark.  The novel focuses on her tribulations, instead of a broad sociological effects, allowing the harsh scenes of domestic abuse to expose hidden inequalities other than race.  Over time, fiction writers presented more topics that were not necessarily common knowledge, bringing them to the public eye.  While tackling cultural obstacles is nothing new in writing, the modernists relied on firsthand experience,  allowing for more raw, realistic stories that related to the audience.

Disparity only changes it’s face.

One of the greatest topics that I have noticed being covered by nearly every work we have read is that of class.  Anand’s Untouchable (1935), Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) , Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying (1925)  and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899), illustrate to us that through the years, no matter the location or specific group of characters, class continues to be a factor of major importance and intrigue.

There is a clear continuity in class distinction and disparity throughout each of these novels, with no clear resolution through time. For instance, while in 1899, Imperialism is shown in spades throughout Heart of Darkness, it is still an issue (although in a different location), in Untouchable. Not only do these two show class disparity, but also inequality in both race and cultures.

As I Lay Dying and Their Eyes Were Watching God reveal a slightly different form of class disparity, in that they don’t revolve around themes of one group of people AGAINST another, but are more revealing in their disparity through the largely missing discussions of these disparities. The reveal is through ignorance rather than understanding.

Over the difference of 38 years, we can see that the face of disparity changes, but it’s power and overall grip on societies, does not. No matter the location, or the cultures and classes involved, this continues to be a problem throughout the world. It’s so interesting to see it from so many points of view, and each authors different style helps to bring us closer to these people that we may never have considered otherwise. Historically, the significance is quite clear, even when the issues never quite get resolved. We cannot make changes if they aren’t consistent

Dark

“It had become so pitch dark that we listeners could hardly see one another. For a long time already he, sitting apart, had been no more to us than a voice. There was not a word from anybody. The others might have been asleep, but I was awake. I listened, I listened on the watch for the sentence, for the word, that would give me the clue to the faint uneasiness inspired by this narrative that seemed to shape itself without human lips in the heavy night-air of the river”.

 

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. In Youth: A Narrative; and Other Tales. Rev. ed. Edited by Cedric Watts. Oxford University Press, 2002. p.130.

 

I think this shows modernity from the darkness that he seems to portray during this paragraph. It is darker and creepier which makes me feel as though it is modern.

Everyone’s Darkness

My first interview with the manager was curious. He did not ask me to sit down after my twenty-mile walk that morning. He was commonplace in complexion, in feature, in manners, and in voice. He was of middle size and of ordinary build. His eyes, of the usual blue, were perhaps remarkably cold, and he certainly could make his glance fall on one as trenchant and heavy as an axe. But even at these times the rest of his person seemed to disclaim the intention. Otherwise there was only an indefinable, faint expression of his lips, something stealthy – a smile – not a smile – I remember it, but I can’t explain.

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness and Other Tales. “Heart of Darkness”, 123. Oxford: Oxford NY, 2002.

Throughout Heart of Darkness, there is a sense of dread and hostility throughout Marlow’s interactions with the natives and the native landscape. However, this passage jumps away from the harsh conditions and describes the manager talking with Marlow. Even here we see the same harshness expressed within a man’s complexion, defining that the dangers and hostility projected does not stop with the people who live near the river but also by the people who have journeyed there. This could imply the overall idea of the novella that darkness comes not from the native land, but of the interactions between the natives and the colonizers.

The Experience of Death

“I have wrestled with death. It is the most unexciting contest you can imagine. It takes place in an impalpable grayness, with nothing underfoot, with nothing around, without spectators, without clamor, without glory, without the great desire of victory, without the great fear of defeat, in a sickly atmosphere of tepid skepticism, without much belief in your own right, and still less in that of your adversary” (Conrad 178).

Conrad, Joseph, and Cedric Watts. “The Heart of Darkness: Part III.” Heart of Darkness and Other Tales. Rev. ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.

This passage stands as an example of why this story is a modern piece. There is perhaps no better way to explain the reality of death. Conrad explains death as it is in this passage and ultimately, that is nothing very spectacular. This is also an example of delayed specification of referents because he takes so long to tell you that death is not virtuous or exciting. He actually never says those words but that’s what he’s getting at, he just takes so long to explain death.

Kurtz as a “remarkable man”

“Droll thing life is – that mysterious  arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself – that comes too late – a crop of inextinguishable regrets.”

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness and Other Tales. “Heart of Darkness”, 178. Oxford: Oxford NY, 2002.

“This is the reason why I affirm that Kurtz was a remarkable man. He had something to say. He said it. Since I had peeped over the edge myself, I understand better the meaning of his stare, that could not see the flame of the candle, but was wide enough to embrace the whole universe, piercing enough to penetrate all the hearts that beat in the darkness. He had summed up – he had judged. ‘The horror!’ He was a remarkable man.”

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness and Other Tales. “Heart of Darkness”, 178-179. Oxford: Oxford NY, 2002.

Marlow proclaims Kurtz’s “remarkableness” because Kurtz was able to judge and generate some sort of certainty about his experience while Marlow felt as if he couldn’t say anything that would make sense or do justice to the unfathomable truth.

 

Delayed Specification on Kurtz

“I’ve seen the devil of violence, and the devil of greed, and the devil of hot desire; but, by all the stars! these were strong, lusty, red-eyed devils, that swayed and drove men – men, I tell you. But as I stood on the hillside, I foresaw that in the blinding sunshine of that land I would become acquainted with a flabby, pretending, weak-eyed devil of a rapacious and pitiless folly.”

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness and Other Tales. “Heart of Darkness” (Oxford: Oxford NY, 2002), 117.

All of the descriptions in this passage remind me of language that just goes and goes with seemingly no destination, at least not one that’s obvious from the start – in other words, it is similar to language we’ve already been looking at in class. You don’t quite understand what the point is, where exactly it’s going, or what the purpose of it will be, until you read on and discover that it applies to Kurtz. It is a perfect example of delayed specification.

Heart of Darkness…Part 3 Conrad

“The brown current ran swiftly out of the heart of darkness, bearing us down towards the sea with twice the speed of our upward progress; and Kurtz’s life was running swiftly too, ebbing, ebbing out his heart into the sea of inexorable time….I saw the time approaching when I would be left alone of the party of ‘unsounded method'” (52).

Conrad, James. Heart of Darkness. The Project of Gutenberg Ebook.  9. Jan. 2006. http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/526/pg526.html

This scene gives the readers the image of the river and how the heart of darkness enters through. Marlowe and Kurtz are able to get away from the darkness that has permanently marked them. Kurtz has been driven into this madness by this darkness and Marlowe is scarred by being apart of Kurtz’s party. The brown current brings them back into the right civilization-the civilization they knew and grew up with. The river separates Marlowe from the African civilization since it’s inside the heart of the land where the darkness resides and unsounded.

On Marlow’s mistress

“She walked with measured steps, draped in striped and fringed cloths, treading the earth proudly, with a slight jingle and flash of barbarous ornaments. She carried her head high; her hair was done in the shape of a helmet; she had brass leggings to the knee, brass wire gauntlets to the elbow, a crimson spot on her tawny cheek, innumerable necklaces of glass beads on her necklace bizarre things, charms, gifts of witch-men that hung about her, glittered and trembled at every step. She must have had the value of several elephant tusks upon her. She was savage and superb, wild-eyed and magnificent; there was something ominous and stately in her deliberate progress.”

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness and Other Tales. “Heart of Darkness”, 168. Oxford: Oxford NY, 2002.

Even though Kurtz clearly drapes her in fine jewels and wealth, his mistress still embodies the wildness and savagery of nature.

A real man knows his place!

“It was unearthly, and the men were-No, they were not inhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst of it-the suspicion of their not being inhuman. It would come slowly to one. They howled and leaped, and spun, and made horrid faces; but what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity-like yours-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. And why not?”

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness and Other Tales. “Heart of Darkness”, 139. Oxford: Oxford NY, 2002.

I absolutely love this passage! It’s interesting to get such a clear glimpse of this  “better than thou” colonial attitude. What I find even more telling of the times, is how, even in his attempt at semi-identification with the African people, he still leans heavily on the condescension. If you were a real man, you might slightly identify that you have some connection with these lowly people.