Thursday, February 28, 2013

Heart of Darkness [1899]

It is ironic that Heart of Darkness, despite being a slender novel in terms of pages, doesn’t just rank as Joseph Conrad’s greatest masterpiece (possibly along with Nostromo) and his most iconic work, it can be considered as a summation of his bibliography as well. He had sailed up the Congo River during his career as a naval officer, and relied on his first hand experiences and the effects that had on him while writing this book. Thus, despite this not being an autobiographical book per se, it was densely filled with first-hand observations and personal sociopolitical opinions. He employed a frame narrative, i.e. story within a story format, to chronicle the experiences of Marlowe, a sailor and stand-in for the author himself, of his experiences in the Congo hinterland, and particularly about his meeting with a mysterious man named Kurtz. Marlowe gets to meet him only near the end of the story, and that too for only a brief period during the final moments of Kurtz’s life; but, the deeply transformative journey is filled with such details of the man, mostly word of mouth of people who have met him, and his own growing conceptions, that Kurtz is elevated to nearly mythic levels, making him a deep enigma for him and the readers. The writing style was neither lucid nor fluid, yet it was incredibly compelling on account of the degree of the narrator’s increasingly disturbed psychosis and the human depravity and horrors he witnessed, having been so brilliantly and nightmarishly portrayed. Conrad’s meditation on human madness, megalomania and the infinite depths of evil, and his scathing critique of the utter exploitation of Africa by imperialistic forces, was both powerful and disturbing. Coppola’s Apocalypse Now was directly influenced by this book, and, I reckon, even Herzog’s Aguirre: The Wrath of God was influenced by it. No wonder it was named by Modern Library, among others, as one of 20th century’s greatest novels.

Author: Joseph Conrad
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Stream of Consciousness/Frame Narrative
Language: English
Country: UK