View Full Version : Understanding

01-10-2007, 12:34 AM
I have begun reading Heart of Darkness for class and I'm not sure what I'm supposed to get out of it. I probably should finish the book before trying to figure that out, but the beginning has me confused. Any ideas? Thanks a bunch.

01-10-2007, 12:43 AM
Beginning what? If you are more specific in what you're struggling with, it's easier to give feedback. The novel begins on a boat - the Nellie - anchored in the Thames River near London. An unidentified first person narrator listens with 4 other companions as a man named "Marlow" begins to describe an adventure he had in the Congo. Before he actually begins to narrate the adventure, he reflects philosophically on some of the novel's primary themes - namely that of imperialistic exploration. Once he's spoken on those things (which make more sense once you've finished the novel) he begins his tale of how he got a commission to be a steamboat captain and some of the experiences he had in his preparations for going to Africa. Once he gets there, he comes into contact with both natives and Europeans, and these scenes are to give you a sense of the horrific situation of the natives under European imperialism. That's section 1.

01-10-2007, 12:54 AM
So Conrad is speaking against imperialism?

On another note... I understand that Conrad uses a story within a story so that he can more easily get the point across, but why are the account, the captain, and the lawyer on the ship? Am I reading too much into their presence?

02-10-2007, 04:49 PM
The captain, lawyer and account are meant to be taken symbolically. They represent components of Imperialism. In my English class, we interpreted them this way:

The Captain: leadership & authority, specifically dominance over native peoples

The Lawyer: the imposition of European law; it is also interesting to note that he is described as being virtuous.

The Accountant: greed/avarice and order (note the dominos)

The important thing to remember with this book is that it is packed with symbols. There are many cases in which a thing or person refers to something else. E.g. The two women knitting black wool in Brussels represent to of the three Fates.

Try looking at this in a Freudian way; id, ego, and super ego are definitely represented here and furthermore, the way Conrad uses the word "darkness" is very similar to Freud's view of the sleeping subconscious.

Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities. - Voltaire