Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Heart of Darkness

I read something in high school, or at least I think I read this... it's been many years now, you know... well anyway, I remember reading something, it might have been a short story or a novel, it could have been a poem, or even a reading out of some reader... The only thing I can be certain of is the impression this reading left.

The moral I carry with me, from this reading, is that when one seeks to enslave and control something (or someone), one instead becomes a slave to it.

I think the setting was British imperialism in either Africa or India, where some great white man thought himself quite alright enslaving a native population, but in the end he found that he was the real slave. I put the question to Yahoo answers, but got only reading suggestions I had come up with on my own. One being A Passage to India by E.M. Forster, another being Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Reading plot summaries of these, I didn't think either of these were it, but I got them on CD anyway to make sure. Why? Because it's driving me mad to know what this freakin' reading actually was!!!

So I listened to Heart of Darkness on CD. Before having listened to the novella, I read a bit about it on the web. All kinds of deep, metaphorical meanings are attributed to it and the title, about how it relates to the darkness of man. I know my high school AP English teacher would have a conniption, but I honestly thought it was nothing more than an eloquent yarn, a tale. And it seemed very Euro-centric: unapologetic about the imperial marginalization of natives and lauding the virtuosity of even idiotic white men. I was unimpressed. And I thought this was perhaps because I am only a quasi-intellectual.. but then I read the wikipedia entry and learned I was not alone in my opinion. A Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe criticized Heart of Darkness in a 1975 lecture, An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's "Heart of Darkness." I'm too tired to look into this lecture more, but from the wiki snippet, I think Achebe was right on.

Heart of Darkness was probably autobiographical, and so I think it was just a tale of a trip up a river in Africa under European imperialism, with white men being all super-duper wonderous and the natives being seldom more than 'niggers' unless they served the white man in some capacity. Were I teaching a literature class, I would offer this book as nothing more than an example of the times. I could find nothing deep here. Darkness in man's heart? Oh wow, what a revolutionary concept.

I don't think this was 'the story,' though. The character Kurtz does end up controlling a tribe, and goes mad in the process... on second thought it may have been it. I could very well imagine my AP English teacher, Mrs. V. (name withheld to protect the innocent) coming up with some dictation that in enslaving this tribe to pursue his own greedy wants, Kurtz became a slave to the ivory he feverishly (literally) sought and to the tribesmen he used to get it, and in the end losing his life because of it.

Perhaps I'll never know.

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