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Conrad and Africa

The purpose of this research is to examine Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness in relation to Belgian colonialism in Africa. The plan of the research will be to set forth the historical and literary context in which Heart of Darkness was published, and then to discuss ways in which Conrad made use of the historical given of Belgian colonialism in the Congo to articulate narrative meanings.

Two features of Conrad's work dominate an appreciation of the literary and historical context in which it emerged. First is the issue of language; although Conrad wrote mainly in England and always in English, in fact he was Polish and remained aware of and concerned with issues of Polish nationalism. The second feature of note about Conrad's work is that it is almost always set in or near a major waterway. In their respective critical biographies, Roger Tennant (passim) and Gerard Jean-Aubry (14ff) make much of the fact that Conrad's experiences as a seaman were the basis for his books, and Zins's work on Conrad and Africa cites a political link between environment and narrative theme.

Heart of Darkness combines all of these elements--the river, the politics of European colonialism in Africa, and the exotic mystery of Mr. Kurtz--to create a story that is profoundly dark, without sentiment. In fact, it has resonance with what Martin Luther King, Jr., called in another context "the bleakness of nagging despair" (91), and for some of the same reasons, given Conrad's picture of the relationship between Europeans and indigenous Congolese, and issues of racial prejudice that concerned Dr. King. In the same way that the American novelist Melville "needed" the ocean to make his stories, therefore, Conrad seemed to need seas and rivers in order to describe his particular grim and tragic view of human nature. The evocative environment of ships and the sea is an obvious device of narrative mood and action. But Conrad goes beyond the idea of physical ...

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Conrad and Africa. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 05:04, May 31, 2020, from