JosephConrad Biographical Summary
Bornon third of December 1857, Joseph Conrad is a polish novelist whowrote in English after relocating to Britain. He was born in thePolish Ukraine and named Jozef Konrad Teodor as per the Polishculture, but was named Joseph Conrad as an English name. JosephConrad grew in the Polish Ukraine and spent his younger years in thecountry. However, at his tender age, his father was accused ofworking against the government of Russia and was consequently exiledto Siberia. He later left his father after his mother’s death andwent to Kraków to study under his uncle’s care.
Itis until he was twenty one years of age when he started to learnEnglish, while in Marseilles working as a sailor. He learnt Englishthrough a teacher while as a sailor. This language and sailing jobcame to introduce him to the British life and eventual citizenship ofthe English speaking country. In 1889, Joseph Conrad started workingon Almayer’s Folly, his first novel. As he wrote, he began workingas a captain, an occupation that took him to Congo, where heexperienced the colonial African life that forms the context of hisbook, Heart of Darkness. His life in Africa resulted to ill health,which made his return to England for care, but went to sea severally.He finished his novel Almayer’s Folly in 1894 and later Heart ofDarkness in 1899.
Basedon the contexts on the African continent in the colonial times, Heartof Darkness was written from 1898 and finished in 1899. At this time,the continent of Africa was covered by the dark cloud of scramble andpartitioning of the African territories by various European powers.The novel was written about an ivory transporter, Charles Marlow, ashe worked down the river Congo River, a colony ruled by King LeopoldII. This novel is about his life in the African region, especiallywhen he was appointed by Belgians to work in the Congo region as acaptain of the steamer. The novel therefore presents a bridge betweenthe traditional values and the ideals of modernity. As modernity wascreeping into the African continent through colonialism, the oldvalues were strong enough to give a clash.
However,imperialism is presented by the novel as it was the center of thecontext of Conrad’s book. By the time of writing the novel, 1890’s,almost the entire African continent was under European colonialdomination or in the process of being conquered. At this time, theAfrican continent and the European territories had consistent riots,fights and wars that threatened any white man who was living in theempires. In the context of Chinua Achebe, the African continent wasliterary having its things fall apart in the circumstances presentedby colonialism. In this context, the novel, suggests that thissituation was as the results of people operating in systems away fromtheir cultural set up.
Thenovel starts with a narration by Charles Marlow to his fellow sailorsof how he was appointed to the ship as the captain of the ivorytrading company. He describes his tough way through which he wentthrough to get to the position he is at the beginning of the plot. Heexplains the hostility that he had to face together with the rest ofthe crew as they find their way to the African land. Marlow describedhow the caravan had to travel on foot through the wilderness towardsthe central station that was the base of the company’s operations.The river of Congo is introduced when Marlow narrates how they usedthe steamboat up the river when their boat got wrecked.
Marlowillustrates how they travelled up the river as they sought their wayto the station, a sign for the economic domination of the DarkContinent. He describes how they lost time while the crew on boardpersists once they were half way up the river. On board the voyagewas the manager, pilgrims, and twenty cannibals who were enlistedas part of the crew. Once they reach the Kurtz station, Marlow sees aman he mentions to have patches of colored clothing.
Thenarration by Marlow shows the danger that the river presented and theinterior of Africa had on the invading white men. According toMarlow, the deeper they ventured into the Dark Continent, the moredanger the environment presented. At the place he describes the colorclothed man the response by Charles shows his fear for an imminentdanger approaching (Conrad71). As they sail on, their steamer breaks down and they face totalhorror. Later, Marlow gets bad health and returns to Europe, where hemeets Kurtz’s fiancé waiting for information on him. Despitethinking the waiting, she is disappointed to learn that Kutz died.However, she is happy to learn that the last two words that he hadspoken before his death was her two names.
Themain character in the novel is Marlow, who become the surrogate forthe author, since the author expresses his life experiences throughthe figure of Marlow. In many ways, Marlow is presented as the herofigure in the traditional hero, who is present in all the scenes ofthe plot. The author presents Marlow as an honest, capable andindependent man. His ability and competence in the sailing work giveshim the qualification to be appointed as the captain of the ship thathe is narrating the story from.
Anothercharacter that is presented in the novel is Kurtz. He is an ivorytraders and a commander of the post that was used for trading thetreasured animal product. He sails with Marlow and is presented asone of the central figures in the novel who faces the same problemswith Marlow. His reputation as described by the station accountant isimpressive in the perspective of Marlow. He is described as a focusedman whose desire for command and trade turns him into a demigod ofall the tribes that are trading in the station. However, hisdetermination is cut shot as he does not make back to Europe since hedies, a death that Marlow witnesses.
Thenovel explores the heart of imperialism in Africa as Europeansscramble for the rich, Dark Continent. The Europeans came to exploitthe continent by making them weak and unable to defend their land.They use all methods possible to insert fear into the country as away of gaining the economic dominance over the African economicresources. For instance, as Marlow sail up the river to the station,he witnesses people being tortured and treated with a lot of crueltythat resembles slavery. This shows a lot of hypocrisy of theimperialists who comes to the continent to gain the resources thatthe land is endowed with.
Thenovel further explores the cultural clash that was experienced by thecolonialists as they came to the African continent to establish theirempires. In addition, the novel explores economic depletion of theAfrican continent by the Europeans. The company that Kurtz is workingfor the Belgian company whose main intention is to take ivory formthe country. In addition, the novel reveals the extent that theEurope and would go to get the resources that were meant to enrichtheir countries back in Europe. For instance, the long journey to theinterior of the country was as a result of the desire by the colonialmasters to exploit the country.
Thenovel employs symbolism as a way of describing the situation and thecircumstances that the characters faced. By calling the novel, “theheart of darkness,” the author provides a viewpoint that theAfrican continent is inhabited by the dark people. Secondly, thetitle symbolizes the danger that the interior of the Africancontinent that the novel was focusing on. The darkness in the titlealso symbolizes the problems and cruelty that Africans were dominatedby the whites as their continent was being controlled economicallyand politically.
Ina work that became one of the most read and famous African novel oncolonial times, Chinua Achebe’s “things fall apart” gives asimilar context. In a lecture based on the colonial Africanliterature, the author Chinua Achebe claimed that he was providing aresponse to the Conrad’s views on the novel. In this lecture,Achebe accuses Conrad of being a racist and in the novel, Heart ofDarkness. According to Achebe (1), Conrad presented a lot of racistideas and racism in his novel that he cannot find words to expresshis content that was racially biased (Achebe 1). Achebe accusesConrad of being biased against Africans as a race.
However,the view of this paper holds that Achebe could have misinterpretedthe work of Conrad. The novel was written by a person who had notstayed for a longer time in the African culture to capture all thedynamics of the continent. In the definition of racism as in therelation to the colonial circumstances, the two main races wereEuropeans and Africans. Unlike Achebe who argued and wrote his worksfrom the native African perspective, Conrad was at the perspective ofa European. In addition, Conrad writes from the experience he had inAfrica, while Achebe writes about his African life.
Moreover,Conrad wrote at the time when colonialism was happening while Achebeviews Conrad’s work that was written in his childhood. This meansthat Achebe had time to evaluate the historical time between hischildhood and his adulthood, when he criticizes Conrad’s work.Therefore, Achebe seems to be wrong when his opinion is viewed fromthe contextual comparison of the two.
Oneof the critical reviews of the Conrad’s novel, Heart of Darknesswas done by David Miller, a British literary critique. According toMiller (1), the novel presents an exciting narration of the colonialtimes in a language that thrills despite the time gap. Millerdescribes the novel as an entertaining literary piece of work thatholds the consciousness of the modern reader (Miller 1). Millerappreciates the narration by Marlow and he describes the novel as atale of a man looking for another man in the story, in this caserefereeing to Kurtz. However, Miller describes the areas that Conradmixes the reader by introducing extremes of literary style. Millerexplains that in some instances, Conrad presents insanity in theevents while in another section presents elements of sanity.
Anothercritical review is done by Phil Mongredien, a British literature andcolumn writer. Phil describes the novel as a good account of eventsthat the sailors went into the land of King Leopold of Belgium. Phildescribes the novel as a good critique of imperialism in Africa.According to Phil, the novel is a well written account of the evilsof the European colonizers of the African continent like Belgium(Mongredien 1). He analyzes the novel as a well constricted parableof nature that presents the darkness of the world African continent.
Thenovel presents a narration that paints the colonial African times asthe period of darkness especially in the interior. The darkness wasfrom the evils committed by colonialist and the danger the sailorshad on the river voyage in the ivory trade. The novel features Marlowand Kurtz as the main characters and employs symbolism as theliterary devices. The novel explores colonial imperialism, culturalclash and economic exploitation of Africa by Europeans. The novelgets a negative criticism by Chinua Achebe as a tool of racism.However, the novel gets positively reviewed by British writers as agood piece of literature that satisfy the modern reader, despitebeing published over a century ago.
Achebe,Chinua."AnImage of Africa: Racism in Conrad`s `Heart of Darkness`"Massachusetts Review.Web,Accessed June 17, 2014, <http://kirbyk.net/hod/image.of.africa.html>Conrad,Joseph. Heartof Darkness.New York: PrestwickHouse Inc.2004, PrintMiller,David.JosephConrad`s Heart of Darkness.Web,Accessed June 17, 2014,<http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/5708673/Joseph-Conrads-Heart-of-Darkness.html>Mongredien,Phil.Heartof Darkness by Joseph Conrad – review.Web,Accessed June 17, 2014,<http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/jan/23/heart-of-darkness-conrad-review>