In analysis of Heart of Darkness, much is made of Conrad's intentions in telling his
tale. People search for a moral lesson, a strict social commentary, an absolution for the
evil of the dark jungle. It isn't there, and that's not the point.
In works of philosophy (like The Republic), or works of political theory (like
Socialism: Utopian and Scientific), or works of natural science (like The Origin of
Species), this sifting of important and clear ideas from the mess and confusion of
experience is what writers like Plato, Darwin, or Engels are doing. They experience the
world in all its messy confusion, and then they attempt to abstract from the mess, by
careful selection, a system of ordering principles which other people can comprehend and
make use of. In more figurative words, they are trying to shed the light of intelligence
upon the darkness of experience.
As, primarily, students and teachers, we naturally look for the conveyance of such
ideas in any material we encounter. We miss that books like Heart of Darkness are
fundamentally different in intent and we continue searching for that lesson from which to
make a rational response to the story.
Even literary professionals seem often to fall into the error of neglecting or
misunderstanding the novelist's purpose. Consider, for example, the criticism leveled
against Heart of Darkness by Paul O'Prey in his introduction to the Penguin edition.
"It is an irony that the failures' of Marlow and Kurtz are paralleled by a
corresponding failure of Conrad's technique--brilliant though it is--as the vast
abstract darkness he imagines exceeds his capacity to analyze and dramatize it, and
the very inability to portray the story's central subject, the unimaginable', the
impenetrable' (evil, emptiness, mystery or whatever) becomes a central theme."
Mr. O'Prey's sentence is somewhat impenetrable itself, but his complaint is that
Conrad wants to evoke an... [continues]
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