Heart of Darkness Themes Essay

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Jacob Lachini
Ms. Batten
ENG 4U1-03
Monday, October 29th, 2012.

Literary Criticisms in Relation to Heart of Darkness

Interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art. Even more. It is the revenge of the intellect upon the world. To interpret is to impoverish, to deplete the world -- in order to set up a shadow world of ''meanings,” Susan Sontag. It is a persons interpretation of any form of literary work that defines itself, what the author intends a reader to discover may be completely different from what the reader interprets. In the novel, The Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, a reader can understand and identify the thematic aspects of the novel by studying the literary criticism theories of historicism, psycho-analytic and Marxist. Historicism is portrayed in the novel through the conquering of the Congo, the racism of the whites and natives and the grove of death. Psychoanalytic theory is present when the doctor meets with Marlow, as Marlow lies throughout the novel and the worries Marlow experiences while searching for Kurtz. Marxist theory is portrayed through the accountant in white’s arrogance, the condition of the chain gang and the shed fire blamed on the native. Historicism is an important literary criticism theory that helps the readers of the novel understand the underlying context of the novel.

By studying the historical time period in which the novel takes place, readers will better understand the novel. Historical significances are portrayed through the conquering of the Congo, the racism portrayed through the natives versus the white men and the grove of death. The novel is based on the conquering of the Congo for rubber and ivory trade in the late 1800’s. During this time period the Congo was under constant destruction for the abundance of rubber and ivory. Marlow explains the condition of the Congo, "And this also,’ said Marlow suddenly, ‘has been one of the dark places of the earth’" (Pg. 70). By understanding the historical events that occurred during that time period the novel is set in, readers can further understand the full underlying context of the novel and will keep readers appealed. Racism is present and is not frowned upon during this historical time period; the treatment of the natives by the white men is a prime example of the historical cruelty. Marlow describes the story of Fresleven, “Therefore he whacked the old nigger mercilessly, and while a big crowed of his people watched him, thunderstruck, till some man--I was told the chiefs son--in desperation at hearing the old chap yell, made a tentative jab with the spear at the white man” (Pg. 73). By understanding the hardships the natives in the Congo were put through during this prejudice time period, readers can understand the historical setting and relationship in the novel. In the late 1800’s, King Leopold was having his soldiers kill many slaves and this represented the grove of death in the novel. Marlow explains what the Grove of Death is, “Paths, paths, everywhere; a stamped-in network of paths spreading over the empty land, through the long grass, through burnt grass, through thickets, down and up chilly ravines, up and down stony hills ablaze with heat; and a solitude, a solitude, nobody, not a hut. The population had cleared out a long time ago” (Pg. 85). The representation of the Grove of Death in connection to King Leopold’s genocide in the Congo can further help a reader understand the historical relationships in the novel through further study. The literary criticism theory of Historicism and the relationships in the novel give readers an understanding of the historical significances that are portrayed in the novel. They study of the psychoanalytic theory can also help readers better understand the underlying context of the novel.

Marlow is a very complex character in the novel and by studying his mind and his behaviour as a representation of the author, readers will better understand the novel....
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