As a man is captured, his first instinct is to try and break free from his shackles and chains. Primal urges such as this often accompany humans when they are forced, as in capture, to rely on their most basic instincts to survive.
In this manner, natives in Africa acted upon instinct when the Europeans arrived to take their land and freedom. The short story Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell and the novel Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad revolve around the time when colonialism had a foothold in many parts of the world. This setting is one of conflict with the native peoples in these countries who are fighting and rebelling against the colonizers. Building upon this, both authors instill in the protagonists a sense of the wrongs they, as an extension of colonialism, are doing. In Shooting an Elephant and the Heart of Darkness there is an ongoing struggle between society and natives which leads the main character to realize the destructive nature of colonization.
Each work is littered by destruction that comes in the forms of: a control over the native population; a need to keep order among the colony; and a mental destruction incurred from having views opposed to the ruling government’s. That each book denounces colonization is no surprise; but each present a conflict to make clear the protagonist’s struggle. In Shooting an Elephant, this conflict is between George Orwell and the natives over an unruly elephant, and in The Heart of Darkness the conflict is between Marlow and happenings on the river Congo.
Walking into such a wilderness must have been harrowing for even the toughest of individuals, however, with a g…
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…aging such as the ones experienced by Orwell and Marlow serve to remind of the dangers of absolute power in the hands of any man. These works illustrate the need to allow cultures to thrive and be different from the more powerful and influential bodies on the earth. Orwell and Marlow tell their stories in order to explain how they realized the truth about corruptive government as far back as the Nineteenth Century. This should serve as a reminder now as a new age dawns upon mankind, where everything can be bought and sold. The basic message is the same, however, that we use power destructively “to avoid looking [like fools].”
Orwell, George, Shooting An Elephant. Ed. Messenger, W.E., A 20th Century Anthology. Scarborough: Prentice-Hall Canada Inc., 1984
Conrad, Joseph, The Heart of Darkness. Toronto: Bantam Books, November 1987
Restraint in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness
“Restraint! I would have just as soon expected restraint from a hyena prowling amongst the corpses of a battle,” comments Marlow as he questions why the hungry cannibals aboard his steamer hadn’t gone for the white crew members (Conrad 43). “The glimpse of the steamboat . . . filled those savages with unrestrained grief,” Marlow explains after recalling the cries of the natives seeing the steamer amidst a brief fog lift (Conrad 44). “Poor fool! He had no restraint, no restraint . . .a tree swayed by the wind,” speaks Marlow of a slain helmsman amidst an attack by tribal savages (Conrad 52). “Mr. Kurtz lacked restraint in the gratification of his various lusts,” says Marlow a few moments after he tells of his first glimpse of severed human heads fixed atop posts at the Inner Station (Conrad 58).
Restraint. The word is used time and time again throughout the text. Acknowledging restraint and the lack thereof in characters as the story progresses in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is paramount to any understanding of the work. The storyteller Marlow first believes that restraint is what separates civilization from chaos and society from savagery. As his journey into the heart of darkness progresses, however, he learns that such a conclusion is rash, and that there is far more to the matter than simply that.
Literary critic Cedric Watts comments upon the ambiguity of the title of Heart of Darkness. In Watts’ view, the phrase can mean both “the center of a dark” and “the heart which has the quality of being dark (54).
This question regarding the title’s meaning can have an answer when one considers restraint. Restraint goes hand in hand with rationality, which is associated with the brain. Lack of restraint can, …
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…. New York: Penguin, 1999. Print.
D’Avanzo, Mario. “Conrad’s Motley as an Organizing Metaphor.” Heart of Darkness. Edited by Robert Kimbrough. New York: Norton