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Colonialism and Imperialism in Heart of Darkness and A Passage to India

It is best to analyze the works, Heart of Darkness and A Passage to India, applying the historical and cultural conditions of the society in which they were produced. The relations between groups and classes of people that imperialism sets up, and that these two works explore, starkly reveals the contradictions within capitalism in a way that a similar piece of fiction set within one culture and dealing with characters from that culture alone cannot. Prior to the analysis however, I would like to give a brief, pertinent explanation of the Marxist approach to the analysis of literature and of the terms I will be using.

After years of study and research, Karl Marx published the first volume of his monumental Das Kapital in 1867. In it Marx presents his theory of the materialist conception of history in which the economic base of a society gives rise to and interacts in a dialectical way with the societal superstructure of culture, law, religion and art. Among other things, Das Kapital traces the historical development of industrial capitalism as arising out of feudalism, predicts capitalism’s further evolution, and sets forth theories of class structure and class struggle. It also critiques the methods by which industrial capitalism organizes the means of production so that capital and labor are separated and held by distinct and antagonistic groups within the society. This separation overwhelmingly benefits the holders of capital, politically and economically, to the corresponding detriment of those who sell their labor. Though this is by no means an adequate summary of Marx’ ideas and contributions, my aim is to provide this simple theoretical framework within which to focus on more particular elements of Marxist theory. Fo…

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…ieve that imperial rule, if inevitable in the short run, was an inglorious enterprise that deformed both those who ruled and those who submitted” (153). I believe that Joseph Conrad and E. M. Forster were two such artists and that the two works in question reflected their growing awareness of imperialism as an “inglorious enterprise” whether this was consciously expressed by the author(s) or not. This study will also attempt to tease out the ways in which each work both supports and subverts the imperial mission and its ideology and I will also speculate to a certain extent as to how these contradictions in the works reflected contradictions in the society in which they were written.

Works Cited:

Conrad, James. Heart of Darkness and Other Tales. Great Britain, BPC paperbacks ltd. 1990.

Forster, E.M. A Passage to India. Neew York: Harcourt Brace, 1984.

The Light and Dark Forces in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

The Light and Dark Forces in Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, explores something truer and more fundamental than a mere personal narrative. It is a night journey into the unconscious and a confrontation within the self. Certain circumstances of Marlow’s voyage, when looked at in these terms, have new importance. Marlow insists on the dreamlike quality of his narrative. “It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream – making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream – sensation.” Even before leaving Brussels, Marlow felt as though he “was about to set off for center of the earth,” not the center of a continent. The introspective voyager leaves his familiar rational world, is “cut off from the comprehension” of his surroundings, his steamer toils “along slowly on the edge of a black and incomprehensible frenzy.” As the crisis approaches, the dreamer and his ship moves through a silence that “seemed unnatural, like a state of trance; then enter a deep fog.” In the end, there is a symbolic unity between the two men. Marlow and Kurtz are the light and dark selves of a single person. Marlow is what Kurtz might have been, and Kurtz is what Marlow might have become.

Much of the meaning in Heart of Darkness is found not in the center of the book, the heart of Africa, but on the periphery of the book. The story that Marlow tells centers around a man named Kurtz. However, most of what Marlow knows about Kurtz he has learned from other people, many of whom have good reason for not being truthful to Marlow. Therefore Marlow has to piece together much of Kurtz’s story. We slowly get to know more and more about Kurtz. Part of the meaning of Heart of Darkness is …

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…e human condition. Kurtz represents what every man will become if left to his own intrinsic desires without a protective, civilized environment. Marlow represents the civilized soul that has not been drawn back into savagery by a dark, alienated jungle. The book implies that every man has a heart of darkness that is usually drowned out by the light of civilization. However, when removed from civilized society, the raw evil within his soul will be released.

Works Cited and Consulted

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York: Norton, 1971.

Greene, Graham. The Heart of the Matter. New York: Penguin, 1984.

Hawthorn, Jeremy. Joseph Conrad: Narrative Technique and Ideological Commitment. New York: Arnold, 1990.

Murfin, Ross C., ed. Joseph Conrad, “Heart of Darkness”: A Case Study in Contemporary Criticism. New York: Bedford-St. Martin’s, 1989.

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