Monday, 13 June 2016

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad


I  first read this slim (118 pages)  classic novel(first published in 1899)  in May ,2005.I read it again  recently in June ,2016.The reason for reading again was that when I tried to remember the  remarkable character of  Kurtz   from this book ,I  could not .I found that it was completely  erased from  my memory  . And it was worth it because I realized for the first time how brilliant and great   Joseph Conrad was as a novelist. The book   is a peep in the interiors of human psyche.It is set  during the era of imperialism  when the Company with offices  located in Brussels(Belgium)  controlled  the ivory trade  and ruled over the natives in Africa. Darkness is real unknown of the jungle   as well as the darkness that hides within the human heart and also pervades the society.
               It is the story of   Mr   Kurtz, a first class ivory agent in the forests  on the banks of Congo in  Africa. He was   an exceptional man in many ways   , of the greatest importance to the Company.” His soul was mad. Being alone in the wilderness, it   had looked within itself   , and by heavens! I tell you   ,it had gone mad. I saw the inconceivable mystery of a soul that knew no restraint, no faith and no fear   , yet struggling blindly with itself.”
But Mr Kurtz had another   side of his identity. I quote   :” Mr. Kurtz lacked restraint  in the gratification of his various lusts.  .  . .Whether he knew of this deficiency himself  I can’t say .I think the knowledge came to him at last-only at the very last. But the wilderness had found him out early , and had taken on him  a terrible vengeance  for the fantastic  invasion. I think it had whispered  to him things about himself which he did not know , things of which he had no conception  till he took counsel with this great solitude –and the whisper had proved  irresistibly fascinating .It echoed loudly within him  because he was hollow at the core . .  .”
The wilderness helped him to know   the darkness inside him   , more so because he was hollow at the core. Many exceptional people   , what to say about the ordinary folks  , are hollow  as well as dark inside .Conrad   tells us about the nature of evil. How fragile civilized behaviour can be  , how  sometimes civilizes persons easily slip into  brutality. Even persons with  excellent motives and apparently unblemished character  can fall into evil ways. But Conrad is not sure  if this falling into brutal behaviour  is  because their soul becomes corrupted , or because  there is some supernatural  source of evil.Quote1:”The belief in supernatural source of evil  is not necessary ;men alone are quite capable of every wickedness. Quote2,( which contradicts quote 1) is as follows: ”I saw on the ivory face  the expression of sombre  pride, of ruthless power , of craven terror—of an intense and hopeless despair. Did he live his life again  in every detail of desire, temptation and surrender  during that moment of  complete knowledge ?He cried in a whisper  at some image , at some vision –he cried out  twice , a cry that was no more than a breath :’The horror!The horror!”
The news of the sudden death of Mr Kurtz reaches Marlow through a boy.Suddenly the manager’s boy  said in a tone  of scathing contempt—“Mistah Kurtz—he dead”.
T S Eliot in his poem the hollow men    quotes this line and  says: ”Remember us –if at all-not as lost, Violent souls ,but only ,As the hollow men ,The stuffed men”.Joseph Conrad   shows a remarkable understanding  of life as also of  Mr Kurtz. That is why this book  is a masterpiece .

         “  …. .Destiny .My destiny! Droll thing life is—that mysterious arrangement  of merciless logic  for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it  is some knowledge of yourself –that comes too late –a crop of unextinguishable  regrets .I have wrestled with death. It is the most unexciting contest you can imagine. It takes place in  an impalpable greyness ,with nothing underfoot , with nothing around , without spectators, without clamour, without glory , without the great desire  of victory , without the great fear of defeat , in a sickly atmosphere of  tepid scepticism , without much belief in your own right , and still less in that of your adversary. If such is the form of ultimate wisdom , then life is a greater riddle  than some of us think it to be.”
          “This is the reason why I affirm that   Kurtz was a remarkable man .He had some thing to say. He said it. Since I had peeped over the edge myself ,I understand better the meaning of his state, that could not see the flame of the candle , but was wide enough to embrace  the whole universe , piercing enough to penetrate  all the hearts that beat in the darkness. He had summed up –he had judged “The horror!”
               “ He was a remarkable man. After all, this was the   expression of some sort of belief, it had candour, it had conviction, it had a vibrating note  of revolt in its whisper, it had the appalling  face of a glimpsed truth-the strange commingling of desire and hate.”
               “   And it was not my own extremity  I remember best-a vision of greyness without form  filled with physical pain , and  a careless contempt for  the evanescence of all things-even of this pain itself! No! it is his extremity  that I seem to have lived through. True, he had made that last stride, he had stepped over the edge  , while I had  been permitted to draw back my hesitating foot. And perhaps  , in that is the whole difference, perhaps all the wisdom , and all truth, and all sincerity, are just compressed into  that inappreciable  moment of time  in which we step over the  threshold of the invisible. Perhaps!”
  “  I like to think my summing-up would not have been a word  of careless contempt. Better his cry-much better. It was an affirmation , a moral victory  paid for by innumerable defeats, by abominable terrors, by abominable satisfactions .But it was a victory !That is why I have remained loyal to Kurtz  to the last , and even beyond when a long time after I heard once more , not his own voice , but the echo of his  magnificent eloquence thrown to me  from a soul  as translucently pure  as a cliff of crystal.”
               At places  , Conrad  has left the crucial information unstated. For example  , between Marlow’s rescue of Kurtz and Kurtz’s death ,  the two had many significant conversations .But Conrad has not cared to inform us of those conversations.
              In a world  getting increasingly dominated by  multinationals and international organisations  , sending  their  officers in developing countries , we need to realize that every one of us  has  some darkness in our hearts  and every one is susceptible and fallible to corruption and evil. Conrad warns us to protect ourselves from such horrors. Though he said it in 1899 , his words are still relevant today .That is what makes this book a masterpiece .Please do  read it , if you have not read it so far.