chapter  2
16 Pages

The Moment and After-Life of Heart of Darkness


Heart of Darkness must be among the most interpreted books in English fiction. It reaches us already glossed-and this is a short list-as a night journey into the unconscious, a mythic descent into the underworld, a meditation on transgression, an allegory of narrative representation, and a key text in both modernism and colonial fiction. In the current climate it is hard to recall that there was a time when the critical literature was awash with commentaries wholly indifferent to the novel’s historical, political and ideological materials; or to remember that, among those who were aware of a looming geophysical presence, some offered opinion with an indiscrimination now alien to the intellectual discussion. “It is one of the great points of Conrad’s story,” wrote Lionel Trilling, “that Marlow speaks of the primitive life of the jungle not as being noble or charming or even free but as being base and sordid-and for that reason compelling” (qtd. Cox 64); while K.K. Ruthven described Kurtz as a “pioneer in the psychic wilderness of Africa”(qtd. Cox 80); and Walter Allen mused, “The heart of darkness of the title is at once the heart of Africa, the heart of evil-everything that is nihilistic, corrupt and malign-and perhaps the heart of man” (Allen 291). Perhaps Chinua Achebe’s indignation at the racism of Conrad and Heart of Darkness should rather have been directed at such portentous and ill-informed ruminations construing a minatory African primitivism, especially since Achebe did recognize that Conrad had set up “layers of insulation between himself and the moral universe of his story” (Achebe 256).