January 06 BotM Thread - HEART OF DARKNESS

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January 06 BotM Thread - HEART OF DARKNESS

Postby Adam Balm on Mon Jan 02, 2006 2:48 am

Okay, so we've had the poll, and the results are:

King Kong (1933)
10% [ 3 ]
It's Superman!
16% [ 5 ]
Hero with a Thousand Faces
6% [ 2 ]
Vengeance
16% [ 5 ]
Heart of Darkness
40% [ 12 ]
In Cold Blood
10% [ 3 ]


With Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad as the clear winner as the first Zoner Book Club book of the month.

Okay, so this is how this works...

This thread will run between January 1st and January 31st. (After which the thread will be locked.) Here is where you'll come to discuss it. You can talk about where you're at and what your predictions are. Or you can wait til you've finished it. Because needless to say, anyone who doesn't want spoilers, should avoid this thread like the plague. (Although, just as a courtesy, anything you'd consider a massive spoiler, please be kind enough to type in tiny text.)

For the cheapos, you can find Heart of Darkness, now out of copyright, here at Project Gutenberg.

If you have any further questions, ask below. If not, DISCUSS.
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Postby Ribbons on Mon Jan 02, 2006 6:16 am

If anyone plans on buying this to read it this month, I highly recommend you pick up the Norton edition. It comes with a lot of supplementals that you'd probably enjoy if you're looking to engage in a conversation about the book. I wouldn't necessarily say they enhance the story, but they give you an abundance of different angles on it.
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Postby ONeillSG1 on Mon Jan 02, 2006 1:09 pm

REPOST FROM THE OTHER THREAD

Before we go any further in discussing the book, I think it best to ask a question for reflection while reading the novel:

If you had the ability to see in a mirror all the qualities you hate about yourself, would you still want to look into that mirror?

Heart of Darkness goes into this idea within the framework of the story being told of Marlowe's re-telling of his journey captaining a riverboat in Africa.

Imperialism, slavery, "knowing thyself", the pain of loss, the thrill of control and the difference between fantasy and reality are all themes of Joseph Conrad's novella or short story.

Whenever I give you information, I hope to use citations from my notes from school; so if you chose to, you can read the supplimental material as well.

I think this will be fun as we make our way down this path, which "seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness" (95).

(The version I am using is the one I got for school, found here on Amazon if you are interested.

It is a really good version if you are looking to purchase your first copy of the book. It has some very informative and rich supplimental critical essays which deepen the experience.
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Postby Adam Balm on Mon Jan 02, 2006 2:24 pm

Damnit. If I was smart, I would have split those posts off the other thread. Sorry ONeill. Thanks for the re-post.
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Postby ONeillSG1 on Tue Jan 03, 2006 1:04 am

It's all good.

So, the story isn't really that long. How much longer before people post their opinions, eh?

Oh god, I'm starting to talk like a the Dino.

ARRRGGG!!!!
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Postby Adam Balm on Tue Jan 03, 2006 1:08 am

I'll pick up the book some time this week. Probably will read it over the weekend. So I'd say a few more days....
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Congo map

Postby brainiac on Tue Jan 03, 2006 12:59 pm

I've started it online and so far, pretty interesting. Already there is a feeling of unreality. DO they actually mention the Congo?

http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/africa/congo_demrep_rel98.jpg
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Postby doglips on Tue Jan 03, 2006 3:14 pm

Bought it today, so will start reading later......
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Postby brainiac on Sat Jan 14, 2006 5:11 pm

So much of this book is disorienting.... the dense language, the purposeful lack of geographical detail, the comments that seem to mean nothing. And the characters are fascinating -- a sea sailor in inland Africa, a brickmaker who doesn't make bricks, native peoples without a voice... the whole atmosphere is surreal. Just waiting for a great ape to appear. :P
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Postby Shane on Sat Jan 14, 2006 6:30 pm

|I'm going to try andget out tonight to get it.

no promises.
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Postby brainiac on Thu Jan 19, 2006 11:23 pm

OK... I've read it and am ready to discuss. Now what? :lol:
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Postby Ribbons on Fri Jan 20, 2006 1:36 am

BUMP!
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Postby Adam Balm on Fri Jan 20, 2006 1:45 am

GRIND!
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***book spoilers***

Postby brainiac on Fri Jan 20, 2006 6:52 pm

OK...I'll just start then. As I see this book, it's trying to speak to the conscience of its age. Colonial Imperialism was at its height and Conrad had seen it first hand during his travels into the Congo.

So basically, Conrad has Marlow, the narrator, telling about his adventures and the people he meets while going up river to replace or report on Kurtz, the most successful ivory procurer for the company.

What Marlow sees is disorienting and disgusting. White collonials treating African people as slaves, scapegoats and enemies while systematically stripping the country of its resources and dignity.

I find it ironic that Marlow is the only one to see the humanity of the native peoples while learning to abhor the Europeans as savage imperialist.

Meeting Kurtz is a bit of an anti-climax to me as Marlow/Conrad has made his point long before he sees the human wreckage that Kurtz has become. Haunted by his subjugation of the African tribes around him, Kurtz realizes that he and his employers are the darkness at the heart of the continent.

That's my general overview but there is still much to discuss: What is the significance of the 2 women in Kurtz life and death? Is this book racist or not? Are we all capable of allowing our worst and darkest natures to exsist if there is no societal control?

and as Jimmy asks in King Kong:
"Why does Marlow keep going up the river?"
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Postby Iconoclastica on Fri Jan 20, 2006 6:55 pm

(I'm almost done with it. I have an exam monday, so I'll finish it asap after that . . . I'm not gonna read what you wrote in fear of spoilers . . . but I promise to get in on the discussion soon . . . looks to be a damn good one!)
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Postby Seppuku on Fri Jan 20, 2006 7:10 pm

the horror! the horror!


...that I didn't find this thread already :shock:

It's been some years since I read either The Heart of Darkness or In Cold Blood, so I'm gonna have to make this pretty short.

I see the whole book as an exploration into insanity, with the ever-winding Congo being the Medulla Oblongata, and Kurtz being that impetus that makes your brain go. We're all clawing our way towards the truth, but some go that extra couple of yards, some get that brazen look in their eyes that says, I Will Find Out No Matter What. Marlowe is one such explorer of the mind. At every step of the way he's seen the results of people who've fallen off that cliff, and yet onwards he drifts towards the nucleus known as Kurtz. And when he is faced with The Truth, unfiltered, he doesn't know what to make of it. This is what saves him from becoming one of those fellas who likes to write their name in blood on the ceilings of mental hostels, his ignorance. He respects Kurtz, idolizes him, without knowing just what to make of him. So he returns home to London and gets on with things, having been just inches away from being blown over the edge of the cliff of insanity.

I can bullshit with the best of them.

Plus, Apocalypse Now still rocks, Redux or Original.
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Postby John-Locke on Fri Jan 20, 2006 7:55 pm

You are right the both of you's, it's been about two years for me too, The whole thing about blank bits on maps is extremly important, about mans quest to understand and control all of his environment and his refusal to be beaten by nature. The horrible things he will do and how far they will go into the unknown for the answers that we all seek.

Obviously The Heart Of Darkness is in Man. We keep going up the River because we think we can defeat anything and will destroy anything that gets in our way, Punky Power comes to mind but it's slightly different, Wheres Zombie, he'll have a good word for it.

Sorry, pretty lame but then I'm more a film than Books man, I remember pictures much better than words.
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Postby Ribbons on Fri Jan 20, 2006 8:15 pm

I hasten to add, for the purposes of historical context, that Conrad wrote this book after a brief stint captaining a steamship for a Belgian trade company in Congo. I would imagine that a lot of the book is informed by his own experiences.
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Postby ONeillSG1 on Fri Jan 20, 2006 8:19 pm

Ribbons wrote:I hasten to add, for the purposes of historical context, that Conrad wrote this book after a brief stint captaining a steamship for a Belgian trade company in Congo. I would imagine that a lot of the book is informed by his own experiences.


His experiences also influenced his novels Lord Jim and The Secret Sharer.

More to come in a bit. I am sorry I haven't been up to snuff with this, but later (after BSG) hopefully, I will post some of my reflections, with critical analysis (hopefully) to suppliment many ideas.
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Postby TonyWilson on Fri Jan 20, 2006 8:20 pm

I'm always reluctant to talk about books too much because I stuided English Lit at uni and I still feel sullied by the experience to this day. I read a lot of great books but I heard A LOT of bullshit critical theory about them too and was obviously required to remember that stuff and apply it to the novels.

So I can talk for hours about the communist subtext, the deconstructionalist side, etc etc but to be honest I've never been convinced in the whole "author is dead" idea. Conrad had things he wanted to say about arrogance in all cultures and how technological advancement will never devour nature or our own instincts in anything other than a purely accidental way. He did not write the book in the hope that people would disregard his views and bastardize the book for themselves.
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Postby Ribbons on Fri Jan 20, 2006 8:22 pm

Tony, you sound like Sean Connery in Finding Forrester. :P
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Postby Seppuku on Fri Jan 20, 2006 8:24 pm

Ribbons, you sound like Katie Holmes in Wonder Boys :)
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Postby TonyWilson on Fri Jan 20, 2006 8:25 pm

Ribbons wrote:Tony, you sound like Sean Connery in Finding Forrester. :P



LOL I've never seen Finding Forrester, so I really hope that's a compliment.
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Postby Ribbons on Fri Jan 20, 2006 8:26 pm

seppukudkurosawa wrote:Ribbons, you sound like Katie Holmes in Wonder Boys :)


Question mark. I don't get the reference, yo.
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Postby Seppuku on Fri Jan 20, 2006 8:27 pm

I knew what I meant when I typed it.
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Postby Ribbons on Fri Jan 20, 2006 8:29 pm

TonyWilson wrote:
Ribbons wrote:Tony, you sound like Sean Connery in Finding Forrester. :P


LOL I've never seen Finding Forrester, so I really hope that's a compliment.


Yeah I just realized now that's kind of on the obscure side for a joke. :oops: It's not really good or bad. Sean Connery's character was an acclaimed author who was... miffed, that people'd been spending the better part of his career telling him what his own books meant.
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Postby TonyWilson on Fri Jan 20, 2006 8:34 pm

Ribbons wrote:
TonyWilson wrote:
Ribbons wrote:Tony, you sound like Sean Connery in Finding Forrester. :P


LOL I've never seen Finding Forrester, so I really hope that's a compliment.


Yeah I just realized now that's kind of on the obscure side for a joke. :oops: It's not really good or bad. Sean Connery's character was an acclaimed author who was... miffed, that people'd been spending the better part of his career telling him what his own books meant.



HAHAHAHA, I'm going to have to check that film out now, it's Gus Van Sant directing right?
I just cannot believe the total fucking arrogance of whoever came up with the idea that the authors intentions aren't important. It's utterly utterly egocentric bollocks.
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Postby Ribbons on Fri Jan 20, 2006 8:43 pm

Yeah, that's the one. I liked it a lot. What's weird is the kid who played the lead, Rob Brown, was amazing, but he's barely been in anything since. I'm not sure he's all that interested in acting though. That's also the movie where Connery gets to say "You're the man now, dog!!"

Yeah. It's got to be a weird experience for authors to deal with critics and scholars discussing their "technique" when, in some cases, that may not even have been what they were trying to do.
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Postby Keepcoolbutcare on Fri Jan 20, 2006 8:52 pm

haven't read this in forever, but still have my beat up paperback, the one with The Secret Sharer.

here's what I underlined, with footnotes. This book, she was an eye opener for my younger self; good show young me!

    "papier-mache Mephistopheles..." (cunning linguist)

    "The mind of man is capable of anything-because everything is in it, all the past as well as all the future." (genius)

    "...Mr. Kurtz lacked the restraint in the gratification of his various lusts, that there was something wanting in him." (identify with)

    "If anybody ever struggled with a soul, I am the man." {present day me: EMO much!?}

    "Destiny. My destiny! Droll thing is life-that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself". (wow! - damn right)

    "I thought his memory was like the other memories of the dead that accumulate in every man's life-a vague impress on the brain of shadows that had fallen on it in their swift and final passage..." (grandpa...I can buy that)


eye/mind-opener, to say the least.
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Postby ONeillSG1 on Fri Jan 20, 2006 10:46 pm

A little bit more on his maritime past which influenced his novels:

He was placed in the care of his uncle, a more cautious figure than either of his parents, who nevertheless allowed Conrad to travel to Marseille and begin his career as a seaman at the age of 17. Conrad lived an adventurous life, becoming involved in gunrunning and political conspiracy, which he later fictionalized in his novel The Arrow of Gold. In 1878, after a failed attempt at suicide, Conrad took service on his first British ship. He learned English before the age of 21, and gained both his Master Mariner's certificate and British citizenship in 1886. He first arrived in England at the port of Lowestoft, Suffolk, and lived later in London and near Canterbury, Kent.
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Postby brainiac on Sun Jan 22, 2006 5:36 am

One of the critical essays in the Norton anthology version is by Chinua Achebe's, a Nigerian author. He advocates not reading "Heart of Darkness". I believe he does this because he believes Conrad to be a racist. This is the impression I get, anyway.

I thought Conrad was more like Mark Twain, reporting on the world as he saw it during the time he lived. I actually thought the native peoples of the Congo are shown as victims of the imperialists.

And should a writer tell others NOT to read a specific work? It seems like censorship -- as though he doesn't trust the reader to understand the text and subtext.

How far off the mark am I with this one?
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Postby brainiac on Thu Jan 26, 2006 1:38 am

So did I kill this thread or did it die?
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Postby Adam Balm on Thu Jan 26, 2006 2:00 am

Well, we are getting to the end of the month. I don't think you killed it. ;)

Incidentally, I'll be starting the thread (w/poll OMGLOLWTF!!!) for the February Book of the Month in the next couple of days.
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Postby Iconoclastica on Thu Jan 26, 2006 2:02 am

brainiac wrote:So did I kill this thread or did it die?


I'm finishing it friday - I'll be back to chat with you about it if no one else is!
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Postby Ribbons on Thu Jan 26, 2006 4:51 am

Well I'll add that I don't think that Chinua Achebe was being a censor so much as he was being a critic. He's not actually trying to prohibit anyone from printing, selling, buying or even talking about Heart of Darkness. Just saying what he thought of it. But he is calling it something... objectionable. Or if not objectionable, overrated.

I guess the question I want to ask is, do you agree that Heart of Darkness is racist? I know that it wasn't overtly racist, but Achebe makes some good points. Shades of Montaigne in his argument that it's unfair to take such a Eurocentric view of other countries' cultures. Although at the end of the day, I'm still not sure I agree. He seems to neglect the idea of Kurtz and how monstrous he was completely, but Kurtz was also a character I never fully understood. "The horror, the horror..." One of the most famous literary quotes ever and I still can't figure out where it comes from (in terms of character).
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Postby Iconoclastica on Thu Jan 26, 2006 1:57 pm

Ribbons wrote:Well I'll add that I don't think that Chinua Achebe was being a censor so much as he was being a critic. He's not actually trying to prohibit anyone from printing, selling, buying or even talking about Heart of Darkness. Just saying what he thought of it. But he is calling it something... objectionable. Or if not objectionable, overrated.

I guess the question I want to ask is, do you agree that Heart of Darkness is racist? I know that it wasn't overtly racist, but Achebe makes some good points. Shades of Montaigne in his argument that it's unfair to take such a Eurocentric view of other countries' cultures. Although at the end of the day, I'm still not sure I agree. He seems to neglect the idea of Kurtz and how monstrous he was completely, but Kurtz was also a character I never fully understood. "The horror, the horror..." One of the most famous literary quotes ever and I still can't figure out where it comes from (in terms of character).


Did you by any chance read Achebe's Things Fall Apart? While it has many disturbing and valid points, his book epitomizes why his view is extremely subjective when criticizing Conrad, as you point out. Although he is justified in his perspective, he is very one-sided, and very often criticizes white literature, his main argument being that these classics lose their validity and effectiveness because they are "Eurocentric" (a term he often equates with racism regardless of supporting evidence - often merely because of the setting of the novel or the inclusion of characters of different races). This is ironic, considering that the point of many of these books is to propagate the story of a European protagonist. Go figure that the author would shape the narrative of a book from the perspective of the main character . . . who would do a thing like that?! :P
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Postby Ribbons on Thu Jan 26, 2006 4:22 pm

I realize that Achebe has a potentially biased perspective, but he does make some interesting points. If I had the book on hand I would bust some of 'em out, but I don't, so I won't.

To be fair to the guy, "Eurocentric" is my word in this case, not his, and I didn't mean it to imply that Achebe thinks Heart of Darkness should have been told from a Congolese person's point of view, but rather that he thinks Marlow's breakdown may have been triggered by the realization that he's like those "savages".

Also, I read Things Fall Apart, but I'm not sure what that has to do with the point you're making, besides for its being Afrocentric. But it is based on the village that Achebe was born in, so I wouldn't really say it's outside the borders of reason for him to want to talk about it.
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Postby TonyWilson on Thu Jan 26, 2006 4:33 pm

Ribbons wrote:I realize that Achebe has a potentially biased perspective, but he does make some interesting points. If I had the book on hand I would bust some of 'em out, but I don't, so I won't.

To be fair to the guy, "Eurocentric" is my word in this case, not his, and I didn't mean it to imply that Achebe thinks Heart of Darkness should have been told from a Congolese person's point of view, but rather that he thinks Marlow's breakdown may have been triggered by the realization that he's like those "savages".

Also, I read Things Fall Apart, but I'm not sure what that has to do with the point you're making, besides for its being Afrocentric. But it is based on the village that Achebe was born in, so I wouldn't really say it's outside the borders of reason for him to want to talk about it.


But even if Marlow's breakdown was because he realised he was like those "savages" it doesn't mean Conrad or Hearts Of Darkness is racist. Realising man has the same drives and needs no matter his race or education is the total opposite of racism.
The book, for me, is about the inability to combat our own drives and mother nature in anything other than a transitory almost illusory way. The "savages" are trying to fight themselves and the colonials, the colonials are trying to fight nature and the savages and themselves. The destination is nowhere near as important as the journey, all this build up to find a very mad broken man who despite hiding in the jungle still can't get away from who he is and what he's done.
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Postby Adam Balm on Thu Jan 26, 2006 4:36 pm

Hah! Five days to go left in the month, and FINALLY the thread gets going!

Awesome.
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Postby Iconoclastica on Thu Jan 26, 2006 7:28 pm

TonyWilson wrote:
Ribbons wrote:I realize that Achebe has a potentially biased perspective, but he does make some interesting points. If I had the book on hand I would bust some of 'em out, but I don't, so I won't.

To be fair to the guy, "Eurocentric" is my word in this case, not his, and I didn't mean it to imply that Achebe thinks Heart of Darkness should have been told from a Congolese person's point of view, but rather that he thinks Marlow's breakdown may have been triggered by the realization that he's like those "savages".

Also, I read Things Fall Apart, but I'm not sure what that has to do with the point you're making, besides for its being Afrocentric. But it is based on the village that Achebe was born in, so I wouldn't really say it's outside the borders of reason for him to want to talk about it.


But even if Marlow's breakdown was because he realised he was like those "savages" it doesn't mean Conrad or Hearts Of Darkness is racist. Realising man has the same drives and needs no matter his race or education is the total opposite of racism.
The book, for me, is about the inability to combat our own drives and mother nature in anything other than a transitory almost illusory way. The "savages" are trying to fight themselves and the colonials, the colonials are trying to fight nature and the savages and themselves. The destination is nowhere near as important as the journey, all this build up to find a very mad broken man who despite hiding in the jungle still can't get away from who he is and what he's done.


Ribbons - all I am saying is that, at some point, a critique loses its validity when its foundations are so subjective that the main themes of the novel are lost in a pool of bitterness and preaching. Things Fall Apart was a wonderful and powerful story, but it reflects very clearly how his world view has been sculpted in terms of the horrors of colonialism. Consequently, I have trouble reading Achebe's reviews of many things because he analyzes everything in terms of the oppressed being subjugated by the oppressors.

Heart of Darkness deserves so much more than that, considering how deep its roots are in terms of discovering one's own true nature, as well as a much more complex relationship between the "oppressors," "oppressed," and themselves as well as their environment (as Tony pointed out). I'll admit that I have not read Achebe's review of this particular book, so my judgement is unfortunately (and I realize, hypocritcally) a bit prejudiced . . . but I will let you know what I think when I next have the opportunity to look at it. First, I have to actually finish the book (tomorrow, finally!) :oops:


Adam Balm wrote:Hah! Five days to go left in the month, and FINALLY the thread gets going!

Awesome.


Hehe - we're all such high school students . . . no matter how noble the task, it must be put off until the last minute lest we forsake our nature as procrastinaters :P
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Postby brainiac on Thu Jan 26, 2006 10:36 pm

I actually think the native peoples are shown as the more pure people and the colonials as the evil ones. And possible Marlow is as evil as Kurtz.

Kurtz exploits the Africans even to the point of setting himself up as a god and then using them to his own ends. Marlow's evil has to do with emotional distance. He is an observer and even thought he sees that much of the European's behavior is wrong, he does nothing to set it right.

I'm especially thinking of when the boat leaves the shore with Kurtz on board, Marlow allows the "pilgrims" to fire at will into the Congolese gathered on the shore. This is his boat; he is the captain and yet he doesn't say a word to stop them. And when Kurtz is near death, Marlow walks away... and doesn't even react when he hears Kurtz is dead.

Anyway, what could have been racist turns out to be a condemnation of the evil in the souls of the Europeans.
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Postby Doc Holliday on Fri Jan 29, 2010 1:50 pm

This week, I will be mostly reading HEART OF DARKNESS.

Finally.
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Postby TonyWilson on Fri Jan 29, 2010 1:57 pm

Be good to hear your thoughts on it when your done, Doc - I gotta say Apocalypse Now's story is more to my taste but it's still a thought provoking read. There's actually a film of the book with (I think) Tim Roth and John Lithgow which I've heard is pretty good, I'd love to compare it to AN one day.
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