Autobiographical Dimensions in Heart of Darkness
“The striking idea in this novel is that there is little difference between the so-called civilized people/ nations and those who have been described and portrayed in the works of many European writers as savages. Hence, Heart of Darkness came to question the imperialism and racism set against human beings regardless of their color, race, religion etc. The analysis in the core chapters sheds light on the autobiographical note that has been noted and depicted in the current novel, i.e., Heart of Darkness. Observations of the autobiographical elements found in the analysis of the respective novel will be noted down, highlighting the conflict, if any, between the ideals that any write aspires to find in the community and the grim reality that all members of any given community live.
The reviews of the Conrad’s fiction during his lifetime were generally favorable as many critics say. Peters (2006) says, “For some of his words the critical reception was even more favorable then than it is now” (119). Anyhow, several studies, books, papers have been written about Joseph Conrad and his works. However, it can rarely be found a study that deals with the autobiographical dimension found in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness from a colonized perspective. This very novel is an autobiographical note per se. It reveals the grim reality that the writer himself faced during his sea life, depicting a vivid picture of the malpractices of the white in Africa. This novel has been debated and discussed by many critics and scholars. Here are some books and articles that revolve around the self and autobiographical elements found in Heart of Darkness.
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In his book A Preface to Conrad (1982), Cedric Watts talks about three main parts related to Conrad as follows: the writer and his setting, the art of Conrad, and reference section. In the first part, the writer and his setting, Watts (1982) highlights the biographical background of Conrad, in which he discusses him with relation to his stay in Poland, France and England. He talks about his experience in Congo and its aftermath, highlight Conrad as a novelist rather than a sailing man. Not only the biographical background is referred to by Watts (1982), but the cultural background is discussed as well. Conrad’s pessimism and stance on imperialism were highlighted.
In the second part, Watts (1982) shifts to the art of Conrad and his influence on art per se, highlighting the textual commentaries of some of Conrad’s characters as Kurtz in Heart of Darkness, and the attempt to defraud the hero in his the Shadow-Line. Watts also discusses the opening of Almayer’s Folly, the ending of An Outpost of Progress. He allocates a section to talk about the misgivings and typology of the Conradian hero. The last part in the aforesaid book, Watts (1982) furnishes a list of the symbolic or allegoric names found in Conrad’s fiction.
Edward W. Said (2008) authored a book entitled Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography. Said starts his preface by remarking on Conrad, critics and his biographers. He says, Conrad’s letters (now amounting to eight published volumes) provide us with an almost embarrassingly rich testimonial to the intensity and variety of his intellectual life. Yet his critics have not made much use of them. His biographers cite them only to illustrate his state of mind at a given moment, or ta make an incidental points about his thinking on one or another matter. (xvii)
Said (2008) is of the view that it is necessary to distinguish the mode that is dominant in Conrad’s structures of experience that may allow the writer to either surrender to chaos or to order. Said remarks, “There is no middle way, and there is no other method of putting the issues. Either one allows that meaningless chaos is the hopeless restriction upon human behavior, or one must admit that order and significance depend only upon man’s will to live at all costs” (13).
In his essay entitled “Heart of Darkness: Problem for Critics”, Robert F. Haugh highlights the fact that many critics consider such a novel like Heart of Darkness as an attack and criticism of Belgian colonialism in the Congo. It portrays a symbolic picture of the antagonisms of the white and the black. To Haugh, Heart of Darkness was full of obscurities and Conrad himself was aware of that. He says, “Conrad was aware of certain obscurities in “Heart of Darkness,” although he was quite willing to receive praise from those he puzzled” (164). He makes a reference to what Joseph Warren Beach says about the current novel (Heart of Darkness) in the Twentieth-Century Novel in 1932.
Kurtz is a personal embodiment, a dramatization of all that Conrad felt of futility, degradation, and horror in what the Europeans in the Congo called “progress”, which meant the exploitation of the natives by every variety of cruelty and treachery known to greedy man. Kurtz was to Marlow, penetrating this country, a name, constantly recurring in people’s talk, for cleverness and enterprise (165)
In his article entitled “Critical Debate: The Structure of the Descent into the Self”, Guy Owens (1963) discusses two articles that examined the classical allusions in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. He opines that Conrad’s greedy traders did not become pilgrims only, but also knights whose goal is not to do business or ivory per se. Their goal was looting and exploiting the black. He as many other critics refer to the contrast between Kurtz and Marlow to pinpoint the grim reality of exploitation under the pretext of spread civilization and enlightenment.
Allan Simmons, in his book Conrad’s Heart of Darkness: A Reader’s Guide (2008), points out that Heart of Darkness is characterized by indirectness, referring to R. B. Cunninghame Graham who commented on that as, “The idea is so wrapped up in secondary nations that you-even you! – may miss it!” (24). Simmons highlights that the Conrad’s own adventures in Africa provide the basis of Heart of Darkness. His journey in turn has inspired adventurer-writers who follow the Conrad’s footsteps through travelling to many African countries. He concludes his book by saying, “The Conrad world has been able to read and respond to his representation of it in various ways, including interrogative reaction, formal parody, and cultural absorption” (119). Heart of Darkness left a great and profound influence on many writers. The reason behind this influence according to Simmons was quoted from C. B. Cox who says, “This masterpiece has become one of those amazing modern fictions, such as Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice or Kafka’s The Trial, which throw light on the whole nature of twentieth-century art, its problems and achievements’ (120).
Rino Zhuwarara, in his article entitled “Heart of Darkness Revisited: The African Response” (2004), does a survey on African commentaries on Conrad’s work, appreciating the ironies and narrative strategies utilized by Conrad in order to rescue his story from being a pure political romance. Zhuwarara shows admiration to Conrad for his resistance to im”