Heart of Darkness has been considered for most of this century as a literary classic, and also as a powerful indictment of the evils of imperialism. It reflects the savage repressions carried out in the Congo by the Belgians in one of the largest acts of genocide committed up to that time. Conrad’s narrator encounters at the end of the story a man named Kurtz, dying, insane, and guilty of unspeakable atrocities.
Oh Joseph Conrad, could you ever have imagined you’d get such conflicting reviews about your work on social media over a century after you wrote it?
Of course not, but at least his book has staying power.
I picked Heart of Darkness back up for the first time since high school, after watching “Apocalypse Now” on basic cable, and thought to myself “Let’s see if this little book is as dense as I remember it being.”
This isn’t an easy read, nor is it particularly cheery or fun. It’s not the type of book you crack open to feel good about on a short flight or relaxing at the beach, but it’s not without merit.
The novella is a condemnation of imperialism, specifically Belgian atrocities in the Congo, and a bizarre misadventure heralded by an unreliable narrator. The subject matter is intense, and it speaks to capacity for evil that men are capable of.
I enjoyed Heart of Darkness for what it is, and it’ll definitely challenge readers more than the standard YA vampire novels that are churned out these days. I’m just glad that this time around I didn’t have to write a 4-page essay about the deeper meaning behind Kurtz’s last words.
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What I Liked:
- The main character isn’t the narrator. This is kind of easy to miss, but Marlow is telling a story, and the narrator is an unnamed person sitting on a boat listening to him.
- It’s one of the best examples of the “stream of consciousness” style in classic literature
- The story is evocative. Its themes still resonate today.
What I Didn’t Like:
- This story defines “purple prose”. Conrad was great at description, and loved his unnecessary words. That, along with the “stream of conscious” style can make things difficult to follow at times.
- This book is a denouncement of European colonialism, and as such, features a LOT of racism. There are all sorts of metaphors and even some allegory in Heart of Darkness, but not when it comes to the racism. That’s just right in your face. If you’re sensitive to reading about things like that, it may turn you off.
- The language is dense. At times I found myself re-reading passages just to assure I really understood them. It took way longer to read than a 100 page book has any right to.