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Saturday, November 15, 2003

"Colonizers, Cannibals, and the Horror of Good Intentions in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness."

-- Literary Research 03f Honakerl [ Conrad Bibliography ]
Kaplin, Carola M. "Colonizers, Cannibals, and the Horror of Good Intentions in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness." Studies in Short Fiction, Summer97, Vol. 34 Issue 3, p323, 11p;




The journal article, Colonizers, Cannibals, and the Horror of Good Intentions in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, makes the distinction between truth and lies in the "self and the other," from Marlow's perspective. The "other," is what draws colonialism, it has an attractive power. Marlow's opinions, that there is a " clear distinction between lies and truth, turns out to be a fallacy because everything is turned upon its head. Carola M. Kaplan, the author, discusses the "other" and makes a claim that our unconscious drives us to "contain" unknown lands, and people that are terrifying by their differences to the colonizing society. Kaplan further states that this impulse is rooted in our childhood and is played out in the two types of texts in colonialist literature; the "imaginary" and the "symbolic." It suggests that that Marlow's view is "imaginary" while Conrad's view is "symbolic."

Kaplan’s examination of the text includes illumination of the “Binary Oppositions” that the character of Marlow represents. Marlow, “detest and avoids lies, yet acknowledges three separate lies in the course of the narrative- to the station manager, to Kurtz, and to the intended.” Marlow offers up his principles and values, but throughout the text, he contradicts himself. Observations he makes to the listeners reveal his true moral reality. According to Kaplan, Marlow is “self-deluding.” He tries to disconnect the actions of the natives from the actions of the Europeans, but “many of his distinctions blur.” Marlow also seeks to “denigrate women.”

He “downplays his aunt’s power,” even though Marlow could not gain employment without her. Marlow feels that the old woman with the cat is “most improper.” His “glib generalizations about women,” are his “attempts to deny the power of the “other”.” Marlow’s imagery of the natives and women are “reductive.” In the case of the “savage” woman, he “highlights her beauty, leadership, and ferocity,” but attributes her directly with the downfall of Kurtz. He views her as a threat and the force that, according to Kaplan, “ has claimed Kurtz for its harem.” His admiration of the cannibal’s restraint is embedded in the term “cannibal,” which is deliberately connotative of violence. We never see evidence of cannibalism. He uses this term to “justify intrusion, usurpation, and conversion.” Marlow’s language when applied to the natives is designated to take away their human attributes. They are “criminals,” “enemies,” and “dark forms.” Marlow’s conventional account of the women and the natives “enables him to deny both their importance for him and his affinity with them.”

Marlow’s attempts to divide the world of the Congo from the drawing room world of the “intended,” falls far short. He felt, “a sensation of panic in my heart as though I had blundered into a place of cruel and absurd mysteries not fit for a human being to behold.” We see similar sentiment when he is describing the dark clearing where the criminals had retired to die. Kaplan makes the interesting point that the world of the drawing room is a simple reflection of the madness of the Congo and of the outer world. It grows darker and more menacing, “more connected with evil.” He attempts to blur class distinction on the boat “ in which a plain seaman rubs elbows with a lawyer and director of companies,” but his narrative purposely points out the differences that exist even “in the jungle class where barriers exist between colonial officials and working men such as mechanics and boiler-makers.”

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