Here is the book I have just finished; Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. This is a near perfect book; short (only about 100 pages), filled with delicious descriptions, suspense and a way of stabbing you deep inside. The storyline is simple. A sailor is sent to America to join those finding ivory. While he is there he hears of an elusive and eccentric man, who he eventually meets. The majority of this novel is leading up to this meeting, but as Marlow, the main character, makes his way, he becomes himself enveloped by the darkness. It really does feel as though you are accompanying himself deeper and deeper into the unknown. In some ways, it reminds me of the ending of The Great Gatsby, the “fresh, green breast of America” as it combines fear of the unknown with a curiosity of what life has to offer. A description of the natives of possessing a “wild vitality“, and that “they wanted no excuse for being there” stuck in my mind throughout the novel. It is the same energy that I found in On the Road. The novel is filled with this energy that scares but also comforts. The narrative form also lends itself to this idea of journeying into the depths of the unknown; it is reported speech by a sailor listening to Marlow’s story, so in parallel with his own journey into America, the reader is taken on another journey with the sailor who are listening. Similarly, the reader does not know where they are headed, reflecting Marlow’s journey.
It is also a fairly moralistic novel, despite being sexist towards women. One quotation that I underlined was that conquering others was “nothing to boast of… since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others.” This contrasts with the actions of what was happening in America, the pilgrims who attack the natives (the pilgrims are portrayed as ignorant and stupid, shooting “from this hip with their eyes shut”) to do so with self-appointed supremacy. Rather than this being a novel about America, it is more an account of one journey by one man. The Times described it also seeming to “reach into the heart of Conrad himself,” which I agree with, although I felt it was more of a reach into man in general. This is another reason why writers are so important; they shed light on aspects of human nature that are often hidden away, mainly for our own safety – in Marlow’s own words, it is “impossible, not good for one either, trying to imagine” the darker side of ourselves.
As I am studying Dr Faustus at the moment, I could not help but comparing them in my mind; Marlow’s speech that “no fool has ever made a bargain for his soul with the devil; the fool is too much of a fool, or the devil too much of a devil, I don’t know which” in particular.I read somewhere that intelligent people are more likely to be depressed, perhaps because they know too much. Ignorance is bliss, after all. But I’m not sure myself which I’d prefer…