LITR 5831 Colonial & Postcolonial Literature

Lecture Notes

Begin Heart of Darkness


Schedule for research projects, final exams

research projects

Most research projects are in, or should be in this weekend.

I'll try to read and return notes and grades by end of Thanksgiving weekend.

final exams

Assuming we have class next week (24 Nov.), that's our last class meeting.

Extra class meeting on 1 Dec. = extra office hours

You may turn in final exams any time after 24 Nov.

deadline is Wednesday 9 December

Your grade report (final exam notes and grade, course grade) should arrive about a week after you turn in your final exam

Ian Watt, "[Impressionism and Symbolism in Heart of Darkness]" Norton Critical Edition of Heart of Darkness

311 "In the tradition of what we are still calling modern literature, the classic status of Heart of Darkness probably depends less on the prophetic nature of Conrad's ideas than on its new formal elements. These new narrative elements reflect both the general ideological crisis of the late 19th century and the literary innovations which accompanied it . . . .

328 One could argue that the distinctive aim, not only of Conrad but of much modern literature, is not so much "to make us see," but, somewhat more explicitly, "to make us see what we see"; and this would ultimately involve a view of narrative in which every detail is inherently symbolic



millennialism 21b , 35, 42


51, 51b intersubjectivity


Modernism 63b


odd accident of H of D entering canon just before poco

Modernism as irony; cf. Shooting an Elephant

Conrad's heavy portentousness, as though everything matters or should



6 context of earlier empires / civilization

[par. 8] "And this also," said Marlow suddenly, "has been one of the dark places of the earth."

9 But Marlow was not typical (if his propensity to spin yarns be excepted), and to him the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze, in the likeness of one of these misty halos that sometimes are made visible by the spectral illumination of moonshine.

13 What saves us is efficiency

13 he conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea

15 not very clear. And yet it seemed to throw a kind of light.

22 Belgium, not England

23c a vast amount of red—good to see at any time, because one knows that some real work

25 as though I had been let into some conspiracy

the outer room where the two women knitted black wool feverishly

27 measure my head

27 the changes take place inside

28 'weaning those ignorant millions from their horrid ways,' till, upon my word, she made me quite uncomfortable. I ventured to hint that the Company was run for profit. [spiritual vs material motivations for imperialism]

31 sole purpose of landing soldiers and custom-house officers.

31f shelling the bush

32 the general sense of vague and oppressive wonder grew upon me. It was like a weary pilgrimage amongst hints for nightmares.

34 captain a Swede

35 scene of inhabited devastation. A lot of people, mostly black and naked, moved about like ants

37 cf. G W Williams "Fifth"

a large, white, rascally grin . . . take me into partnership

39 a wanton smash-up . . . some inferno

40 black shapes

41  Brought from all the recesses of the coast in all the legality of time contracts, lost in uncongenial surroundings, fed on unfamiliar food, they sickened, became inefficient, and were then allowed to crawl away and rest.

man seemed young—almost a boy—but you know with them it's hard to tell

42 as in some picture of a massacre or a pestilence

43 a white man, in such an unexpected elegance of get-up that in the first moment I took him for a sort of vision

44 from his lips that I first heard the name of the man who is so indissolubly connected with the memories of that time [Kurtz].

45 a stream of manufactured goods, rubbishy cottons, beads, and brass-wire set into the depths of darkness, and in return came a precious trickle of ivory.

48 'When one has got to make correct entries, one comes to hate those savages—hate them to the death.'

51 The population had cleared out a long time ago. Well, if a lot of mysterious niggers armed with all kinds of fearful weapons suddenly took to travelling on the road between Deal and Gravesend . . . several abandoned villages

51b A great silence around and above. Perhaps on some quiet night the tremor of far-off drums, sinking, swelling, a tremor vast, faint; a sound weird, appealing, suggestive, and wild—and perhaps with as profound a meaning as the sound of bells in a Christian country [cultural equivalence]

51c I couldn't help asking him once what he meant by coming there at all. 'To make money, of course. What do you think?' he said, scornfully.

51d my steamer was at the bottom of the river [cf. Crusoe as near-comedy]

53b a common trader, from his youth up employed in these parts—nothing more. He was obeyed, yet he inspired neither love nor fear, nor even respect. He inspired uneasiness.

53d out there there were no external checks. Todorov 143-5

53e He allowed his 'boy'—an overfed young negro from the coast—to treat the white men, under his very eyes, with provoking insolence.

par. 55] "I went to work the next day, turning, so to speak, my back on that station. In that way only it seemed to me I could keep my hold on the redeeming facts of life

58 as unreal as everything else—as the philanthropic pretence of the whole concern,

59  small sketch in oils, on a panel, representing a woman, draped and blindfolded, carrying a lighted torch. The background was somber—almost black. The movement of the woman was stately, and the effect of the torchlight on the face was sinister

61 an emissary of pity and science and progress, and devil knows what else.

62 the silence of the land went home to one's very heart—its mystery, its greatness, the amazing reality of its concealed life.

63b a notion it somehow would be of help to that Kurtz whom at the time I did not see—you understand. He was just a word for me. I did not see the man in the name any more than you do. Do you see him? Do you see the story? Do you see anything? It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream—making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream-sensation, that commingling of absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt, that notion of being captured by the incredible which is of the very essence of dreams. . . ."

69b What I really wanted was rivets, by heaven! Rivets. To get on with the work

70 I don't like work—no man does—but I like what is in the work—the chance to find yourself. Your own reality

74 Eldorado Exploring Expedition











questions on Conrad and novel

1. What variations on the "narrator & dialogue" voices does Conrad make in Heart of Darkness?

2. Not an easy novel to read--What "style" do you associate with the novel?



Instructor's answer to #2

Conrad as early, heroic pioneer of "Modernist" style (not "modern")

modern = Renaissance or Enlightenment to Present, 500 years?

"Modern" or "Modernist" = 1st half of 20th century

338 Achebe on Conrad's style--images > abstractions







Discussion Questions for Heart of Darkness:

Correction: some students took postcolonial literature as undergrads . . . .

How have you read Heart of Darkness previously? (along with Huckleberry Finn, Great Gatsby, and Jane Eyre, most assigned texts in college and college prep English)

How does Achebe's article challenge or alter the novel's status? Once "racism" is introduced, how do we continue to discuss?

What different ways of discussing literature follow? If Achebe's article is representative of postcolonial literary criticism, how is it different from the literary criticism of the Anglo-American school?


If you never read Heart of Darkness before, what did you think or know about it?


. . . also invite free comments on the readings.


Instructor's comments:

If Achebe's article is representative of postcolonial literary criticism, how is it different from the literary criticism of the Anglo-American school?

Literature not gentleman's diversion but serious consequences in terms of images.

Literature as actions, not feelings--"assaults," (341) etc.

moral impact: not just stylistic flaw, but question of artistic good faith (338)





Usual reactions to "racism"

Stop talking--Hippocratic oath: "First, do no harm."


Potential downsides:

students may remain "tolerant" but where to go beyond that?

some students with racist backgrounds will take forbidden discussions underground or to families / native ethnic community--comfortable but only reinforces prejudices


Potential solutions:

Literary discussions are never finished or final

Keep talking as opposed to fighting or seething, though sometimes silence or cooling-off is necessary


Listen to accuser, remain open and receptive, don't shut down

Achebe says some inflammatory things, but take the hit and notice the subtlety and insight with which he speaks elsewhere . . .

and stay tuned for Things Fall Apart.


Intellectual or attitudinal approach

Racism may sound like an absolute condition, but it may also be a relative or progressive condition

Racism as part of my cultural DNA

Do we simply deny it, or accept damnation, or are there other alternatives?

Are we getting more or less racist? Are there different kinds or degrees of racism?



Above all, don't let it completely stop or stymie you.

Keep dialogue going.

Ask questions of both sides.

What does Achebe write that explains Conrad's racism?

Is the book worth reading anyway?

What does Conrad write that complicates the accusation?


Finally, appreciation rather than condemnation

Upside of Achebe's approach: gets your attention, forces dialogue that might otherwise be evaded







research links on Joseph Conrad

points regarding Conrad:

Conrad as "Cosmopolitan" European of late 19th, early 20th century: multi-lingual, high literacy + commerce

Other examples: Henry James and Edith Wharton, American novelists

"Cosmopolitan": marked by interest in, familiarity with, or knowledge and appreciation of many parts of the world; not provincial, local, limited, or restricted by the attitudes, interests, or loyalties of a single region, section, or sphere of activity: worldwide rather than regional, parochial, or narrow

("Cosmopolitan" may return later in semester with Edward Said's criticism of "Orientalism"--most European scholars of Orientalism were "Cosmopolitan")