LITR 5831 Colonial & Postcolonial Literature

Lecture Notes

Conclude Heart of Darkness


Updated Schedule for research projects, final exams

research projects

5 of 8 research projects are in; the rest should be complete by this weekend or soon thereafter.

I've read the five turned in so far, and will try to return those sometime tomorrow or tomorrow night.

(They're all in good shape, but I need to review them again, edit my responses, and review grades relative to all submissions.)

For research projects turned in late, depending on timing, I may return research grades and final exam grades in one email.

final exams

Tonight is our last class meeting.

Extra class meeting on 1 Dec.:
no attendance required; instructor keeps extra office hours (4-10pm: confer, phone, email)

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

deadline is Wednesday 9 December

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

Instructor's brief review of seminar

Small seminars risk losing critical mass, but our small numbers seemed to work to everyone's benefit in terms of confidence, mutual support, etc.


Content: Dialectic (or dialogue) between instructor-led transmission of knowledge & student-led discussion from positions of familiarity

one solution or balance: student discussion leadership, but require inclusion of instructor's discussion questions (or objectives).

Worked better this semester than usual

First few presentations modeled the approach--mix of student's interests with professor's

Consistency in presentations--stayed within recognizable purposes of course.


either way (student or professor leading), we don't finish--big world, many languages and literatures, few places colonialism didn't reach

x-anxiety > acceptance of infinite otherness beyond individual's knowledge and control

strategy: listen, then speak?








Norton Critical Edition of Heart of Darkness

Ian Watt, "[Impressionism and Symbolism in 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





2.2 an English half-caste [mixed-race] clerk

I seemed to see Kurtz for the first time

The half-caste, who, as far as I could see, had conducted a difficult trip with great prudence and pluck, was invariably alluded to as 'that scoundrel.'

[conversation as Modernism]

unfair competition

Anything—anything can be done in this country. That's what I say; nobody here, you understand, HERE, can endanger your position. (cf. Todorov)

"Each station should be like a beacon on the road towards better things, a centre for trade of course, but also for humanizing, improving, instructing."

'Ah! my boy, trust to this—I say, trust to this.' I saw him extend his short flipper of an arm for a gesture that took in the forest, the creek, the mud, the river—seemed to beckon with a dishonoring flourish before the sunlit face of the land a treacherous appeal to the lurking death, to the hidden evil, to the profound darkness of its heart.

The high stillness confronted these two figures with its ominous patience, waiting for the passing away of a fantastic invasion.

2.3 [impressionism] The sun was low; and leaning forward side by side, they seemed to be tugging painfully uphill their two ridiculous shadows of unequal length, that trailed behind them slowly over the tall grass without bending a single blade.

2.5 "Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world,

thought yourself bewitched and cut off for ever from everything you had known once—somewhere—far away—in another existence perhaps.

the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention

When you have to attend to things of that sort, to the mere incidents of the surface, the reality—the reality, I tell you—fades. The inner truth is hidden—luckily, luckily.


twenty cannibals splashing around and pushing. We had enlisted some of these chaps on the way for a crew. Fine fellows—cannibals—in their place. They were men one could work with, and I am grateful to them. And, after all, they did not eat each other before my face: they had brought along a provision of hippo-meat which went rotten, and made the mystery of the wilderness stink in my nostrils

Trees, trees, millions of trees, massive, immense, running up high; and at their foot, hugging the bank against the stream, crept the little begrimed steamboat, like a sluggish beetle crawling on the floor of a lofty portico.

We were wanderers on a prehistoric earth, on an earth that wore the aspect of an unknown planet.

a glimpse of rush walls, of peaked grass-roofs, a burst of yells, a whirl of black limbs, a mass of hands clapping, of feet stamping, of bodies swaying, of eyes rolling

The steamer toiled along slowly on the edge of a black and incomprehensible frenzy. The pre-historic man was cursing us, praying to us, welcoming us—who could tell? We were cut off from the comprehension of our surroundings;

[par. 2.7]
"The earth seemed unearthly. We are accustomed to look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster, but there—there you could look at a thing monstrous and free. It was unearthly, and the men were—No, they were not inhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst of it—this suspicion of their not being inhuman. It would come slowly to one. They howled and leaped, and spun, and made horrid faces; but what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity—like yours—the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. Ugly. Yes, it was ugly enough; but if you were man enough you would admit to yourself that there was in you just the faintest trace of a response to the terrible frankness of that noise, a dim suspicion of there being a meaning in it which you—you so remote from the night of first ages—could comprehend. And why not?

Fine sentiments, be hanged! I had no time. I had to mess about with white-lead and strips of woolen blanket helping to put bandages on those leaky steam-pipes

the savage who was fireman. He was an improved specimen; he could fire up a vertical boiler. He was there below me, and, upon my word, to look at him was as edifying as seeing a dog in a parody of breeches and a feather hat, walking on his hind-legs


a flat piece of board with some faded pencil-writing

The bush around said nothing

we could see a white man had lived there not very long ago. There remained a rude table—a plank on two posts; a heap of rubbish reposed in a dark corner, and by the door I picked up a book.

AN INQUIRY INTO SOME POINTS OF SEAMANSHIP, by a man Towser, Towson—some such name—Master in his Majesty's Navy

I handled this amazing antiquity with the greatest possible tenderness

a singleness of intention, an honest concern for the right way of going to work, which made these humble pages, thought out so many years ago, luminous with another than a professional light

forget the jungle and the pilgrims in a delicious sensation of having come upon something unmistakably real.

in cipher!

2.11 The essentials of this affair lay deep under the surface, beyond my reach, and beyond my power of meddling.

2.12 unnatural, like a state of trance. Not the faintest sound

a white fog

a cry, a very loud cry, as of infinite desolation

2.13 contrast of expressions of the white men and of the black fellows of our crew, who were as much strangers to that part of the river as we,

'Eat 'im!' he said curtly, and, leaning his elbow on the rail, looked out into the fog in a dignified and profoundly pensive attitude.

something restraining, one of those human secrets that baffle probability, had come into play there


Restraint! I would just as soon have expected restraint from a hyena prowling amongst the corpses of a battlefield. But there was the fact facing me—the fact dazzling, to be seen, like the foam on the depths of the sea, like a ripple on an unfathomable enigma, a mystery greater—when I thought of it—than the curious, inexplicable note of desperate grief in this savage clamor that had swept by us on the river-bank, behind the blind whiteness of the fog.

2.15 The approach to this Kurtz grubbing for ivory in the wretched bush was beset by as many dangers as though he had been an enchanted princess sleeping in a fabulous castle.

2.16 they had given me an irresistible impression of sorrow. The glimpse of the steamboat had for some reason filled those savages with unrestrained grief.

2.17 What we afterwards alluded to as an attack was really an attempt at repulse. The action was very far from being aggressive

2.20 An athletic black belonging to some coast tribe and educated by my poor predecessor, was the helmsman.

2.21 The fool-nigger had dropped everything, to throw the shutter open and let off that Martini-Henry [rifle].

2.22 vague forms of men running bent double, leaping, gliding, distinct, incomplete, evanescent.

shaft of a spear that, either thrown or lunged through the opening, had caught him in the side, just below the ribs;

steam whistle

a tremulous and prolonged wail of mournful fear and utter despair as may be imagined to follow the flight of the last hope from the earth. [<millennial imagery]

2.24 extreme disappointment, as though I had found out I had been striving after something altogether without a substance.

2.27 A voice. He was very little more than a voice.

2.29 "Girl! What? Did I mention a girl? Oh, she is out of it—completely. They—the women, I mean—are out of it—should be out of it. We must help them to stay in that beautiful world of their own, lest ours gets worse.

'My Intended, my ivory, my station, my river, my—' everything belonged to him.

it could speak English to me. The original Kurtz had been educated partly in England, and—as he was good enough to say himself—his sympathies were in the right place. His mother was half-English, his father was half-French. All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz

'Exterminate all the brutes!'

Perhaps you will think it passing strange this regret for a savage who was no more account than a grain of sand in a black Sahara. Well, don't you see, he had done something, he had steered; for months I had him at my back—a help—an instrument. It was a kind of partnership. He steered for me—I had to look after him, I worried about his deficiencies, and thus a subtle bond had been created, of which I only became aware when it was suddenly broken. And the intimate profundity of that look he gave me when he received his hurt remains to this day in my memory—like a claim of distant kinship affirmed in a supreme moment.

2.31 'Say! We must have made a glorious slaughter of them in the bush. Eh? What do you think? Say?'

2.33 near the house half-a-dozen slim posts remained in a row, roughly trimmed, and with their upper ends ornamented with round carved balls

a white man under a hat like a cart-wheel beckoning persistently with his whole arm.

2.39 I suppose Kurtz wanted an audience, because on a certain occasion, when encamped in the forest, they had talked all night, or more probably Kurtz had talked.

2.41 You can't judge Mr. Kurtz as you would an ordinary man. No, no, no! Now—just to give you an idea—I don't mind telling you, he wanted to shoot me, too, one day—but I don't judge him.' [This highlighted passage + next below may evoke, from the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra (1883-85), the “superman” or “overman” prophesied by evolution and the death of God may appear no longer bound by conventional morality; Kurtz’s “eloquence” may be another identifier with this figure.]

These round knobs were not ornamental but symbolic;

2.42 the manager said afterwards that Mr. Kurtz's methods had ruined the district

Mr. Kurtz lacked restraint in the gratification of his various lusts, that there was something wanting in him—some small matter which, when the pressing need arose, could not be found under his magnificent eloquence

It echoed loudly within him because he was hollow at the core.

2.46 as though he had wanted to swallow all the air, all the earth, all the men before him. A deep voice reached me faintly

2.47 his arms—two shot-guns, a heavy rifle, and a light revolver-carbine—the thunderbolts of that pitiful Jupiter

2.50 a wild and gorgeous apparition of a woman.

2.51 savage and superb, wild-eyed and magnificent; there was something ominous and stately in her deliberate progress. And in the hush that had fallen suddenly upon the whole sorrowful land, the immense wilderness, the colossal body of the fecund and mysterious life seemed to look at her, pensive, as though it had been looking at the image of its own tenebrous and passionate soul. [ ]

2.52 opened her bared arms and threw them up rigid above her head

2.56  the method is unsound.'

I found myself lumped along with Kurtz as a partisan of methods for which the time was not ripe: I was unsound! Ah! but it was something to have at least a choice of nightmares.

2.60 droning sound of many men chanting each to himself some weird incantation came out from the black, flat wall of the woods as the humming of bees comes out of a hive, and had a strange narcotic effect

2.63 The knitting old woman with the cat obtruded herself upon my memory as a most improper person to be sitting at the other end of such an affair.

2.65 A black figure stood up, strode on long black legs, waving long black arms, across the glow. It had horns—antelope horns, I think—on its head. Some sorcerer, some witch-man, no doubt: it looked fiendlike enough.

2.66 "'I had immense plans,'

he had kicked the very earth to pieces. [millennial theme]

2.67 shouted periodically together strings of amazing words that resembled no sounds of human language; and the deep murmurs of the crowd, interrupted suddenly, were like the responses of some satanic litany.  [cf. Crusoe & cannibals]

2.71 pilgrims on deck getting out their rifles with an air of anticipating a jolly lark

Only the barbarous and superb woman did not so much as flinch, and stretched tragically her bare arms after us

2.73 strange how I accepted this unforeseen partnership, this choice of nightmares forced upon me in the tenebrous land invaded by these mean and greedy phantoms.

2.74 hide in the magnificent folds of eloquence the barren darkness of his heart.

2.75 take care of the motives—right motives—always

2.77 I lived in an infernal mess of rust, filings, nuts, bolts, spanners, hammers, ratchet-drills

[par. 2.80] "'The horror! The horror!'

2.85 could not see the flame of the candle, but was wide enough to embrace the whole universe, piercing enough to penetrate all the hearts that beat in the darkness. He had summed up—he had judged. 'The horror!'

the appalling face of a glimpsed truth—the strange commingling of desire and hate.

2.86 'Mr. Kurtz's knowledge of unexplored regions must have been necessarily extensive and peculiar

Kurtz's proper sphere ought to have been politics 'on the popular side.

2.87 All that had been Kurtz's had passed out of my hands: his soul, his body, his station, his plans, his ivory, his career. There remained only his memory and his Intended—and I wanted to give that up, too

2.88 a shadow insatiable of splendid appearances, of frightful realities; a shadow darker than the shadow of the night, and draped nobly in the folds of a gorgeous eloquence.

the heart of a conquering darkness.

2.89 a cold and monumental whiteness

[par. 2.90]
"She came forward, all in black, with a pale head, floating towards me in the dusk. She was in mourning

2.95 with every word spoken the room was growing darker, and only her forehead, smooth and white, remained illumined by the inextinguishable light of belief and love.

2.99 bowing my head before the faith that was in her, before that great and saving illusion that shone with an unearthly glow in the darkness, in the triumphant darkness

2.122 "'The last word he pronounced was—your name.'






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

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")


early Modernism contemporary with Impressionism (below, one of Monet's many water-lily paintings that hover between naturalism and abstraction)



What were Achebe's most serious points against Conrad?


two occasions in the book, however, when Conrad departs somewhat from his practice and confers speech, even English speech, on the savages. The first occurs when cannibalism gets the better of them:

"Catch 'im," he snapped with a bloodshot widening of his eyes and a flash of sharp teeth—"catch 'im. Give 'im to us." "To you, eh?" I asked; "what would you do with them? "Eat 'im!" he said curtly. . . .

The other occasion was the famous announcement: "Mistah Kurtz—he dead."


Suddenly the manager's boy put his insolent black head in the doorway, and said in a tone of scathing contempt:

[par. 2.82] "'Mistah Kurtz—he dead.'




Knowledge that our dialogues aren't intended by author . . .

 Achebe and Mister Johnson (1939)


 Joyce Cary (1888-1957), Irish novelist


Heart of Darkness not just any novel, but example of "Modernism"


What qualities in the passages?

How use as partial apology against Achebe's charges of racism?


Student / instructor responses:

lack of unity, linearity > crowding

Conrad: many ideas converge, minimal transition, multi-layered

gigantic, difficult paragraphs

open to multiple interpretations

reality is fragmented

intentionally grotesque interpretations or descriptions, unsettling, disorienting

repetition of hyperbolic descriptions, superlatives

draw further into river, experience, land > mental image

color of blackness -- contrast with white imagery > symbolic color code

parts of plot occur unseen; reality larger or more complex than single perspective can manage


stream of consciousness

early practitioners: Conrad, Henry James

later practitioners: Joyce, Woolf, Faulkner


Achebe's essay refocuses Conrad's novel on the actual history that was happening in Africa at the time. Achebe breaks Heart of Darkness out of the Modernist consciousness and relocates it in colonial & postcolonial history.




compare US invasions of Iraq--why?

material: oil, jobs

spiritual / ideal: democracy, human rights


Return to religion / economics (i. e., spiritual / material)

Two compelling motivations or forms to European-American expansion or imperialism

1. convert world to Christianity--"every knee shall bow"

compare Crusades in Middle Ages

"Make the world safe for democracy"



2. convert world to capitalism



Kurtz was only chance for redemption of European mission, but betrayed

Christian mission / human rights and capitalism are co-formal: both grow, penetrate everywhere, revolutionize society toward individualism, change, rebirth 

material and ideal do not betray or corrupt each other but are inseparable from each other?