LITR 5831 World / Multicultural Literature

Discussion-Leader Presentation

24 November 2015

Reading Assignment: Heart of Darkness (part 2)

Discussion leader(s): Caryn Livingston

Discussion for Heart of Darkness part 2:

1. General comments or questions on the text?


2. How has Marlowe's perspective on Colonialism advanced (or not) beyond Crusoe's?

a.    Discussion on cannibalism:

a.    Par 2.6

“I don't pretend to say that steamboat floated all the time. More than once she had to wade for a bit, with 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.”

b.    Par 2.13:

“'Aha!' I said, just for good fellowship's sake.

'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, and, leaning his elbow on the rail, looked out into the fog in a dignified and profoundly pensive attitude.

I would no doubt have been properly horrified, had it not occurred to me that he and his chaps must be very hungry: that they must have been growing increasingly hungry for at least this month past. They had been engaged for six months (I don't think a single one of them had any clear idea of time, as we at the end of countless ages have. They still belonged to the beginnings of time—had no inherited experience to teach them as it were), and of course, as long as there was a piece of paper written over in accordance with some farcical law or other made down the river, it didn't enter anybody's head to trouble how they would live. Certainly they had brought with them some rotten hippo-meat, which couldn't have lasted very long, anyway, even if the pilgrims hadn't, in the midst of a shocking hullabaloo, thrown a considerable quantity of it over-board. It looked like a high-handed proceeding; but it was really a case of legitimate self-defense. You can't breathe dead hippo waking, sleeping, and eating, and at the same time keep your precarious grip on existence.”


3. Gender: how much does Conrad's Modernist view remain gendered, comparable to African traditional culture?

a.    Par. 2.29: [Kurtz’s intended]

"I laid the ghost of his gifts at last with a lie," he began, suddenly. "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. Oh, she had to be out of it. You should have heard the disinterred body of Mr. Kurtz saying, 'My Intended.' You would have perceived directly then how completely she was out of it.”

b.    Par. 2.50-51 [Kurtz’s mistress]

“And from right to left along the lighted shore moved a wild and gorgeous apparition of a woman.

"She walked with measured steps, draped in striped and fringed cloths, treading the earth proudly, with a slight jingle and flash of barbarous ornaments. She carried her head high; her hair was done in the shape of a helmet; she had brass leggings to the knee, brass wire gauntlets to the elbow, a crimson spot on her tawny cheek, innumerable necklaces of glass beads on her neck; bizarre things, charms, gifts of witch-men, that hung about her, glittered and trembled at every step. She must have had the value of several elephant tusks upon her. She was 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.”

c.    Par 2.90 [Kurtz’s intended]

"She came forward, all in black, with a pale head, floating towards me in the dusk. She was in mourning. It was more than a year since his death, more than a year since the news came; she seemed as though she would remember and mourn forever. She took both my hands in hers and murmured, 'I had heard you were coming.' I noticed she was not very young—I mean not girlish. She had a mature capacity for fidelity, for belief, for suffering. The room seemed to have grown darker, as if all the sad light of the cloudy evening had taken refuge on her forehead. This fair hair, this pale visage, this pure brow, seemed surrounded by an ashy halo from which the dark eyes looked out at me. Their glance was guileless, profound, confident, and trustful.”


4. How can we bring Heart of Darkness into dialogue with other texts read during the semester? Kurtz’s behavior in Africa (taking over tribes, sending them to war on other tribes) is similar to behavior of Daniel Dravot in The Man Who Would be King. What differences, if any, do you see in how the narrators respond to these two characters? What differences in how we as readers respond to them?


5. How does Heart of Darkness exemplify Modernist fiction? Traits of modernist fiction include:

·         narration through fragmented, internalized, or multiple perspectives or viewpoints

·         destabilization and fragmentation of reality > surprising and sometimes inconsistent metaphors for interior states

·         unification of fragmenting reality through internalized or interior perception, as in stream-of-consciousness

·         Realistic details > symbolic, suggestive, allegorical

·         The gothic may re-appear in broken or fleeting forms as the grotesque. (grotesque= representations of portions of human and animal forms, fantastically combined and interwoven with foliage and flowers)


6. What challenges does a Modernist novel like Heart of Darkness face in representing other cultures from a post-colonial perspective? Does a focus on the psychological interior of Europeans contribute to perceived racism in the novel?