Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Lumber Room

Text Analysis

The text under analysis is written by an outstanding British novelist and short story writer Hector Munro. Hector Hugh Munro (December 18, 1870 – November 13, 1916), better known by the pen name Saki, was a British writer, whose witty and sometimes macabre stories satirized Edwardian society and culture. He is considered a master of the short story and is often compared to O. Henry and Dorothy Parker. His tales feature delicately drawn characters and finely judged narratives. Saki's world contrasts the effete conventions and hypocrisies of Edwardian England with the ruthless but straightforward life-and-death struggles of nature. Nature generally wins in the end.
Owing to the death of his mother and his father's absence abroad he was brought up during his childhood, with his elder brother and sister, by a grandmother and two aunts. It seems probable that their stem and unsympathetic methods account for Munro’s strong dislike of anything that smacks of the conventional and the self-righteous. He satirized things that he hated. Munro was killed on the French front during the first world war.
In her Biography of Saki Munro’s sister writes: “One of Munro’s aunts, Augusta, was a woman of ungovernable temper, of fierce likes and dislikes, imperious, a moral coward, possessing no brains worth speaking of, and a primitive disposition.” Naturally the last person who should have been in charge of children. The character of the aunt in The Lumber-Room is Aunt Augusta to the life.

The story tells about a little orphan Nicholas who was trusted to his tyrannical and dull-witted aunt. One day Nicholas was “in disgrace”, so he duped his Aunt into believing that he was somehow trying to get into the gooseberry garden, but instead had no intention of doing so but did sneak into the Lumber Room. There a tremendous picture of a hunter and a stag opened to him. Soon his aunt tried to look for the boy and slipped into the rain-water tank. She asked Nicholas to fetch her a ladder but the boy pretended not to understand her, he said that she was the Evil One.

The story presents extremely topical subjects. Actually, the whole novel can be divided into two parts: Child’s world and Adult’s world. The author seems to be suggesting that adulthood causes one to lose all sense of fun, imagination. Adults become obsessed with insignificant trivialities, like the Aunt which is obsessed about punishing and nitpicking on the children. Children in Munro’s stories are very imaginative. Nicholas imagines the whole story behind the tapestry while the Aunt comes out with boring stories and ideas like a circus or going to the beach. She tries to convince Nicholas about the fun of a trip to the beach, of circus, but lacks the imagination to sound convincing. She describes the beach outing as beautiful and glorious but cannot say in detail how it will be beautiful or glorious because she is not creative. As for the Lumber room, it is symbolic of fun and imagination of the child’s world which is definitely lacking in the adult world. It emphasizes the destruction of life that adulthood and pride can bring. The Aunt’s world is full of warped priorities. She puts punishment and withholding of enjoyment as more important than getting to know and molding the lives of the children. She keeps all the beautiful and creative things of the house locked away in a lumber-room so as not to spoil them but in doing so, the purpose of the objects which is to beauty the house, is lost, leaving the house dull and colourless.

The excerpt is homogeneous. The story is narrated in the 3rd person. This allows the reader to access the situation and the characters in an unbiased and objective manner. This is especially so because the characters are complex, having both positive and negative viewpoints. The third person point of view is impersonal which fits the impersonal atmosphere of the household.

The text can be divided into several parts:
• The exposition, in which we learn about little Nicholas, his cousins and his strict aunt. Nicholas got into his aunt’s disgrace. So his cousins were to be taken to Jagborough sands that afternoon and he was to stay at home. The Aunt was absolutely sure that the boy was determined to get into the gooseberry garden because I have told him he is not to.
• The complication, when Nicholas got into an unknown land of lumber-room. Forbidden fruit is sweet and truly the lumber-room is described as a storehouse of unimagined treasure. Every single item brings life and imagination to Nicholas and is symbolic of what the adult of real world lacks. He often pictured to himself what the lumber-room was like, since that was the region that was so carefully sealed from youthful eyes. The tapestry brings to life imagination and fantasy within Nicholas, the interesting pots and candlesticks bring an aesthetic quality, visual beauty which stirs up his creative mind; and lastly a large square book full of coloured pictures of birds. And such birds! They allow Nicholas to learn in a fun and exciting way.
• The climax of the text. While the boy was admiring the colouring of a mandarin duck, the voice of his aunt came from the gooseberry garden. She got slipped into the rain-water tank and couldn’t go out. She demanded from the boy to bring her a ladder, but he said her voice didn’t sound like his aunt’s. You may be the Evil One tempting me to be disobedient. Justice must be done. The Aunt tasted the fruit of her own punishment on the children. She is accused of falling from grace, of lying to Nicholas about jam and thus termed the Evil One. She feels what it is like to be condemned.
• The denouncement. The Aunt is furious and enforces in the house. She maintained the frozen muteness of one who has suffered undignified and unmerited detention in a rain-water tank for thirty-five minutes. Nicholas was also silent, in the absorption of an enchanting picture of a hunter and a stag.

The plot is ordered chronologically, each episode is given with more and more emphasis. The author’s choice of vocabulary and stylistic devices is admirable. The author uses a large variety of stylistic devices, such as epithets, which can be divided into two categories: those, which are related to Child’s world (grim chuckle, alleged frog, unknown land, stale delight, mere material pleasure, bare and cheerless, thickly growing vegetation) and the one, which depicts a Grown-up’s world lacking any clear thinking (frivolous ground, veriest nonsense, considerable obstinacy, trivial gardening operation, unauthorized intrusion). They help the author to emphasize a deep dissension between generations, to convey a thrilling power of child’s creative mind. There are a lot of metaphors (often sustained) in the story: a circus of unrivalled merit and uncounted elephants (to lay stress on the Aunt’s narrow-mindness), the flawlessness of the reasoning, self-imposed sentry-duty (characterizes the Aunt as a very strict person), art of fitting keys into keyholes and turning locks, region that was so carefully sealed from youthful eyes, many golden minutes of a ridiculously short range. With the help of these stylistic means the offer unfolds a theme in which stupidity, moral degradation, hypocrisy and ambition play their sorry parts.
There are some similes in the text: Bobby won’t enjoy himself much, and he won’t race much either; the aunt-by-assertion (The author uses Nicholas’ own word choice to show that he does not accept his aunt’s authority over him. This also may be a subtle criticism of Nicholas’ rebellious attitude.); and some periphrases: the Evil One, the prisoner in the tank. (These devices provide author’s irony and essential clue to the character).
The author also enriches the story with a device of rhetorical question: But did the huntsman see, what Nicholas saw, that four galloping wolves were coming in his direction through the wood?; and hyperbole: How did she howl. The following stylistic devices contribute to the expressiveness of the text.

There are two traits always present in Hector Munro’s books, which single him out of commonplace writers, they are irony and witty. The style of writing is satirical in a humorous way. The author uses a witty tone to mimic characters in order to subtly criticize them. The criticism is done in a subtle way that is humorous. For example, Aunt's condescending tone in describing Nicholas’ prank: disgrace, sin, fell from grace. The author is obviously using the Aunt’s own word choice to reveal her self-righteous, holier-than-thou attitude. This is a subtle criticism of her arrogance which she is blind to.
The author uses irony to poke fun and criticize the Aunt. For instance, trip to Jagborough which is meant to spite Nicholas fails. Instead of being a punishment for the child, it became a treat for him whereas it became a torture to those who went. The Aunt’s conception of “the paradise”. The real paradise is the Lumber-room not the garden. This reveals the irony that the ideal world of an adult is dull and boring to that of a child.
The story is a remarkable insight into human character. It also reveals Aunt’s virtues and vices. In the story the Aunt is represented as a self-righteous and moralistic person. She uses a hypocritical tone and exaggerates a child’s prank comparing it to a grave sin. She thinks of herself as a wiser - she doesn’t like to be in the wrong. Being cold, lacking of love, she is more concerned with punishing the children: she keeps jam and goodies away from them, she bars them from the beautiful places in the house like the garden and lumber-room. Unable to understand and communicate with children, she is not even aware when her son’s feet was hurt. She dictates their lives for them, insisting on where they should go for entertainment. It is evident, that the author’s sympathy lies with the children.

The ending of the story reveals the author’s social comment about the differences between the world of the child and adult. Though the Aunt is furious, Nicholas is thinking about the hunter tricking the hounds by using the stag as a bait. It is a representative of his own life, he is like a hunter able to escape the hound (which represents his aunt and the dull reality of the adult world) by trickery and strategizing.

To sum up, the author’s style is remarkable for its powerful sweep, brilliant illustrations and deep psychological analysis. The story reveals he author’s great knowledge of man’s inner world. He penetrates into the subtlest windings of the child heart. Giving the author his due for brilliance of style and a pointed ridicule of many social vices, such as snobbishness, pretence, self-interest. The author’s attitude towards grown-ups is a little bit cynical. It’s quite obvious that when describing the hard-heartedness and indifference of Adult’s world he is not indignant but rather amused. His habitual attitude is that of expecting little or nothing of his fellow men. His ironical cynicism combined with a keen wit and power observation affords him effective means of portraying reality without shrinking before its seamy side. The charm of this story lies in its interesting plot and exciting situation. At the same time it conveys deep thought, keen observation and sharpness of characterization. These very qualities assure the author of an outstanding place in the annals of literature and in the hearts of all who love good stories.



The first edition of Hamlet was published in 1603, from a previous sketch composed several years earlier, the second one following in 1604, under the title of "The Tragical Historie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke. By William Shakespeare. Newly imprinted and enlarged to almost as much againe as it was, according to the true and perfect coppie." In comparing the two editions we find a remarkable improvement in the command of language, with greater philosophic depth, and a wondrous insight into what is most hidden and obscure in men's characters and motives.

The action is the same, as also is the order of the dialogues and soliloquies; but the later are much elaborated, always with an accession of dramatic force. The following will serve as an instance:
Edition of 1603
HAMLET: My lord, 'tis not the sable suit I wear;
No, nor the tears that still stand in my eyes,
Nor the distracted 'havior in the visage,
Nor altogether mixt with outward semblance,
Is equal to the sorrow of my heart;
Him have I lost I must of force forego,
Thes, but the ornaments and suits of woe.
Edition of 1604
HAMLET: 'Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
Nor customary suits of solemn black,
Nor windy suspiration of forced breath;
No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,
Nor the dejected 'havior of the visage,
Together with all the forms, modes, shows of grief,
That can denote me truly; these, indeed, seem,
For they are actions that a man might play;
But I have that within which passeth show;
These, but the trappings and the suits of woe.
In this, the profoundest of plays, is a tragedy of thought inspired by continual and never-satisfied meditation on human destiny and the dark perplexity of the events of this world, one calculated to call forth the very same meditation in the minds of the spectators. This enigmatical work resembles somewhat those irrational equations in which a fraction of unknown magnitude always remains, that will in no way admit of solution. Much has been said, much written, on this piece, and yet no critic who anew expresses himself on it will entirely coincide with his predecessors. What most astonishes us is the fact that with such hidden purposes, with a foundation laid in such unfathomable depth, the whole should, at first view, exhibit an extremely popular appearance. The dread appearance of the ghost takes possession of the mind and the imagination almost at the very commencement; then the play within the play, in which, as in a glass, we see reflected the crime whose fruitlessly attempted punishment constitutes the subject-matter of the piece; the alarm with which it fills the king; Hamlet's pretended and Ophelia's real madness; her death and burial; the meeting of Hamlet and Laertes at her grave; their combat and the grand termination; lastly, the appearance of the young hero Fortinbras, who, with warlike pomp, pays the last honors to an extinct family of kings; the interspersion of comic characteristic scenes with Polonius, the courtiers and the grave-diggers, which have each of them their signification--all this fills the stage with and animated and varied movement. The only point of view from which this piece might be judged to be less theatrical than other tragedies of Shakespeare, is that in the last scenes the main action either stands still or appears to be retrograde. This, however, was inevitable, and lay in the nature of the subject. The whole is intended to show that a too close consideration, which exhausts all the relations and possible consequences of a deed, must cripple the power of action; as Hamlet himself expresses it:
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought;
And enterprises of great pith and moment,
With this regard, their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.
The mystery which surrounds the play centres in the character of Hamlet himself. He is of a highly cultivated mind, a prince of royal manners, endowed with the finest sense of propriety, susceptible of noble ambition, and open in the highest degree to an enthusiastic admiration of that excellence in others in which he himself is deficient. He acts the part of madness with unrivalled power, convincing the persons who are sent to examine into his supposed loss of reason merely by telling them unwelcome truths and rallying them with the most caustic wit. But in the resolutions which he so often embraces and always leaves unexecuted, his weakness is too apparent; he is not solely impelled by necessity to artifice and dissimulation, he has a natural inclination for crooked ways; he is a hypocrite toward himself; his far-fetched scruples are often mere pretexts to cover his want of determination--thoughts, as he says, which have
----but one part wisdom
And ever three parts coward.
He has been condemned both for his harshness in repulsing the love of Ophelia, which he himself had cherished, and for his insensibility at her death. But he is too much overwhelmed with his own sorrow to have any compassion to spare for others; besides, his outward indifference gives us by no means the measure of his internal perturbation. On the other hand, we evidently perceive in him a malicious joy, when he has succeeded in getting rid of his enemies, more through necessity and accident, which alone are able to impel him to quick and decisive measures, than by the merit of his own courage, as he himself confesses after the slaying of Polonius. Hamlet has no firm belief either in himself or in anything else. From expressions of religious confidence he passes over to skeptical doubts; he believes in the ghost of his father as long as he sees it, but as soon as it has disappeared, it appears to him almost in the light of a deception. He has even gone so far as to say "there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so;" with him the poet loses himself here in the labyrinths of thought, in which neither end nor beginning is discoverable. The stars themselves, from the course of events, afford no answer to the questions so urgently proposed to them. A voice from another world, commissioned, it would appear, by heaven, demands vengeance for a monstrous enormity, and the demand remains without effect; the criminals are at last punished, but, as it were, by an accidental blow, and not in the solemn way requisite to convey to the world a warning example of justice; irresolution, cunning treachery and impetuous rage hurry on to a common destruction; the less guilty and the innocent are equally involved in the general ruin. The destiny of humanity is here exhibited as a gigantic Sphinx, which threatens to precipitate into the abyss of skepticism all who are unable to solve her dread enigmas.
As one example of the many niceties of Shakespeare which have been generally misunderstood, may be mentioned the style in which the player's speech about Hecuba is conceived. It has been the subject of much controversy among commentators whether this was taken by Shakespeare from himself or from another, and whether, in the praise of the piece of which it is supposed to be a part, Hamlet was speaking seriously, or merely meant to ridicule the tragical bombast of his contemporaries. It seems never to have occurred to them that this speech must not be judged by itself, but in connection with the place where it is introduced. To distinguish it in the play itself as dramatic poetry, it was necessary that it should rise above the dignified poetry of the former in the same proportion that theatrical elevation always soars above simple nature. Hence Shakespeare has composed the play in Hamlet altogether in sententious rhymes full of antitheses. But this solemn and measured tone did not suit a speech in which violent emotion ought to prevail, and the poet had no other expedient than the one of which he made choice--overcharging the pathos. Unquestionably the language of the speech in question is falsely emphatical; but this fault is so mixed up with true grandeur that a player practiced in artificially calling forth in himself the emotion he is imitating may certainly be carried away by it. Besides, it will hardly be believed that Shakespeare knew so little of his art as not to be aware that a tragedy in which there is a lengthy epic relation of a transaction that happened so long before as the destruction of Troy, could neither be dramatic nor theatrical.
There is something altogether indefinable and mysterious in the poet's delineation of this character--something wild and irregular in the circumstances with which the character is associated. We see that Hamlet is propelled rather than propelling. But why is this turn given to the delineation? We cannot exactly tell. Doubtless much of the very charm of the play is its mysteriousness. It awakes not only thoughts of the grand and the beautiful, but of the incomprehensible. Its obscurity constitutes a portion of its sublimity. This is the stage in which most minds are content to rest, and perhaps better so, with regard to the comprehension ofHamlet.
The final appreciation of the Hamlet of Shakespeare belongs to the development of the critical faculty. Goethe, Coleridge, Schlegel, Lamb, Hazlitt, Mrs. Jameson and other writers out of number, some of the very highest order of excellence, have brought to the criticism and explanation of this play a most valuable fund of judgment, taste and aesthetical knowledge. To condense what is most deserving of remembrance in these admirable productions within due limits would be impossible. We must, therefore, place ourselves in the condition of one who has, however imperfectly, worked out in his own mind a comprehension of the idea of Shakespeare.
The opening of Hamlet is one of the most absorbing scenes in the Shakespearean drama. It produces its effect by the supernatural being brought into the most immediate contact with the real. The sentinels are prepared for the appearance of the ghost, Horatio being incredulous, but they are all surrounded with an atmosphere of common life. "Long live the king," "'Tis bitter cold," "Not a mouse stirring," and the familiar pleasantry of Horatio, exhibit to us minds under the ordinary state of human feeling. At the moment when the recollections of Bernardo arise into that imaginative power which belongs to the tale he is about to tell, the ghost appears. All that was doubtful in the narrative of the supernatural vision--what left upon Horatio's mind the impression only of a "thing"--because as real as the silence, the cold and the midnight. The vision is then "most like the king"--
Such was the very armor he had on.
The ghost remains but an instant, and we are again among the realities of common life. When it reappears there is still a tinge of skepticism in the soldiers:
Shall I strike at it with my partisan?
But their incredulity is at once subdued, and a resolution is taken by Horatio upon the conviction that what he once held as "fantasy" is a dreadful being, of whose existence there can be no doubt.
Let us impart what we have seen tonight
Unto young Hamlet: for, upon my life,
This spirit, dumb to us, will speak to him.
We have here, by anticipation, all the deep and inexplicable consequences of this vision laid upon young Hamlet; it is his destiny.
Here we need not stop to analyze the scenes and acts that follow, for of all Shakespeare's plays this is the most familiar, and it is also one on which most men have already formed their own opinion. It will be sufficient to dwell very briefly on a few of its most striking features, and first as to the question of Hamlet's madness. Before the appearance of the ghost his spirit has been wounded by a sudden blow--a father dead, a crown snatched from him, a mother disgracefully married. Thus he looks with a jaundiced eye on "all the uses of this world," on the "unweeded garden" that he fain would leave to be possessed by "things rank and gross in nature." Yet he communes with himself in a tone which bespeaks the habitual refinement of his thoughts, and his words shape themselves into images that belong to a high and cultivated intellect. Then comes the dread vision, with its appalling revelation, which lays on him a responsibility greater than his nature can bear. The mental disturbance which it causes becomes apparent while he thinks aloud, almost as soon as the ghost has disappeared; but he is not mad either in the popular or in the physiological sense; it is merely the mental derangement of a noble, but not an heroic, nature, sinking beneath a burden which it cannot bear and must cast away. Coleridge attributes what he considers Hamlet's assumed eccentricity, after the ghost scene, to "the disposition to escape from his own feelings of the overwhelming and supernatural by a wild transition to the ludicrous, a sort of cunning bravado, bordering on delirium." It is under the immediate influence of the disorder in his soul that he resolves to feign madness. With a mind horribly disturbed with thoughts beyond mortal reach he still believes that the habitual powers of his intellect can control this disturbance and even render it an instrument of his safety. It has been observed that if there be anything disproportioned in his mind, it seems to be this only--that intellect is in excess; it is too subtle; it is even ungovernable. It is in his own high and overwrought consciousness of intellect that he describes the perfect man, "in apprehension how like a god." Much that requires elucidation in the play can be explained by this exceptional predominance of the intellectual faculty, and to this, perhaps, belongs the idea of pretending insanity as a cloak for his real designs.
Here begins the complexity of Hamlet's character, and in his new guise he is thus presented to us by Ophelia, then for the first time showing the preoccupation, which afterward appears in many of his sayings:
He took me by the wrist, and held me hard;
Then goes he to the length of all his arm;
And with his other hand thus o'er his brow,
He falls to such perusal of my face,
As he would draw it. Long stay'd he so;
At last,--a little shaking of mine arm,
And thrice his head thus waving up and down,
He raised a sigh so piteous and profound,
That it did seem to shatter all his bulk,
And end his being. That done, he lets me go;
And, with his head over his shoulder turned,
He seem'd to find his way without his eyes;
For out o' doors he went without their help,
And, to the last, bended their light on me.
In this was none of the "antic disposition" which Hamlet thought fit to put on; still less was it, as Polonius deemed, the "ecstasy of love" produced by Ophelia's coldness. It was the utterance, so far as it could be uttered, of his sense of the hard necessity that was upon him to go forth to a mortal struggle with evil powers and influences; to tear himself from all the soothing and delicious fancies that would arise out of his growing affection for the simple maid whom he treated so roughly. Under the pressure of his vow that the ghost's injunction should "live within the volume of his brain, unmix'd with baser matter," all else in the world has become to him mean and unimportant. Love was now to him "a trivial fond record," and philosophy "the saws of books."
That the king and his courtiers considered Hamlet insane, and freely talked of his insanity, is of no significance, for this was merely the "antic disposition," and the sarcasm directed against them, in which he appeared to be merely wandering, was but to relieve the bitterness of his soul. They did not see through his disguise any more than did Polonius, who, while pronouncing him "far gone," yet could not help noticing "how pregnant his replies are." In truth, the old man was himself verging on imbecility, though he had not wit enough to become entirely crazy--a condition which presupposes the possession of brains.
In the scene with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Hamlet is natural enough; for with them, as his old school-fellows, he is perfectly at ease, and he is again the Hamlet they knew of old--the gentleman and the scholar. He even discloses to them a glimpse of the deep melancholy which weighs on his soul: "O God, I could be bounded in a nut-shell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams." He knows that his friends were sent to him as spies; but he suppresses his feelings, and bursts out into the majestic piece of rhetoric beginning, "What a piece of work is man!"--one that could only have been conceived by a being of the highest intellectual power, in the fullest possession of his faculties. In the scene with the players, also, Hamlet is entirely himself. He has escaped for a moment from the one o'ermastering thought, but even here that thought follows him: "Dost thou hear me, old friend; can you play the murder of Gonzago?" Then comes the soliloquy, "Now I am alone," in which, as Charles Lamb expresses it, "the silent meditations with which his bosom is bursting are reduced to words for the sake of the reader." Hamlet's indecision is not due to want of courage, as appears in several instances--
My fate cries out,
And makes each petty artery in this body
As hardy as the Nemean lion's nerve.
But his will is subject to his higher faculties, and he sees no course clear enough to satisfy his understanding. He would have been greater had he been less great.
In his great soliloquy, "To be or not to be," he is interrupted by Ophelia in the midst of a most solemn train of thought. When she says to him--
My lord, I have remembrances of yours.
--it is probable that his rude denial of having given Ophelia remembrances, and his "Ha, ha! are you honest?" with all the bitter words that follow, are meant to indicate the disturbance which is produced in his mind by the clashing of his love for her with the predominant thought which now makes all that belongs to his personal happiness worthless. His bitterness escapes in generalizations; it is not against Ophelia, but against her sex, that he exclaims. To that gentle creature, the harshest thing he says is: "Be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny." Coleridge things that the harshness in Hamlet's manner is produced by his perceiving that Ophelia was acting a part toward him and that they were watched. Perhaps, as Lamb expresses it, these "tokens of an unhinged mind" are mixed "with a certain artifice, to alienate Ophelia by affected discourtesies, so as to prepare her mind for the breaking off of that intercourse which can no longer find a place amid business so serious as that which he has to do." At any rate, the gentle and tender Ophelia is not outraged. Her pity only is excited; and, if the apparent rudeness of Hamlet requires a proper appreciation of his character to reconcile it with our admiration of him, Shakespeare has at this moment most adroitly presented to us that description of him which Goethe anticipated:
The courtier's, soldier's, scholar's, eye, tongue, sword,
The expectancy and rose of the fair state.
Hamlet recovers a temporary tranquillity. He has something to do, and that something is connected with his great business. He has to prepare the players to speak his speech. Those who look upon the surface only may think these directions out of place; but nothing can really be more appropriate than that such rules of art, so just, so universal and so complete should be put by Shakespeare into the mouth of him who had preëminently "the scholar's tongue." The satisfaction he takes in the device, the hopes which he has that his doubts may be resolved lend a real elevation to his spirits, which may pass for his feigned madness. He utters whatever comes uppermost; and the freedoms which he takes with Ophelia, while they are equally remote from bitterness or harshness, are such as in Shakespeare's age would not offend pure ears.
The test is applied; the king is "frighted with false fire," and the elation of Hamlet's mind is at its height. Then comes the climax--"Now could I drink hot blood." Yet he is not raving, and in the scene with the queen he vindicates his own sanity:
It is not madness
That I have uttered: bring me to the test,
And I the matter will re-word; which madness
Would gambol from
The question may be asked, why is it, when we think upon the fate of the poor stricken Ophelia, that we never reproach Hamlet? We are certain that it was no "trifling of his favor" that broke her heart; we are assured that his seeming harshness did not sink deep into her spirit; we believe that he loved her more than "forty thousand brothers;" and yet she certainly perished through Hamlet and his actions. But we blame him not, for her destiny was involved in his. Says a writer in Blackwood's Magazine: "Soon as we connect her destiny with Hamlet we know that darkness is to overshadow her, and that sadness and sorrow will step in between her and the ghost-haunted avenger of his father's murder. Soon as our pity is excited for her it continues gradually to deepen, and, when she appears in her madness, we are as deeply moved as when we hear of her death. Perhaps the description of that catastrophe by the queen is poetical rather than dramatic; but its exquisite beauty prevails, and Ophelia, dying and dead, is still the same Ophelia that first won our love. Perhaps the very forgetfulness of her, throughout the remainder of the play, leaves the soul at full liberty to dream of the departed. She has passed away from the earth like a beautiful dream."
Garrick omitted the grave-diggers. He had the terror of Voltaire before his eyes. The English audiences compelled their restoration, for there was something in the scene that brought Hamlet home to the humblest in the large reach of his universal philosophy. The conversation of the clowns before he comes upon the scene is, indeed, pleasantry mixed with sarcasm; but, the moment that Hamlet opens his lips, the meditative richness of his mind is poured out upon us, and he grapples with the most familiar and yet the deepest thoughts of human nature, in a style that is sublime from its simplicity. The catastrophe is in perfect accord with the ultimate prostration of his mind. It is the result of an accident produced we know not how. The general massacre on which the curtain falls has been the subject of much adverse comment; but Shakespeare does nothing without excellent reasons.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Shakespeare's sonnets

Shakespeare's sonnets are 154 poems in sonnet form written by William Shakespeare, dealing with themes such as the passage of time, love, beauty and mortality. All but two of the poems were first published in a 1609 quarto entitled SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS.: Never before imprinted. Sonnets 138 and 144 had previously been published in a 1599 miscellany entitled The Passionate Pilgrim. The quarto ends with "A Lover's Complaint", a narrative poem of 47 seven-line stanzas written in rhyme royal.
The first 17 sonnets, traditionally called the procreation sonnets, are ostensibly written to a young man urging him to marry and have children in order to immortalize his beauty by passing it to the next generation.[1] Other sonnets express the speaker's love for a young man; brood upon loneliness, death, and the transience of life; seem to criticize the young man for preferring a rival poet; express ambiguous feelings for the speaker's mistress; and pun on the poet's name.
126 of Shakespeare's sonnets are addressed to a young man (often called the "Fair Youth"). Broadly speaking, there are two branches of theories concerning the identity of Mr. W.H.: those that take him to be identical to the youth, and those that assert him to be a separate person.

The sonnets are almost all constructed from three four-line stanzas (called quatrains) and a final couplet composed in iambic pentameter[17] (a meter used extensively in Shakespeare's plays) with the rhyme scheme abab cdcd efef gg (this form is now known as the Shakespearean sonnet). The only exceptions are Sonnets 99, 126, and 145. Number 99 has fifteen lines. Number 126 consists of six couplets, and two blank lines marked with italic brackets; 145 is in iambic tetrameters, not pentameters. Often, the beginning of the third quatrain marks the volta ("turn"), or the line in which the mood of the poem shifts, and the poet expresses a revelation or epiphany.
There is another variation on the standard English structure, found for example in sonnet 29. The normal rhyme scheme is changed by repeating the b of quatrain one in quatrain three where the f should be. This leaves the sonnet distinct between both Shakespearean and Spenserian styles.
“ When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes
I all alone be weep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee,—and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings. ”
Some scholars of the sonnets refer to these characters as the Fair Youth, the Rival Poet, and the Dark Lady, and claim that the speaker expresses admiration for the Fair Youth's beauty, and later has an affair with the Dark Lady. It is not known whether the poems and their characters are fiction or autobiographical. If they are autobiographical, the identities of the characters are open to debate. Various scholars, most notably A. L. Rowse, have attempted to identify the characters with historical individuals.
Fair Youth
Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton at 21. Shakespeare's patron, and one candidate for the Fair Youth of the sonnets.
The Fair Youth is an unnamed young man to whom sonnets 1-126 are addressed. The poet writes of the young man in romantic and loving language, a fact which has led several commentators to suggest a homosexual relationship between them, while others read it as platonic love, or even as the love of a father for his son.
The earliest poems in the collection do not imply a close personal relationship; instead, they recommend the benefits of marriage and children. With the famous sonnet 18 ("Shall I compare thee to a summer's day") the tone changes dramatically towards romantic intimacy. Sonnet 20 explicitly laments that the young man is not a woman. Most of the subsequent sonnets describe the ups and downs of the relationship, culminating with an affair between the poet and the Dark Lady. The relationship seems to end when the Fair Youth succumbs to the Lady's charms.
There have been many attempts to identify the Friend. Shakespeare's one-time patron, Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton is the most commonly suggested candidate,[citation needed] although Shakespeare's later patron, William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, has recently become popular.[21] Both claims have much to do with the dedication of the sonnets to 'Mr. W.H.', "the only begetter of these ensuing sonnets": the initials could apply to either Earl. However, while Shakespeare's language often seems to imply that the 'friend' is of higher social status than himself, this may not be the case. The apparent references to the poet's inferiority may simply be part of the rhetoric of romantic submission. An alternative theory, most famously espoused by Oscar Wilde's short story 'The Portrait of Mr. W.H.' notes a series of puns that may suggest the sonnets are written to a boy actor called William Hughes; however, Wilde's story acknowledges that there is no evidence for such a person's existence. Samuel Butler believed that the friend was a seaman, and recently Joseph Pequigney ('Such Is My love') an unknown commoner.
The Dark Lady
The Dark Lady sequence (sonnets 127–152), distinguishes itself from the Fair Youth sequence by being overtly sexual in its passion. Among these, Sonnet 151 has been characterized as "bawdy" and is used to illustrate the difference between the spiritual love for the Fair Youth and the sexual love for the Dark Lady.[22] The distinction is commonly made in the introduction to modern editions of the sonnets.[22] The Dark Lady is so called because the poems make it clear that she has black hair and dusky skin. As with the Fair Youth, there have been many attempts to identify her with a real historical individual. Mary Fitton, Emilia Lanier and others have been suggested.
William Wordsworth was unimpressed by these sonnets. He wrote that:
These sonnets, beginning at 127, to his Mistress, are worse than a puzzle-peg. They are abominably harsh, obscure & worthless. The others are for the most part much better, have many fine lines, very fine lines & passages. They are also in many places warm with passion. Their chief faults, and heavy ones they are, are sameness, tediousness, quaintness, & elaborate obscurity.
The Rival Poet
The Rival Poet's identity has always remained a mystery, though there is a general consensus that the two most likely candidates are Christopher Marlowe and George Chapman. However, there is no hard evidence that the character had a real-life counterpart. The Poet sees the Rival as competition for fame and patronage. The sonnets most commonly identified as The Rival Poet group exist within the Fair Youth series in sonnets 78–86.[23]
One interpretation is that Shakespeare's sonnets are in part a pastiche or parody of the three-centuries-old tradition of Petrarchan love sonnets; Shakespeare consciously inverts conventional gender roles as delineated in Petrarchan sonnets to create a more complex and potentially troubling depiction of human love.[24] He also violated many sonnet rules, which had been strictly obeyed by his fellow poets: he plays with gender roles (20), he speaks on human evils that do not have to do with love (66), he comments on political events (124), he makes fun of love (128), he speaks openly about sex (129), he parodies beauty (130), and even introduces witty pornography (151).
Coming as they do at the end of conventional Petrarchan sonneteering, Shakespeare's sonnets can also be seen as a prototype, or even the beginning, of a new kind of "modern" love poetry. During the eighteenth century, their reputation in England was relatively low; as late as 1805, The Critical Review could still credit John Milton with the perfection of the English sonnet. As part of the renewed interest in Shakespeare's original work that accompanied Romanticism, the sonnets rose steadily in reputation during the nineteenth century.[25]
The cross-cultural importance and influence of the sonnets is demonstrated by the large number of translations that have been made of them. In the German-speaking countries alone, there have been 70 complete translations since 1784. There is no major written language into which the sonnets have not been translated, including Latin,[26], Japanese, [27]Turkish,[28]Esperanto,[29] and Klingon.[30]


1. Linguistics The study or science of meaning in language.
2. Linguistics The study of relationships between signs and symbols and what they represent.
3. The meaning or the interpretation of a word, sentence, or other language form: We're basically agreed; let's not quibble over semantics

Sources: Description of semantics - American Heritage® Dictionary


Semantics (from Greek sēmantiká, neuter plural of sēmantikós)[1][2] is the study of meaning. It typically focuses on the relation between signifiers, such as words, phrases, signs and symbols, and what they stand for, their denotata.
Linguistic semantics is the study of meaning that is used by humans to express themselves through language. Other forms of semantics include the semantics of programming languages, formal logics, and semiotics.
The word "semantics" itself denotes a range of ideas, from the popular to the highly technical. It is often used in ordinary language to denote a problem of understanding that comes down to word selection or connotation. This problem of understanding has been the subject of many formal inquiries, over a long period of time, most notably in the field of formal semantics. In linguistics, it is the study of interpretation of signs or symbols as used by agents or communities within particular circumstances and contexts.[3] Within this view, sounds, facial expressions, body language, proxemics have semantic (meaningful) content, and each has several branches of study. In written language, such things as paragraph structure and punctuation have semantic content; in other forms of language, there is other semantic content.[3]
The formal study of semantics intersects with many other fields of inquiry, including lexicology, syntax, pragmatics, etymology and others, although semantics is a well-defined field in its own right, often with synthetic properties.[4] In philosophy of language, semantics and reference are related fields. Further related fields include philology, communication, and semiotics. The formal study of semantics is therefore complex.
Semantics contrasts with syntax, the study of the combinatorics of units of a language (without reference to their meaning), and pragmatics, the study of the relationships between the symbols of a language, their meaning, and the users of the language.[5]


In linguistics, semantics is the subfield that is devoted to the study of meaning, as inherent at the levels of words, phrases, sentences, and larger units of discourse (referred to as texts). The basic area of study is the meaning of signs, and the study of relations between different linguistic units: homonymy, synonymy, antonymy, polysemy, paronyms, hypernymy, hyponymy, meronymy, metonymy, holonymy, linguistic compounds. A key concern is how meaning attaches to larger chunks of text, possibly as a result of the composition from smaller units of meaning. Traditionally, semantics has included the study of sense and denotative reference, truth conditions, argument structure, thematic roles, discourse analysis, and the linkage of all of these to syntax.

Montague grammar

In the late 1960s, Richard Montague proposed a system for defining semantic entries in the lexicon in terms of the lambda calculus. In these terms, the syntactic parse of the sentence like John ate every bagel would consist of a subject (John) and a predicate (ate every bagel); Montague showed that the meaning of the sentence as a whole could be decomposed into the meanings of its parts and relatively few rules of combination. The logical predicate thus obtained would be elaborated further, e.g. using truth theory models, which ultimately relate meanings to a set of Tarskiian universals, which may lie outside the logic. The notion of such meaning atoms or primitives is basic to the language of thought hypothesis from the 70s.
Despite its elegance, Montague grammar was limited by the context-dependent variability in word sense, and led to several attempts at incorporating context, such as:
• situation semantics ('80s): truth-values are incomplete, they get assigned based on context
• generative lexicon ('90s): categories (types) are incomplete, and get assigned based on context
In Chomskian linguistics there was no mechanism for the learning of semantic relations, and the nativist view considered all semantic notions as inborn. Thus, even novel concepts were proposed to have been dormant in some sense. This view was also thought unable to address many issues such as metaphor or associative meanings, and semantic change, where meanings within a linguistic community change over time, and qualia or subjective experience. Another issue not addressed by the nativist model was how perceptual cues are combined in thought, e.g. in mental rotation.[6]
This view of semantics, as an innate finite meaning inherent in a lexical unit that can be composed to generate meanings for larger chunks of discourse, is now being fiercely debated in the emerging domain of cognitive linguistics[7] and also in the non-Fodorian camp in Philosophy of Language.[8] The challenge is motivated by:
• factors internal to language, such as the problem of resolving indexical or anaphora (e.g. this x, him, last week). In these situations "context" serves as the input, but the interpreted utterance also modifies the context, so it is also the output. Thus, the interpretation is necessarily dynamic and the meaning of sentences is viewed as context change potentials instead of propositions.
• factors external to language, i.e. language is not a set of labels stuck on things, but "a toolbox, the importance of whose elements lie in the way they function rather than their attachments to things."[8] This view reflects the position of the later Wittgenstein and his famous game example, and is related to the positions of Quine, Davidson, and others.
A concrete example of the latter phenomenon is semantic underspecification – meanings are not complete without some elements of context. To take an example of a single word, "red", its meaning in a phrase such as red book is similar to many other usages, and can be viewed as compositional.[9] However, the colours implied in phrases such as "red wine" (very dark), and "red hair" (coppery), or "red soil", or "red skin" are very different. Indeed, these colours by themselves would not be called "red" by native speakers. These instances are contrastive, so "red wine" is so called only in comparison with the other kind of wine (which also is not "white" for the same reasons). This view goes back to de Saussure:
Each of a set of synonyms like redouter ('to dread'), craindre ('to fear'), avoir peur ('to be afraid') has its particular value only because they stand in contrast with one another. No word has a value that can be identified independently of what else is in its vicinity.[10]
and may go back to earlier Indian views on language, especially the Nyaya view of words as indicators and not carriers of meaning.[11]
An attempt to defend a system based on propositional meaning for semantic underspecification can be found in the Generative Lexicon model of James Pustejovsky, who extends contextual operations (based on type shifting) into the lexicon. Thus meanings are generated on the fly based on finite context.
Prototype theory
Another set of concepts related to fuzziness in semantics is based on prototypes. The work of Eleanor Rosch in the 1970s led to a view that natural categories are not characterizable in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions, but are graded (fuzzy at their boundaries) and inconsistent as to the status of their constituent members.
Systems of categories are not objectively "out there" in the world but are rooted in people's experience. These categories evolve as learned concepts of the world – meaning is not an objective truth, but a subjective construct, learned from experience, and language arises out of the "grounding of our conceptual systems in shared embodiment and bodily experience".[12] A corollary of this is that the conceptual categories (i.e. the lexicon) will not be identical for different cultures, or indeed, for every individual in the same culture. This leads to another debate (see the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis or Eskimo words for snow).
Theories in semantics
Model theoretic semantics
Originates from Montague's work (see above). A highly formalized theory of natural language semantics in which expressions are assigned denotations (meanings) such as individuals, truth values, or functions from one of these to another. The truth of a sentence, and more interestingly, its logical relation to other sentences, is then evaluated relative to a model.
Truth-conditional semantics
Pioneered by the philosopher Donald Davidson, another formalized theory, which aims to associate each natural language sentence with a meta-language description of the conditions under which it is true, for example: `Snow is white' is true if and only if snow is white. The challenge is to arrive at the truth conditions for any sentences from fixed meanings assigned to the individual words and fixed rules for how to combine them. In practice, truth-conditional semantics is similar to model-theoretic semantics; conceptually, however, they differ in that truth-conditional semantics seeks to connect language with statements about the real world (in the form of meta-language statements), rather than with abstract models.
Lexical & conceptual semantics
This theory is an effort to explain properties of argument structure. The assumption behind this theory is that syntactic properties of phrases reflect the meanings of the words that head them.[13] With this theory, linguists can better deal with the fact that subtle differences in word meaning correlate with other differences in the syntactic structure that the word appears in.[13] The way this is gone about is by looking at the internal structure of words.[14] These small parts that make up the internal structure of words are referred to as semantic primitives.[14]
Lexical semantics
A linguistic theory that investigates word meaning. This theory understands that the meaning of a word is fully reflected by its context. Here, the meaning of a word is constituted by its contextual relations.[15] Therefore, a distinction between degrees of participation as well as modes of participation are made.[15] In order to accomplish this distinction any part of a sentence that bears a meaning and combines with the meanings of other constituents is labeled as a semantic constituent. Semantic constituents that can not be broken down into more elementary constituents is labeled a minimal semantic constituent.[15]
Computational semantics
Computational semantics is focused on the processing of linguistic meaning. In order to do this concrete algorithms and architectures are described. Within this framework the algorithms and architectures are also analyzed in terms of decidability, time/space complexity, data structures which they require and communication protocols.[16] Many companies use semantic technologies to create commercial value. The fundamental point is that you cannot create much value from content that you do not understand. Once you understand, then you can interrogate more effectively, create explicit relationships between content around topics and issues, inform contextual advertising and product placement, and build a standard method of sharing structured data between publishers.
Computer science
In computer science, the term semantics refers to the meaning of languages, as opposed to their form (syntax). Additionally, the term semantic is applied to certain types of data structures specifically designed and used for representing information content.



Definition of 'Semantics'

1. ((used with a sing. v.)) semantics
a branch of linguistics dealing with the study of meaning, including the ways meaning is structured in language and changes in meaning and form over time.

2. Semantics
the branch of semiotics or logic dealing with the relationship between signs or symbols and what they denote.

3. Semantics
the meaning, or an interpretation of the meaning, of a word, sign, sentence, etc.:
Let's not argue about semantics.

Etymology: (1895–1900)
Definition of 'Semantics' t

1. (noun) semantics
the study of language meaning

2. (noun) semantics
the meaning of a word, phrase, sentence, or text
"a petty argument about semantics"

Definition of 'Semantics'

1. Semantics
The relationships between symbols and their meanings.

Images of 'Semantics'

Heart of Darkness - Analysis

Conrad's setting of a "night journey" into the Congo becomes an appropriate metaphor. This "Heart of Darkness" that Marlow penetrates of the heart of darkness contained in every man. The insights gained by Marlow into the condition of the human heart are the same insights gained by a careful, thoughtful reader. As Marlow makes his way to Kurtz's camp and his knowledge of this savage land is deepened, so is our understanding of the inherent darkness within every man. The discovery is this: In our deepest nature, all men are savage.

The name Kurtz, which is German for short, has symbolic meaning. The physical shortness in Kurtz implies a shortness of character and spirit. His shortfalls are made apparent as Marlow learned more about him, "Mr. Kurtz lacked restraint in the gratification of his various lusts." Our enlightenment into the corruption of men's souls eventually becomes complete when Marlow meets Kurtz and finds out what Kurtz has really become, one with the land, devolved to a primitive state.

Marlow and Kurtz could be considered as two conditions of human existence, Kurtz representing what Man could become if left to his own intrinsic devices outside protective society. Marlow, then, representing a pure untainted civilized soul who has not been drawn to savagery by a dark, alienated jungle. According to Conrad, the will to give into the uncivilized man does not just reside Kurtz alone. Every man has inside himself a heart of darkness. This heart is drowned in a bath of light shed by the advent of civilization. No man is an island, and no man can live on an island without becoming a brutal savage. Inside his heart lies the raw evil of untamed lifestyles.

Sources: › Essay Index › Literature-04.04.2011

Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, is one of the most well known works among scholars of classical literature and post-colonial literature. Not only is it thought provoking and exciting, but also considered to be one of the most highly stylistic in its class, blending its use of narrative, symbolism, deep and challenging characters, and of course a touch of psychological evaluation that Conrad is well known for. To get a full grasp of the novella, one must first understand the history behind the Congo and its colonization by the Belgians.
As a result of ruthless colonial exploitation, involuntary servitude, and direct violence, the native people live in an impoverished state. As many as six million Africans died during the brutal rubber trade, overseen by the Belgians. Many are forced to be "carriers," for people on jungle expeditions that need to move cargo from one place to another. These packages they carry on their backs, on rough footpaths through the jungle, weigh between 40 and 70 pounds. There are few, if any, breaks to stop and rest. It is a hard life, but this history sets up the action behind the drama in this book, as far as helping to smuggle ivory out, or carry supplies into the jungle nation. The recurring theme of darkness (a symbol for the reality of the society) and fear perpetuate the action, and utimatly envelops the characters that struggle with this dilema such as Kurtz. The message is the same however: colinization destoys at the native peoples expense, close-minded European views perpetuate racism in these nations, and evil is a driving and yet sometimes unnoticed force.
Joseph Conrad was born in Berdichev, Poland in 1874. He first became familiarized with the English language at the age of eight, because his father translated works of Shakespeare and Conrad became interested in them. He was a very smart child, and did quite well in school. He further studied in Cracow and Switzerland, but his love for the sea beaconed him to explore, sail, and learn a new style of life. In 1874 he took a job on a ship, and thus begun his lifelong fascination for the sea and sea travel.
After traveling around the world a bit, he got involved in gunrunning in the West Indies. He liked to gamble, and because of this addiction he racked up huge debts which led him to attempt suicide. His brush with death opened his eyes, and he then realized that changes needed to be made in his life. In 1878 he found himself in England, where he spent the next 16 years of his life in the British navy. This had a profound impact on his writing, and it really developed and deepened his passion for the sea. However, his sense of adventure had not yet faded away, and he found himslef in 1889 as a captain of a steamboat on the Congo River. He always wanted to go to Africa, and was drawn to her like his passion for the sea. His experiences there are what inspired Heart of Darkness(1902), and many people do not realize that he knew the Congo well, and actually spent some time of his life involved in the conflicts of the land.
Conrad later returned to England in 1891 and worked as a sailor til 1894. He then retired from sailing and spent the rest of his life writing. He married, had two sons, but lived on a modest budget. He was a poor, and frequently got into trouble, but kept on writing. Finally he received some recognition for his work in 1910, and this is when his financial situation began to improve. However, his health was failing, but his pen grew stronger. He kept on writing and became quite popular in England. They even wanted to knight him in 1924 but he refused. He died that same year.
Conrad's contribution to the world of literature is profound and indifferent. Many people see him as just another writer, but to those who study post-colonial literature he can be seen as a beacon of hope and truth. He is telling the story so people can see what colonist do to the land in which they colonize: take it over, pillage, and destroy. Conrad was ther and witnesed the entire process, and it angered him to the point of no return.

Conrad can be linked to many authors that write about post-colonial literature. One author that finds truth in Conrad's writing is Chinua Achebe and the novel Arrow of God. Not only is the setting similar, Africa, the similarities of how the natives are seen and persecuted by the colonist are unprescidented. Achebe and Conrad both use the word "savage" as a term to describe the native people, because this is how they were seen by their opressors. Granted, neither author believes these people to be savages, but throughout both pieces of literature the natives are degraded both verbally and phisicaly. The natives are seen as expendable and therefore the quality of life given them is not as important.
Conrad uses the character of Marlow to utilize his own thoughts and perceptions of the people in the Congo. He continually ses them being beaten when they fall carrying packages, Europeans antagonizing them from boats as they travel past river villages, Kurtz commanding them around like a batallion of troups. He is angered by this and tries to change it, but by the time he gets to Kurtz it is too late because he has been pulled in by the darknes and is sick and pale. Marlow personifies a voice of reason, goodwill, and light. Kurtz personifies evil, darkness, and destruction. It even gets to the point where Kurtz is having the natives worshiping him as a God.
Achebe similaly tries to utilize a character as a voice of reason, but it is too late. The natives trust the Europeans that come to the village, and they are basically destroyed. The goal is similar: to show how colinization perpetuates racism (see link below on the essay writen about racism by Achebe) and destroys traditional culture by use of assimilation. But in both cases, it is simply too late in the process for their characters to change things.

Conrad did navigate the waters of the Congo. He never wrote about it until he returned home to England where he wrote Heart of Darkness in 1902. He did keep a journal, and some of the excerpts from his journal can be found in the novella.
The desolation of the land described in the book is an actual account of locations seen by Conrad. Over the years he spent there, he traveled the land and was shocked by the poverty of the Congo due to lack of funding.
.Another important artcle of criticism is Ian Watt's Conrad in the Nineteenth Century. It discusses several points and reinforces some of Achebe's work. He did a whole series of essays on Conrad and they are highly revered. They would be great supplimental reading. Watt suggest that Heart of Darkness is Conrad's first symbolic work, but also the only symbolic work done by him.
Symbolism runs ramped throughout the piece, and it is suggested by Kimbrough that, "Conrad's earlier narritives are primarily objective, descriptive, and thematically clear; Heart of Darknesstends to be interior, suggestivly analytic, and highly psychological. In short, it introduces a new mode into Conrad's ficton: the symbolic."

Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad

A search for meaning in Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Finds a thread of social commentary and work ethic to unite this novel and gives it meaning, instead of being merely an exercise in cynicism.
Searching for continuity in Heart of Darkness can be a challenging task. One wonders whether Conrad is a social critic, scrutinizing western civilization, or merely a vivid pessimist, condemning mankind to a helpless dichotomy of facade and brutality. Upon close inspection, one recurring idea seems to sew a common thread through the darkness of Kurtz and Africa and the ignorance of the Intended and the European facade. This motif lies in Marlowe's work ethic. Although Marlowe often seems to contradict his own analysis of his story, these contradictions arrive at a consistent value emphasizing integrity, frankness, and intelligence.
Conrad uses Marlowe's imagery and objective observation to establish a criticism of "civilized" society. The very opening paragraphs create a dark image of London, the center of civilization during Conrad's time. "A haze rested on the low shores that ran out to sea in vanishing flatness. The air was dark above Gravesend, and farther back still seemed condensed into mournful gloom, brooding motionless over the biggest, and the greatest, town on earth" (Conrad 65). The dichotomy of dark imagery paired with the implication of "light" which civilization and London represent begin an extended Blakian contrary of light and dark with civilization and brutality. After further explication of the gloominess and "lurid glare" of London, Marlowe speaks his first words. "'And this also has been one of the dark places of the earth'" (67). Although it does not seem obvious at first, corroborative descriptions of civilization create a distasteful and critical depiction of it. The sun changes from "glowing white" to "dull red without rays and without heat, as if about to go out suddenly, stricken to death by the touch of that gloom brooding over a crowd of men" (66). Here again the contrary of light and dark surfaces as London, which typically spreads the "light" of civilization, extinguishes the light of the sun in a fit of darkness. Although this continually contradicting imagery of light and dark seems somewhat erratic at first, it serves to perpetuate the connected idea that civilization, or light, contains an intrinsic element of the savage, or the dark


Heart of Darkness- Analysis of Major Characters

Although Marlow appears in several of Conrad’s other works, it is important not to view him as merely a surrogate for the author. Marlow is a complicated man who anticipates the figures of high modernism while also reflecting his Victorian predecessors. Marlow is in many ways a traditional hero: tough, honest, an independent thinker, a capable man. Yet he is also “broken” or “damaged,” like T. S. Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock or William Faulkner’s Quentin Compson. The world has defeated him in some fundamental way, and he is weary, skeptical, and cynical. Marlow also mediates between the figure of the intellectual and that of the “working tough.” While he is clearly intelligent, eloquent, and a natural philosopher, he is not saddled with the angst of centuries’ worth of Western thought. At the same time, while he is highly skilled at what he does—he repairs and then ably pilots his own ship—he is no mere manual laborer. Work, for him, is a distraction, a concrete alternative to the posturing and excuse-making of those around him.
Marlow can also be read as an intermediary between the two extremes of Kurtz and the Company. He is moderate enough to allow the reader to identify with him, yet open-minded enough to identify at least partially with either extreme. Thus, he acts as a guide for the reader. Marlow’s intermediary position can be seen in his eventual illness and recovery. Unlike those who truly confront or at least acknowledge Africa and the darkness within themselves, Marlow does not die, but unlike the Company men, who focus only on money and advancement, Marlow suffers horribly. He is thus “contaminated” by his experiences and memories, and, like Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, destined, as purgation or penance, to repeat his story to all who will listen.
Kurtz, like Marlow, can be situated within a larger tradition. Kurtz resembles the archetypal “evil genius”: the highly gifted but ultimately degenerate individual whose fall is the stuff of legend. Kurtz is related to figures like Faustus, Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost, Moby-Dick’s Ahab, and Wuthering Heights’s Heathcliff. Like these characters, he is significant both for his style and eloquence and for his grandiose, almost megalomaniacal scheming. In a world of mundanely malicious men and “flabby devils,” attracting enough attention to be worthy of damnation is indeed something. Kurtz can be criticized in the same terms that Heart of Darkness is sometimes criticized: style entirely overrules substance, providing a justification for amorality and evil.
In fact, it can be argued that style does not just override substance but actually masks the fact that Kurtz is utterly lacking in substance. Marlow refers to Kurtz as “hollow” more than once. This could be taken negatively, to mean that Kurtz is not worthy of contemplation. However, it also points to Kurtz’s ability to function as a “choice of nightmares” for Marlow: in his essential emptiness, he becomes a cipher, a site upon which other things can be projected. This emptiness should not be read as benign, however, just as Kurtz’s eloquence should not be allowed to overshadow the malice of his actions. Instead, Kurtz provides Marlow with a set of paradoxes that Marlow can use to evaluate himself and the Company’s men.
Indeed, Kurtz is not so much a fully realized individual as a series of images constructed by others for their own use. As Marlow’s visits with Kurtz’s cousin, the Belgian journalist, and Kurtz’s fiancée demonstrate, there seems to be no true Kurtz. To his cousin, he was a great musician; to the journalist, a brilliant politician and leader of men; to his fiancée, a great humanitarian and genius. All of these contrast with Marlow’s version of the man, and he is left doubting the validity of his memories. Yet Kurtz, through his charisma and larger-than-life plans, remains with Marlow and with the reader.

Sources: › ... › Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad's novel, Heart of Darkness, is a frame novel-the narrator writes about Charlie Marlow, who tells of his experience in the Congo from the yawl on the Thames river. Through settings, symbols, and Conrad's impressionist style, Conrad is able to illustrate the impact of Marlow's epiphany on his portrayal of humanity and on his responsibilities to mankind. Conrad's use of a frame novel helps to convey the theme of universal darkness.
In Heart of Darkness, setting helps to portray the theme of universal darkness. Conrad's descriptive passages about the "interminnable waterways" of the Congo and the Thames River show the connection between humanity and darkness (3). Each river flows into one another, and "lead into a heart of immense darkness" (117). This shows that all of humanity is connected through the heart of darkness and the truth.
Conrad's use of symbolism illustrates the central theme of the novel. Kurtz himself is a major symbol in Heart of Darkness. Kurtz is considered a catalyst for change and the symbol for the whites' failure in Africa. Kurtz is unaware of his own darkness and is unable to fight it. His dying words, "the horror, the horror!" depicts the darkness of human souls (116). The contrast between light and dark is also very important to the theme of universal darkness. Light represents the falsehoods and corruption in the world, whereas dark is a symbol for truth. The white ivory is a symbol for the falsehood in the ivory trade as well as the failure of the commerce and that of the white man. The dark natives show the pureness and innocence of mankind, complete foils to the whites. All of mankind is connected through the darkness because everyone lies, even those who are a symbol for truth, and lies help to mask the darkness.
Conrad's impressionistic style helps to convey the theme of universal darkness. Conrad writes heart of darkness as a frame novel. The narrator is telling the story of another man who is telling his story. This allows for Marlow's digressions and for the readers to understand the horror of the darkness for themselves. Conrad's impressionist style permits the reader to experience the journey as Marlow does. As Marlow digs deeper into universal darkness, the reader follows and questions what Marlow questions. Conrad's style helps the reader to build a strong narrative alliance with Marlow because the reader can feel what he feels. This style allows the reader to understand the truth of the darkness.
Conrad's use of a frame novel helps to convey the theme of universal darkness. Through settings, symbols, and Conrad's impressionist style, Conrad is able to illustrate the impact of Marlow's epiphany on his portrayal of humanity and on his responsibilities to mankind. › ... › Literature › British Literature-04.04.2011

Heart of Darkness -Analysis

Heart of Darkness Analysis
Literary Devices in Heart of Darkness
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Contrary to popular usage, light does not necessarily symbolize pure goodness or enlightenment here. Conrad’s vision is so dark that he does not even trust light. Marlow makes the comment tha...
The setting of the frame story in Heart of Darkness just may be the most important setting to discuss in all of great twentieth century literature. (And now that we’ve placed upon ourselves a...
Narrator Point of View
First, our unnamed narrator introduces the frame for the story: the evening spent aboard the Nellie. Only through him do we meet Marlow. Marlow himself tells the framed story so most of the narrati...
The novel has a pessimistic outlook on life. Marlow constantly refers to darkness, madness, and fear. This is probably based on Conrad’s own negative reaction to his voyage up the Congo River...
Writing Style
Conrad’s prose is a difficult animal to wrestle. It seems long-winded and tedious, but is surprisingly poetic. (Check out the iambic meter in the description of Kurtz’s African mistress...
What’s Up With the Title?
With such an ominous title, Heart of Darkness delivers what it promises: ruminations on the nature of evil. The "heart of darkness" refers not only to a physical location (inside Africa), but also...
Plot Analysis
Charlie Marlow loves maps. He wants to become an explorer so he can fill in those blank spaces on the maps. Upon acquiring a steamboat with the Company, he begins his journey into the African inter...
Booker’s Seven Basic Plots Analysis: Voyage and Return
Pack it up – we’re going to the Congo.Marlow embarks on his journey aboard the steamboat and travels up the Congo River. He remarks that navigating the Congo is like "traveling back to...
Three Act Plot Analysis
Marlow frames his story aboard the Nellie. He describes getting the job in Brussels, then traveling to the Outer and Central Stations. In the first station, he sees laboring black Africans for the...
Steaminess Rating
Although Heart of Darkness deals with profoundly dark themes, sex is not one of them. This is because the vast majority of the characters are men that travel into the core of Africa with no women a..

Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad

Published in 1902, Heart of Darkness has become one of the most celebrated and effective novels to combine a psychological journey with a horrifyingly stark account of imperialism, or specifically of European colonies in Africa. Based on Joseph Conrad’s own experience traveling up the Congo River into the African interior, Heart of Darkness follows the disturbing journey of English ivory-trading agent Marlow into the jungles of Africa in search of a mysterious man named Kurtz. The novel sparked controversy in 1975 when famed Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe condemned it, accusing it of dehumanizing Africans and reducing them to extensions of the hostile and primal jungle environment. Since then, writers have heatedly debated this topic. Scholars can’t quite seem to conclude whether the novel is racist or anti-racist.

Why Should I Care?
Let’s just get it out here. We didn’t want to be the first ones to say it, but it’s kind of the elephant in the room at this point: Heart of Darkness is the original Star Wars. No, seriously – you’ve got the light side and the dark side, the delicate balance between the two, and best of all, the commingling of those who are good with those who are evil. Friendly, upstanding Marlow realizing that he’s not so unlike heads-on-sticks Kurtz is the "Luke, I am your Father" moment of the novel.

To any of you who have ever rooted for the bad guy, picked on someone smaller than you in elementary school, or wanted that annoying kid behind you in home economics to get destroyed in dodge ball, you know what it’s like to encounter your own heart of darkness – it’s scary. People can be pretty horrible. The human race has been guilty of murder, brutality, torture, rape, and mass exterminations of its own kind.

Now that we’ve lured you into a Marlow-esque feeling of safety, everyone take a look at that finger you’re pointing and turn it 180 degrees. Yes, you. Heart of Darkness makes the point that we may all be a shrunken head away from becoming our own worst enemies.

But before giving up on humanity, consider the ending to Heart of Darkness. What do you think about its message? Is it hopeful in the end?

Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad

This novel exposes the myth behind colonisation whilst exploring the three levels of darkness that the protagonist, Marlow, encounters--the darkness of the Congo wilderness, the darkness of the European's cruel treatment of the natives, and the unfathomable darkness within every human being for committing heinous acts of evil. Conrad himself was exposed to the brutality of European attitudes in the Congo when he worked as a captain of a steamboat on the Congo river. Conrad, as shown through this novella, was disgusted by the cruelty, futility, and lust for ivory. This is a profound, thought provoking novel that challenges the reader to question their own morals and values to 'The Horror' the novel exposes them to.--Submitted by Mikz Ramsing
A post-colonialist, post-modern text dealing with the psychological and physical transformation of the Europeans and the quest of an individual for self-knowledge in the heart of Africa, the dark continent - the Congo - where Belgium has set up a colony. Marlow goes there as captain and finds Kurtz, a prosperous ivory agent with deteriorating health. Marlow's journey to meet Kurtz and bring him home to Europe is symbolic of his journey to the heart of darkness, the subconscious mind.--Submitted by sayantani
In every society we have intellectuals who wish to curb bad elements. How can ordinary citizens do that? Answer : Through Art and Literature! Charles Dickens, Washington Irving, George Orwell, John Steinbeck, and Joseph Conrad are all great examples of such genius, with a common denominator : they were making not only humanistic statements, but also political statements. The character of Kurtz is as openly a metaphorical figure, as Shylock. He represents a 'type' of personality : one that is intelligent, ambitious and capable. But at the sight of money, he turns into an evil genius. But all human beings also have a quality of 'empathy' as well, with all living things. So, after a while, he goes insane. Joseph Conrad was a messiah, giving a bold and truthful message to his countrymen. The injustice of ambitious white people knew no bounds in Africa during the 18th and 19th centuries. Thousands of elephants were killed mercilessly for their ivory. Conrad asks a basic question : is this why God created man as the highest living being? Another title for this great novel might have been : The Enlightened Animal. That's us!--Submitted by Lady Professor
Even as the title itself suggests the intent of the writer in describing the darkness of more than one kind, Joseph Conrad's novella goes beyond portraying the harsh rainforests of Congo or the morbid depths of human psyche or even the tyranny of imperialistic rule. What was most impressive about the book was how Conrad explores and describes situations and experiences in the Heart of Darkness that is Africa. His contemplation on the cannibals' restraint in a certain episode or his narration of the sighting of the wild primeval men and his appreciation of their raw humanity like yours and mine or his facetious comments on high-handed Imperialism or describing Kurtz's 'Intended''s mourning a year later - an entire gamut of human expression is traversed. One of the most striking features of this book is how the author describes the life-like quality of the wilderness and the almost phantasmagorical description of his crew's trip down the Congo river into the true Heart of Darkness. Apart from a plot narration that swings to and fro in a pleasing manner, the author is able to address the reader's qualms about certain of his assertions through characters who interrupt his narration that happens in the surreal setting of the Thames that Conrad so beautifully describes.--Submitted by Srinivas Naik
Heart of Darkness is a journey to the dark soul of mankind. In creating this fiction Conrad uses the technique of the Iliad. He also uses the technique which we find in The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner where the narrator has to keep repeating his story in an effort to cleanse the memory. Christian symbolism is rampant as Conrad shows us the pilgrims, the spear through the side of his helmsman, the episode with his shoes redolent of Jesus telling his disciples to shake off the dust from their sandals. The novella overall has a Nietzschian quality as the colonists strive to achieve their goals through a will to power over the indigent people of Africa. The women in the novella are reminiscent of the Madonna/ Whore complex. By the end of the narrative we are almost ready to start again hoping for a different outcome.--Submitted by Tom Keane › Joseph Conrad-04.04.2011

Heart of Darkness -Joseph Conrad

Heart of Darkness
Joseph Conrad
Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness retells the story of Marlow's job as an ivory transporter down the Congo. Through his journey, Marlow develops an intense interest in investigating Kurtz, an ivory-procurement agent, and Marlow is shocked upon seeing what the European traders have done to the natives. Joseph Conrad's exploration of the darkness potentially inherent in all human hearts inspired the 1979 film, Apocalypse Now, although the setting was moved to Vietnam.


Heart of Darkness-Character List

The protagonist and main narrator of the story, he stumbles into Africa looking to sail a steamboat and finds much more. He possesses a strong interest in the past. He also has a good work ethic; he views working hard as a means of achieving sanity. In many respects, the worldview of Marlow is that of a typical European. Still, he is intended to be a versatile character, one of the few who does not belong to a distinct class, and he thus can relate to different kinds of people with more ease than his peers.
He is in charge of the most productive ivory station in the Congo. Hailed universally for his genius and eloquence, Kurtz becomes the focus of Marlow's journey into Africa. He is the unique victim of colonization; the wilderness captures him and he turns his back on the people and customs that were once a part of him.
Marlow's direct supervisor, he is a hard, greedy man who values power and money above all else. Yet he masks this crudeness behind a civilized demeanor. He seems to have an ability to outlive those around him. The Manager would like nothing more than to surpass Kurtz in the ivory trade and see him dead, so that he would no longer interfere with the competitive trade. He makes people uneasy, and the only explanation Marlow offers is that he is "hollow."
He is the so-called first agent, who is the Manager's pet and spy. He never actually makes bricks; supposedly he is waiting for the delivery of an essential ingredient. The Brickmaker is unlikable, cunning, and contemptible. His behavior flauts Marlow's work ethic.

Kurtz's devoted companion, he is an idealistic explorer who has wandered to the Congo on a Dutch ship and has been caught in the web of Kurtz's obsessive ivory hunt. He is so young that it is uncertain whether or not he fully understands what he is doing in Africa. He is more or less attracted to the glamor of adventure. His unwavering support of Kurtz makes him humble and admirable.
They are a collective presence throughout the story. They are never described as individuals.
Chief Accountant
A top official in the main station, he befriends Marlow when he first arrives in Africa. He is a cruel man but ironically also the picture of the "civilized European." Marlow admires his work habits, but this admiration is directed toward his flawless appearance rather than his personality.
Marlow's aunt
She is the connection to the Company in which Marlow receives a position. She appears to be the only female contact Marlow has in his life, and she fully supports the vision of colonialism laid out in Rudyard Kipling's "White Man's Burden."
Kurtz's fiancee
An unnamed woman who only appears in the last few pages of the novel, she is the symbol of a life that Kurtz leaves behind when he arrives in the Congo. She is pure and lives in a dream world built around who she believes Kurtz is. Her impressions of him are so disparate from what the reader observes that we marvel at the change that evidently has come about in Kurtz.
He is responsible for steering Marlow's ship. He is not very experienced and seems unable to make informed decisions under pressure.
The collective white presence in the story, they accompany Marlow and the Manager on the voyage to Kurtz's station. They exist in opposition to the natives and the cannibals, and their fear makes it apparent that they are unwilling to relinquish preconceived notions about the natives.
They are a specific section of the native presence. They are the grunt crew of Marlow's ship, and they are the only group of natives who ever voice any kind of statement or opinion to the whites. Marlow is surprised at their tranquil manner, and he seems to respect them.
The captain in charge aboard the Thames River ship, from which Marlow tells the tale. He is loved by all. He is a good sailor, but he now works on land.
A passenger aboard the Thames ship. He is called a good, virtuous fellow.
Also a passenger aboard the Thames ship, he does nothing but play dominoes. Along with the lawyer, he constitutes a crew of gentility, which contrasts with the crew from Marlow's Congo ship.
An unnamed passenger aboard the Thames ship, he provides a structure for Marlow's story and is a stand-in for audience perspective and participation. He was once a sailor, and he seems affected by Kurtz's tale due to his somewhat romantic nature. › Joseph Conrad

Heart of Darkness-JOSEPH CONRAD

JOSEPH CONRAD DID NOT BEGIN TO LEARN ENGLISH until he was twenty-one years old. He was born Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski on December 3, 1857, in the Polish Ukraine. When Conrad was quite young, his father was exiled to Siberia on suspicion of plotting against the Russian government. After the death of the boy’s mother, Conrad’s father sent him to his mother’s brother in Kraków to be educated, and Conrad never again saw his father. He traveled to Marseilles when he was seventeen and spent the next twenty years as a sailor. He signed on to an English ship in 1878, and eight years later he became a British subject. In 1889, he began his first novel, Almayer’s Folly, and began actively searching for a way to fulfill his boyhood dream of traveling to the Congo. He took command of a steamship in the Belgian Congo in 1890, and his experiences in the Congo came to provide the outline for Heart of Darkness. Conrad’s time in Africa wreaked havoc on his health, however, and he returned to England to recover. He returned to sea twice before finishing Almayer’s Folly in 1894 and wrote several other books, including one about Marlow called Youth: A Narrative before beginning Heart of Darkness in 1898. He wrote most of his other major works—including Lord Jim, which also features Marlow;Nostromo; and The Secret Agent, as well as several collaborations with Ford Madox Ford—during the following two decades. Conrad died in 1924.
Conrad’s works,Heart of Darkness in particular, provide a bridge between Victorian values and the ideals of modernism. Like their Victorian predecessors, these novels rely on traditional ideas of heroism, which are nevertheless under constant attack in a changing world and in places far from England. Women occupy traditional roles as arbiters of domesticity and morality, yet they are almost never present in the narrative; instead, the concepts of “home” and “civilization” exist merely as hypocritical ideals, meaningless to men for whom survival is in constant doubt. While the threats that Conrad’s characters face are concrete ones—illness, violence, conspiracy—they nevertheless acquire a philosophical character. Like much of the best modernist literature produced in the early decades of the twentieth century, Heart of Darkness is as much about alienation, confusion, and profound doubt as it is about imperialism.
Imperialism is nevertheless at the center of Heart of Darkness. By the 1890s, most of the world’s “dark places” had been placed at least nominally under European control, and the major European powers were stretched thin, trying to administer and protect massive, far-flung empires. Cracks were beginning to appear in the system: riots, wars, and the wholesale abandonment of commercial enterprises all threatened the white men living in the distant corners of empires. Things were clearly falling apart. Heart of Darkness suggests that this is the natural result when men are allowed to operate outside a social system of checks and balances: power, especially power over other human beings, inevitably corrupts. At the same time, this begs the question of whether it is possible to call an individual insane or wrong when he is part of a system that is so thoroughly corrupted and corrupting. Heart of Darkness, thus, at its most abstract level, is a narrative about the difficulty of understanding the world beyond the self, about the ability of one man to judge another.
Although Heart of Darkness was one of the first literary texts to provide a critical view of European imperial activities, it was initially read by critics as anything but controversial. While the book was generally admired, it was typically read either as a condemnation of a certain type of adventurer who could easily take advantage of imperialism’s opportunities, or else as a sentimental novel reinforcing domestic values: Kurtz’s Intended, who appears at the novella’s conclusion, was roundly praised by turn-of-the-century reviewers for her maturity and sentimental appeal. Conrad’s decision to set the book in a Belgian colony and to have Marlow work for a Belgian trading concern made it even easier for British readers to avoid seeing themselves reflected in Heart of Darkness. Although these early reactions seem ludicrous to a modern reader, they reinforce the novella’s central themes of hypocrisy and absurdity.


Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness is a novella written by Joseph Conrad. Before its 1902 publication, it appeared as a three-part series (1899) in Blackwood's Magazine. It is widely regarded as a significant work of English literature[1] and part of the Western canon.
The story tells of Charles Marlow, an Englishman who took a foreign assignment from a Belgian trading company as a ferry-boat captain in Africa. Heart of Darkness exposes the dark side of European colonization while exploring the three levels of darkness that the protagonist, Marlow, encounters: the darkness of the Congo wilderness, the darkness of the Europeans' cruel treatment of the natives, and the unfathomable darkness within every human being for committing heinous acts of evil.[2] Although Conrad does not give the name of the river, at the time of writing the Congo Free State, the location of the large and important Congo River, was a private colony of Belgium's King Leopold II. In the story, Marlow is employed to transport ivory downriver. However, his more pressing assignment is to return Kurtz, another ivory trader, to civilization, in a cover-up. Kurtz has a reputation throughout the region.
This symbolic story is a story within a story or frame narrative. It follows Marlow as he recounts from dusk through to late night, to a group of men aboard a ship anchored in the Thames Estuary his Congolese adventure. The passage of time and the darkening sky during the fictitious narrative-within-the-narrative parallel the atmosphere of the story.
Eight and a half years before writing the book, Conrad had gone to serve as the captain of a Congo steamer. On arriving in the Congo, he found his steamer damaged and under repair. He became sick and returned to Europe before serving as captain. Some of Conrad's experiences in the Congo and the story's historic background, including possible models for Kurtz, are recounted in Adam Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghost.[3]
The story-within-a-story literary device that Conrad chose for Heart of Darkness—one in which Charles Marlow relates to other characters his account of his journey—has many literary precedents. Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein used a similar device but the best known examples are Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, The Arabian Nights, Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Boccaccio's Decameron.
Plot summary
The story opens with an unnamed narrator describing five men, apparently colleagues, on a boat anchored on the River Thames near London and the surroundings as dusk settles in and they await the turning of the tide. The narrator cites a passenger known as Marlow: the only one of the men who "still followed the sea." Marlow makes a comment about London having been, too, "one of the dark places on earth"; thus begins the story of Marlow and a job he took as captain of a steamship in Africa.

The Roi des Belges, the Belgian riverboat Conrad commanded on the upper Congo, 1889
He begins by ruminating on how Britain's image among Ancient Roman officials must have been similar to Africa's image among 19th century British officials. He describes how his "dear aunt" used many of her contacts to secure the job for him. When he arrives at the job, he encounters many men he dislikes as they strike him as untrustworthy. They speak often of a man named Kurtz, who has quite a reputation in many areas of expertise. He is somewhat of a rogue ivory collector, "essentially a great musician," a journalist, a skilled painter and "a universal genius".
Marlow arrives at the Central Station run by the general manager, an unwholesome conspiratorial character. He finds that his steamship has been sunk and spends several months waiting for parts to repair it. There is a rumor regarding Kurtz being ill; this makes the delays in repairing the ship all the more costly. Marlow gets the parts and he and the manager set out with a few agents and a crew of cannibals on a long, difficult voyage up the river.

Old Belgian river station on the Congo River, 1889
Marlow and the crew discover a hut with stacked firewood together with a note saying that the wood is for them but that they should approach cautiously. Shortly after the steamer has taken on the firewood it is surrounded by a dense fog. When the fog clears, the ship is attacked by an unseen band of natives, who shoot arrows from the safety of the forest, killing one of the crew. When they later reach Kurtz's station, they are met by a Russian trader who assures them that everything is fine and informs them that he is the one who left the wood and the note. They find that Kurtz has made himself into providence with the natives and has led brutal raids in the surrounding territory in search of ivory.
Marlow and his crew take the ailing Kurtz aboard their ship and depart. Kurtz is lodged in Marlow's pilothouse and Marlow begins to see that Kurtz is every bit as grandiose as previously described. However, Marlow finds himself disappointed with Kurtz's childish schemes for fame and fortune. During this time, Kurtz gives Marlow a collection of papers and a photograph for safekeeping; both had witnessed the manager going through Kurtz's belongings. The photograph is of a beautiful woman whom Marlow assumes is Kurtz's love interest, or, as Marlow calls her, "his intended."
One night Marlow happens upon Kurtz, obviously near death. As Marlow comes closer with a candle, Kurtz seems to experience a moment of clarity and speaks his last words: "The horror! The horror!" Marlow believes this to be Kurtz's reflection on the events of his life. Marlow does not inform the manager or any of the other voyagers of Kurtz's death; the news is instead broken by the manager's child-servant.
Marlow later returns to his home city and is confronted by many people seeking things and ideas of Kurtz. Marlow meets Kurtz's fiancée about a year later; she is still in mourning. When she asks him about Kurtz's death, Marlow tells her that his last words were her name, and not "the horror! the horror!"
The story concludes back on the boat on the Thames, with a description of how the river seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.
He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision—he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath—"The horror! The horror!"
– Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
T. S. Eliot's use of a quotation from The Heart of Darkness—"Mistah Kurtz, he dead"—as an epigraph to the original manuscript of his poem The Hollow Men contrasted its dark horror with the presumed "light of civilization," and suggested the ambiguity of both the dark motives of civilization and the freedom of barbarism, as well as the "spiritual darkness" of several characters in Heart of Darkness. This sense of darkness also lends itself to a related theme of obscurity—again, in various senses, reflecting the ambiguities in the work. Morality is ambiguous, that which is traditionally placed on the side of "light" is in darkness and vice versa.

People gathered in the forest, at the passage of the steamboat “Roi des Belges” (“King of the Belgians”) in 1888. [4]
Africa was known as "The Dark Continent" in the Victorian Era with all the negative connotations attributed to Africans by many of the British. One of the possible influences for the Kurtz character was Henry Morton Stanley of "Dr. Livingstone, I presume" fame, as he was a principal explorer of "The Dark Heart of Africa", particularly the Congo. Stanley was supposedly infamous for his violence against his porters while in Africa, although records indicate this was perhaps an exaggeration[5] and he was later honoured with a knighthood. An agent Conrad met when travelling in the Congo, Georges-Antoine Klein, could also have served as a model for Kurtz (in German klein means "small" and kurz means "short"). Klein died aboard Conrad's steamer and was interred along the Congo, much like Kurtz in the novel.[6] Among the people Conrad may have encountered on his journey was a trader called Leon Rom, who was later named chief of the Stanley Falls Station. In 1895, a British traveller reported that Rom had decorated his flower-bed with the skulls of some twenty-one victims of his displeasure (including women and children) resembling the posts of Kurtz's Station.[7]
Duality of human nature
But theory is one thing, practice is another. Idealism, which has a Utopian quality, is inappropriate in a world where corrupt interests abound and where there are many who go on all fours. The last sentence in the report, an added footnote--"Exterminate all the brutes"--refers us to the dark other side of his personality, "the soul satiated with primitive emotions"; it shows a descent and that his "civilizer's" concern for the distressed savages has turned to hatred. Of particular relevance is the significance of the portrait he has painted, the blindfolded torchbearer against the black background which could suggest (among other things) the simplicity of the ideal and the complexity of reality, the illusion of light and the truth of darkness. The monstrous prevails and the human and artistic potential miscarries. There is a downward tug in Kurtz's involvement with the wilderness and he descends into a brute existence. He is reduced to madness and his aggressive impulses take control of him.
In conclusion, Kurtz, no less than other neo-primitives, is an evolutionary throwback, the "man-that-was" (Dracula 231). He is an exemplification of the duality of human nature, of how darkness is a component of light, and when it prevails, brings anarchy and corruption of others as well as self. Appropriately, he ends up ignominiously: "Suddenly the manager's boy probably burlesquing the manager~ put his insolent black head in the doorway, and said in a tone of scathing contempt: 'Mistah Kurtz--he dead'" (71). Jung's definition of the "experience that furnishes the material for artistic expression" could well apply to Heart of Darkness and to each of the other novels: "It is something strange that derives its existence from the hinterland of man's mind, as if it had emerged from the abyss of prehuman ages, or from a superhuman world of contrasting light and darkness. It is a primordial experience which surpasses man's understanding and to which in his weakness he may easily succumb".
To emphasize the theme of darkness within mankind,[8] Marlow's narration takes place on a yawl in the Thames tidal estuary. Early in the novella, Marlow recounts how London, the largest, most populous and wealthiest city in the world, was a dark place in Roman times. The idea that the Romans conquered the savage Britons parallels Conrad's tale of the Belgians conquering the savage Africans. The theme of darkness lurking beneath the surface of even "civilized" persons appears prominently and is explored in the character of Kurtz and through Marlow's passing sense of understanding with the Africans.
Kurtz embodies all forms of an urge to be more or less than human. His writings show in Marlow's view an "exotic Immensity ruled by an august Benevolence" and they appeal to "every altruistic sentiment." His predisposition for benevolence is clear in the statement "We whites...must necessarily appear to them [savages] in the nature of supernatural beings....By the simple exercise of our will we can exert a power for good practically unbounded". The Central Station manager quotes Kurtz, the exemplar: "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". Kurtz's inexperienced, scientific self in the fiery report is alive with the possibility of the cultivation and conversion of the savages. He would have subscribed to Moreau's proposition that "a pig may be educated".[8]
Themes developed in the novella's later scenes include the naïveté of Europeans (particularly women) regarding the various forms of darkness in the Congo; the British traders and Belgian colonialists' abuse of the natives and man's potential for duplicity.[10] The symbolism in the book expands on these as a struggle between goodand evil (light and darkness), not so much between people as in every major character'ssoul.
In a post-colonial reading, the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, author of Things Fall Apart, famously criticized Heart of Darkness in his 1975 lecture An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's "Heart of Darkness", saying the novella de-humanized Africans, denied them language and culture and reduced them to a metaphorical extension of the dark and dangerous jungle into which the Europeans venture. Achebe's lecture prompted a lively debate, reactions at the time ranged from dismay and outrage—Achebe recounted a Professor Emeritus from the University of Massachusetts saying to Achebe after the lecture, "How dare you upset everything we have taught, everything we teach? Heart of Darkness is the most widely taught text in the university in this country. So how dare you say it's different?"[11]—to support for Achebe's view—"I now realize that I had never really read Heart of Darkness although I have taught it for years,"[12] one professor told Achebe. Other critiques include Hugh Curtler's Achebe on Conrad: Racism and Greatness in Heart of Darkness (1997).[13]
In King Leopold's Ghost (1998), Adam Hochschild argues that literary scholars have made too much of the psychological aspects of Heart of Darkness while scanting the horror of Conrad's accurate recounting of the methods and effects of colonialism. He quotes Conrad as saying, "Heart of Darkness is experience ... pushed a little (and only very little) beyond the actual facts of the case."[14]