Wednesday, June 10, 2020
The Binary of Orientalism in Heart of Darkness - Literature Essay Samples
Constructing a narrative to impose order on an unfamiliar idea or place is a natural human impulse. Designed to change ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"Raw realitiesfrom free-floating objects into units of knowledgeÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? (Said 67), narratives about the strange, the ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"unreal,ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? and the newly discovered inevitably arise. Equally inevitable is that fact that these narratives ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ theories, novels, descriptions, or whatever form they take ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ are nestled in a historical, political, and social discourse that their texts cannot transcend. An important question in engaging a narrative, then, is not only what the text intends to say, but how this intention is said. Joseph ConradÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃâ¢s Heart of Darkness is a particularly suitable novel to undergo this type of questioning. ConradÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃâ¢s classic novel is often praised as a text that worked against the imperialistic no tions that pervaded the time of its writing. Upon closer reading, however, one can see that how the text formulates its ideas relies less on an anti-imperialist sentiment and more on Edward SaidÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃâ¢s notion of a binary system of ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"usÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? and ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"them;ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? of West and East. Indeed, as Conrad constructs his narrative, he also constructs an unavoidably Western view, pitting the known against the unknown, the impenetrable against the ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"real,ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? and ultimately creating a binary positioning of the African ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"nativesÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? and the Europeans who inhabit their country.ConradÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃâ¢s novel does not rely on any third person narration. Rather, almost the whole of the tale is framed by a character, Marlow, who is himself constructing a narrative. Thus, almost as soon as the seaman begins to tel l the tale of his journey into the heart of Africa, the reader can expect to hear about his experience through a lens of displacement: MarlowÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃâ¢s story is not only constructed to make sense of his journey, but also to ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"locate himselfÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? (Said 20), ideologically, vis-a-vis the Africa that he journeys through. In other words, by virtue of the narratorÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃâ¢s nature, the kind of ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"basic distinction between East and WestÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? (Said 2) manifests itself not only in the physical experience of MarlowÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃâ¢s journey, but also the ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"style of thoughtÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? (Said 2) in and through which the journey is told. The incident in the novel that most clearly conflates these physical and ideological points of view occurs early in MarlowÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃâ¢s adventures, when he enters the office building of h is future employers. On the map in the waiting room, he tells us, ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"was a vast amount of red ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ good to see at any time, because one knows that some real work is done therea purple patch, to show where the jolly pioneers of progress drink the jolly lager-beerI was going into the yellow. Dead in the centreÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? (Conrad 74). Most of this description on MarlowÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃâ¢s part is clearly tongue-in-cheek; the ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"jolly pioneers of progressÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? are victims of the seamanÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃâ¢s skepticism towards the motives of his fellow adventurers and imperialism in general. Nonetheless, underlying MarlowÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃâ¢s comments there are hints of what Said refers to as an ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"imaginative geographyÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? (55), an ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"accepted grid for filteringÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? (6) Africa, the strange or unknown space, into the consciousness of the Europeans traveling there. While we do not know what exactly the color boundaries stand for, we know that the distinctions are given in terms of the Europeans and their occupation of the continent: red and purple territories seem to be controlled by either a European nation or MarlowÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃâ¢s company specifically. This kind of positional superiority can at first seem to be undermined by the fact that Marlow is going to a place ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"dead in the centreÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? (Conrad 74), a spot physically and ideologically reserved for the West (Anderson 173-5). Reading on, however, we see that the center to which Marlow travels does not resemble the center-periphery structure that is usually employed: the yellow region is ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"fascinating ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ deadly ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ like a snakeÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? (Conrad 74). It is clearly not a European center, but one which, for Marlow, holds all the lure of the Orient that Said describes: exotic, dangerous, and perhaps most importantly, unknown.To know this sometimes dangerous unknown ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ indeed, to have more knowledge of it than its very inhabitants ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ is necessary for constructing a European view of dominance (Said 32). Knowledge and power are thus irrevocably intertwined: to know a place is to know exactly what is good for it and its populace, to be more civilized, to be superior. Conversely, then, the native population of such a place can only be backwards, inferior, ignorant. One can sense traces of this in MarlowÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃâ¢s journey along the snake-like river, as he describes ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"the smell of mud, of primeval mudthe high stillness of primeval forestÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? (Conrad 96). The river and forest themselves are placed at the dawn of time; by inference, the inhabitants are no more advanced. Indeed, this attitude can be s een even more explicitly in MarlowÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃâ¢s description of the cannibal group which he commands: ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"I donÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃâ¢t think a single one of them had any clear idea of time, as we at the end of countless ages have. They still belonged to the beginnings of time ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ had no inheritance to teach them as it wereÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? (Conrad 115). Just as the map in the office placed the African people in relation to the European imperialists spatially, here Marlow places them temporally, again with the Europeans in the obviously dominant position. Notice, too, that Marlow uses no proper nouns, such as ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"EuropeansÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? or ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"AfricansÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? when describing this temporal difference. Instead, he uses the more vague ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"theyÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? and ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"we.ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? Despite the use of th e less specific pronouns, the reader knows exactly who he is speaking of and for: by employing ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"we,ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? he is representing the West, and ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"they,ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? the other, the native population in general.Furthermore, in MarlowÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃâ¢s wilderness, as in SaidÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃâ¢s description of the Orient, knowledge does not only imply power, but also possession (Said 34-5). Through the seaman, who does not crave power, we see this in an opposite way: the African jungle is constantly being referred to as ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"impenetrableÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? and therefore ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"unrealÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? (Conrad 93). Marlow struggles with this concept of the impenetrable throughout his travels: even his stay in the less remote station before heading into the jungle prompts an exclamation of ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"IÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃâ¢ve never seen anything so unreal in my lifeÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? (Conrad 91). The only things that do seem real and reliable are those that can only be identified as Western to Marlow. When the seaman finds a nautical instruction book written by an Englishman, therefore, he is excited: ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"The simple old sailor, with his talk of chains and purchases, made me forget the junglein a delicious sensation of having come upon something unmistakably realÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? (Conrad 111).On the other hand, Kurtz, the agent for whom Marlow is searching, desires that knowledge and power that does not affect Marlow. Just as Said shows that British officials controlling the Egyptian government believed they ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"made EgyptÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? (35), Kurtz in a sense has ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"madeÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? the environment in which he lives ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ he practices native rituals, and the natives who surround his camp ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ" adore him,ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? believing that he is a god (Conrad 118). Kurtz undeniably knows the African tribe of the area and has power over them ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ thus, at least in his own mind, he is in possession of the place insofar as he can create the place itself. Kurtz effectively transforms everything around him into a possession: as Marlow describes, ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"You should have heard himmy ivory, my station, my rivereverything belonged to himÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? (Conrad 126). And, just as ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"all of Europe contributed to the making of KurtzÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? (Conrad 127), so does all of the Europe that underpins Heart of Darkness seem to contribute to the ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"making,ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? the representation, of Africa.Such a representation must necessarily include a description of the African people. According to SaidÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃâ¢s study of Orientalism, what stems from the Western spatial and temporal placement of its colonies (as seen in the map and MarlowÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃâ¢s comments above) is a hierarchical system of ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"representative figures, or tropesÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? (71). In other words, what we as readers can expect is a ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"typicalÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? and general (Said 6) native representation, one which ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"polarize[s] the distinctionÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? (Said 46) between the West and the rest. This overarching, general representation is, in fact, what one finds in ConradÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃâ¢s novel. Indeed, there is another binary positioning here: the reader hardly gets any specific descriptions of the Africans at all, while the white characters are often described in detail. The companyÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃâ¢s chief accountant, according to Marlow, is ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"a sort of visionÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? with ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"white cuffs, a ligh t alpaca jacket, snowy trousers, a clean necktie, and varnished boots. He was amazing, and had a penholder behind his earÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? (Conrad 84). Not two paragraphs later, we get our first description of the African natives: ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"Strings of dusty niggers with splay feet arrived and departedÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? (Conrad 85). Most of the descriptions of the Africans are in such plurals: ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"streams of human beings ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ of naked human beingsÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬with spears in their handswith wild glances and savage movements, were poured into the clearingÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? (Conrad 140). And, while Marlow recognizes that these natives ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"were not inhumanÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? (Conrad 108), he nonetheless shudders at ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"the thought of their humanity ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ like yoursÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? (108).A notable departure from the pluralizing of the African natives occurs in the descriptions of two of MarlowÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃâ¢s workers: one who steers the ship, and the other who keeps the boiler running. As Said asserts, to the imperial West, eastern colonies are ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"useful in the modern world only because the powerful and up-to-date empires have brought them outof their declineÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? (35). Such a principle can be applied to the apparent singling out of these two African men: both are described because, in MarlowÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃâ¢s opinion, they are useful. Marlow, in giving special consideration to the death of his African helmsman, starts with a disclaimer: ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"Perhaps you will think it passing strange this regret for a savage who was no more account than a grain of sand in a black SaharaÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? (Conrad 128). In spite of this, however, Marlow ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"missed himÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? because ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"he had done somethingf or months I had him at my back ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ a help ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ an instrumentÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? (129). For the shipÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃâ¢s boiler worker, this point of utility is even more explicit. He is the first African man who is described individually, but his description is related only to his use: ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"He was an improved specimenHe was useful because he had been instructedÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? (Conrad 109-10).A third departure from the generalization of a ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"black SaharaÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? comes conspicuously in the depiction of the African woman who is connected with Kurtz. She is described in rich detail: ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"draped in striped and fringed cloths, treading the earth proudlyShe was savage and superb, wild-eyed and magnificentÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? (Conrad 142). This portrayal differs strikingly from MarlowÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃâ¢s representation of the white women he encounters, all o f whom are delicate and fair, and ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"live in a world all their ownIt is too beautiful altogetherÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? (Conrad 77). The seamanÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃâ¢s attitude about women aside, the striking difference between these two portraits is the outright sensuality that the African woman radiates. Even KurtzÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃâ¢s ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"Intended,ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? the other woman who figures significantly in MarlowÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃâ¢s narrative, is only virginal and dainty compared to the voluptuousness of the African native. Here again, we can invoke SaidÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃâ¢s idea of a ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"vocabularyÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? of the Orient and of a polarization of European and non-European. Africa is depicted through this woman, as in MarlowÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃâ¢s description of the map, as alluring and dangerous, with ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"revolting sensualityÃÆ'Ã ¢Ãâ Ãâ¬? (Said 69) ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ everything MarlowÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃâ¢s Intended, the European woman, is not.The construction of any narrative is unavoidably steeped in its contemporary social and political background; MarlowÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃâ¢s story, and Joseph ConradÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃâ¢s, for that matter, are no exception. In Heart of Darkness, the reader inescapably views MarlowÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃâ¢s world through Marlow ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ that is, though a Western lens. And it is through this lens that one often sees the creation of a ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"WesternÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? Africa, and the polarization of East and West that Said discusses. MarlowÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃâ¢s depiction of the colonial African map emphasizes this binary spatially; his description of the native intellect emphasizes it temporally; and both his general and specific portraits of the African inhabitants clearly marks the great distance between ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"usÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? and ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"them.ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? While Heart of Darkness can certainly (and correctly) be praised for its anti-imperialist sentiments, we must remember that any work is tinged with the social discourses of its time ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ that Conrad himself could not help but, as Said warns, encounter the African colonies ÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬ÃâÃÅ"as a [Westerner] first, as an individual secondÃÆ'Ã ¢ÃâÃâ¬? (Said 11).Works CitedAnderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities. New York: Verso, 1991.Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness and The Secret Sharer. New York: Signet Classic, 1997.Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books, 1978.