The following are some ideas I typed up while trying to study for a mid-term exam, but I ran out of ideas. However, I think this is a good start for a loner paper:

In the 16th century, Copernicus decentered the earth. However, that was just the beginning of taking man’s narcissistic attitude away. Darwin discovered that human were not the divine creations of God but rather evolved through natural selection, and if that were not unsettling enough, Freud discovers that Humans do not have control over their own minds. With these discoveries, civilization was beginning to question the concept of an all caring God watching over humanity, and this was only excaberated when the first World War broke out. Civilization began to have fears that the sun would burn out and that the world was coing to an end, and they were beginning to think that there was no God to care.

This pessimism was seen before 1914, though, when Nietzsche declared the death of God in 1883. Nietzsche’s criticism extends beyond that of Christian morality and includes passionless atheism as well. Nietzsche was trying to convey that Christian morality no longer had a hold on Western culture; this attitude towards Christian values appears throughout modernist writing in Christian writers, such as Eliot (“The Waste Land”); in atheist writer’s, such as Conrad; and in agnostic writers, such as Yeats (“the Second Coming”). Modernist writers were dealing with this death of God (of Christain morality guiding Western attitudes about good and evil in their writings. I would argue that all the writers we have read are writing about this loss of spirituality and God in some way; furthermore, these writers are conveying how it is the spiritual Christians, imposing their morality, who have killed God, colonized people, and engaged in senseless war.

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness has a subtle critique of Western Christian values inferred behind the critique of imperialism. If God is supposed to be “the light,” then one can read Conrad’s darkness as the light of God that has gone out. In an inversion of Western values, darkness comes to native people when colonizers bring their light. The frame narrator of the story describes the explorers as, “bearers of a spark from the sacred fire” (67). As the story will show, most of these bearers of the sacred fire will use the fire to burn down the native civilization that is colonized.

There is a sense of Marlowe being equated to an inverse fallen Adam. Marlowe begins his story by stating how his experience can be seen as “…throw[ing] a kind of light on everything about [him]” (70). Knowledge is usually equated with light, but it is with knowledge that Adam is divorced from the light of God; in Marlowe’s case, this knowledge (that takes him out of Eden), actually makes him more ethical because he is now outside of the constrains, that is the demands, of bringing the scared fire to the “savages” who don’t know better. Marlowe’s light is the knowledge of the horrors of imperialism. To further extend this Adam/Marlowe metaphor, Marlowe is tempted by the river that looks like a snake that charms him. Marlowe’s “fall,” like Adams, is dependent on a charming snake. Tempted by the snake he goes to find knowledge, but Marlowe’s knowledge will be that the scared fire makes “civilized” men savages. In fact, Marlowe is equated with a Buddha, an eastern symbol of values. Furthermore, when Marlowe is at his aunt’s before leaving, he says that he was supposed to be an “emissary of light;” but then as he leaves his aunt’s with this knowledge, he says he feels himself an imposter (77). Marlowe feels like an imposter because he does not want to civilize “savages” by bringing them the light of God, but rather, he wants to, like a belated Adam, explore the darkness.

Marlowe foreshadows Kurtz at the beginning of his story when he describes the inland post of the jungle as “utter savagery.” But is it the jungle that is savage, or is it these inland posts, specifically, that are savage? That is to say, when man has to confront the rules of God without society to restrain him, man’s savagery is unleashed. In this case, it is not that “without God, all is permissible” but rather that “with God, all is permissible.” With God, man has rules he knows he is breaking, with God, man knows that all he has to do is ask for forgiveness, with God, man has a ready excuse for savagery: his savagery is a result of being away from God. This seems to be Kurtz’s excuse. This seems to be the excuse of England who sets up post in order to fulfill God’s plan “for humanizing, improving, [and] instructing” (104).

However, looking at the way the “civilized” act in comparison with the “savage,” one can infer that Conrad is commenting on the savagery of colonization, which in turn, is a critique of Christian morality. It is the European Christians who chain the savage people in a line by the neck, and which leads Marlowe to call the imperialist devils (82). Marlowe sees the horror of this treatment, and one gets a sense of Marlowe descending into a hell: “Instead of going up, I turned and descended to the left” (82), which appears to be a reference to Dante’s descent into hell (usually turning to the left), but this is a hell that has been created by the civilized Christians. This contrast is further seen in Conrad’s treatment of the cannibals. Unlike the Christians who treat the savages like animals, the cannibals (without God to tell them) know not to eat the crew of Marlowe’s ship, even though they are starving (115-116)).

Conrad uses Kurtz to epitomize European Christian values that lead to the death of God. Before Marlowe meets Kurtz, Kurtz is described as a special being. Furthermore, Marlowe describes Kurtz in language that sounds like someone trying to explain the story of God: Kurtz was “just a word,” Marlowe does not see the man in the name, Marlowe describes how it is impossible to convey the idea of Kurtz. Marlowe goes on to describe how Kurtz is present in his words, a gift only a God can have because words never have fully present meaning. For Kurtz, though, his ability to talk carried a real presence. Furthermore, in describing Kurtz, Marlowe says “All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz” (127). Although the office for the suppression of savage customs entrusted Kurtz to write a report on the savages, it is Kurtz, and his European-ness, that becomes a savage while the savages, without God, know right from wrong. The savages only become evil and begin to rob and kill each other when Kurtz takes over and sets himself up as a god.

It is in this inversion in which Marlowe, without God, and the savages, also without God, are the moral ones of the story. This is Conrad’s critique of Europe’s idea of God and Christian morality. It is this morality that leads to imperialism and treating “savages” like animals and leads to the First World War.

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