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Postcolonial Theory and Heart of Darkness

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Megan Blackwell

on 12 December 2015

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Transcript of Postcolonial Theory and Heart of Darkness

Postcolonial Theory
Chapman (2006) describes several elements of postcolonial theory:
Deconstruction of Western perspectives as reality
A way for people to criticize imperialist societies they are part of
Colonized peoples’ longing for independence and their inability to gain it
Karl Marx’s idea that the disadvantaged are in a better position to judge society as a whole

Postcolonial Theory
“The whole point of what Kurtz and Marlow talk about is in fact imperial mastery, white European over black Africans, and their ivory, civilization over the primitive dark continent. By accentuating the discrepancy between the official “idea” of empire and the remarkably disorienting actuality of Africa, Marlow unsettles the reader’s sense not only of the very idea of empire, but of something more basic, reality itself. For if Conrad can show that all human activity depends on controlling a radically unstable reality to which words approximate only by will or convention, the same is true of empire, of venerating the idea, and so forth” (Said 428).

Joseph Conrad
Conrad was born Józef Korzeniowski in 1857 to a Polish family in what is now Ukraine.
As a young man, Conrad sailed with French ships. He also served in the British navy for 16 years.
Conrad sailed to the Congo in late 1890, where he stayed for four months.
In between his many voyages, Conrad lived in Britain.

Postcolonial Theory
“Yet underlying Marlow’s inconclusiveness, his evasions, his arabesque meditations on his feelings and ideas, is the unrelenting course of the journey itself, which, despite all the many obstacles, is sustained through the jungle, through time, through hardship, to the heart of it all, Kurtz’s ivory-trading empire. Conrad wants us to see how Kurtz’s great looting adventure, Marlow’s journey up the river, and the narrative itself all share a common theme: Europeans performing acts of imperial mastery and will in (or about) Africa” (Said 424).
To understand Conrad’s use of imperialism in the novel, you need to know a few things about him.

Postcolonial Theory
Postcolonial theory is all about power -in particular, the power of colonizers over colonized peoples.
Joseph Conrad uses
Heart of Darkness
to condemn imperialism.
Postcolonial Theory and Heart of Darkness
by Megan Blackwell
Edward W. Said
Said was a literary theorist and a professor at Columbia University. He is credited as one of the founders of postcolonial theory.
Said was born in Jerusalem in 1935, when the city was under British control. His father was American.
Said spent time in both the U.S. and Egypt during his childhood and teen years.

Edward W. Said
Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography
was published in 1966.
Like Conrad, Said had traveled the world and did not see himself as fully British.
, published in 1978, is Said's best-known work. It deals with Western perspectives on Eastern cultures.
Author of "Two Visions in Heart of Darkness"
Said's Two Visions
The West ultimately conquers foreign lands.
Colonization of these places is temporary; the ideology instilled in conquered territory is permanent.
Imperialism dies out.
"[Conrad] permits his later readers to imagine something other than an Africa carved up into dozens of European colonies, even if, for his own part, he had little notion of what that Africa might be" (Said 426-427).
Conrad's Perspective
"Conrad's realization is that if, like narrative, imperialism has monopolized the entire system of representation - which in the case of
Heart of Darkness
allowed it to speak for Africans as well as for Kurtz and the other adventurers, including Marlow and his audience - your self-consciousness as an outsider can allow you actively to comprehend how the machine works, given that you and it are fundamentally not in perfect synchrony or correspondence.
Never the wholly incorporated and fully acculturated Englishman, Conrad therefore preserved an ironic distance in each of his works
" (Said 425-426).
Conrad's Perspective
While Conrad may not have a fully British perspective, nor does he have a fully African one. He is still a white European who has never been subjected to colonization.
Heart of Darkness
's primary narrator, Marlow, is a carefully constructed character.
Marlow's attitudes about Africa and devotion to Kurtz are extreme. He serves as a caricature representing imperialist ideas.

Marlow's importance in the narrative leads us to incorporate...
Heart of Darkness
as presented to the reader is a story told in Europe, by a European...about another European in Africa.
The entire story is about Kurtz, although we never hear directly from Kurtz himself. We have to rely on others' accounts and perceptions of Kurtz.
Our inability to know Kurtz's story in its entirety reflects colonizers' inability to fully understand the people and lands they colonize. No one knows what Kurtz really saw take place in Africa.

Imperialism is highlighted by economics
Most of Marlow's audience on the Nellie are businessmen.
In Africa, the Company's primary concern is the ivory the continent provides.
"The business of empire, once an adventurous and often individualistic enterprise, [has] become the empire of business" (Said 424).
"Third World" Texts
Carey-Webb (1998) suggests that works about Africa can help us better understand the lives of the colonized.
Chinua Achebe's
Things Fall Apart
Cheikh Hamidou Kane's
Ambiguous Adventue
Edgar Rice Burroughs'
Tarzan of the Apes
Paired with
Heart of Darkness,
these texts fill in the gaps left by Conrad.
Where does race fit in?
Conrad is not an overt racist,
his ideas about race are pretty standard for his time.
European ideals still said that Europeans were more intelligent and more civilized than the Africans they colonized.
Conrad does not condemn racism with the same force that he denounces imperialism.
Gender and Imperialism
The Intended represents the colonizers, who are separated from the colonized.
Marlow tries to save the Intended's feelings by lying to her about Kurtz. This reflects colonizers' attitude that colonization is ultimately for the benefit of the conquered.

Gender and Imperialism
The African mistresss is portrayed as savage and primitive.
She is never given the ability to speak, much as imperialized peoples do not have a voice in the imperialist system.
"The horror!"
Kurtz's unnamed horror may be imperialism itself.
Said states in
Culture and Imperialism
that Conrad condemns imperialism, but fails to offer any solutions to the imperialist system (Atkinson).
Conrad's criticism of imperialism seems particularly hostile toward French colonizers.
Setting - the Thames
"In the offing the sea and sky were welded together without a joint and in the luminous space the tanned sails of the barges drifting up the tide seemed to stand still in red clusters of canvas, sharply peaked with gleams of varnished spirits. 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 seem condensed into a mournful gloom brooding motionless over the biggest, and the greatest, town on earth" (Conrad 3).
Setting - the Thames
“The old river in its broad reach rested unruffled at the decline of day after ages of good service done to the race that peopled its banks, spread out in the tranquil dignity of a waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth. We looked at the venerable stream not in the vivid flush of a short day that comes and departs for ever but in the august light of abiding memories. And indeed nothing is easier for a man who has, as the phrase goes, “followed the sea” with reverence and affection, than to evoke the great spirit of the past upon the lower reaches of the Thames” (Conrad 4).

Setting - the Congo
“It had ceased to be a blank space of delightful mystery—a white patch for a boy to dream gloriously over. It had become a place of darkness. But there was in it one river especially, a mighty big river that you could see on the map, resembling an immense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at rest curving afar over a vast country and its tail lost in the depths of the land. And as I looked at the map of it in a shop-window it fascinated me as a snake would a bird—a silly little bird” (Conrad 8).

Setting - the Congo
“Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest. The air was warm, thick, heavy, sluggish. There was no joy in the brilliance of sunshine…you lost your way on that river as you would in a desert, and butted all day long against shoals, trying to find the channel, till you thought yourself bewitched and cut off for ever from everything you had known once—somewhere—far away—in another existence perhaps” (Conrad 33-34).

Why is setting important?
The Thames described by the narrator and the Congo River described by Marlow exist in two different worlds.
The Thames the narrator describes is ethereal; the river Marlow describes is dark and heavy.
Marlow says that the Thames was once a dark place, implying that the Africa of the novel is less developed than Europe.
In theory, imperialism champions development in “undeveloped” places. In
Heart of Darkness
, the results of this development are disastrous. Conrad says the places Europeans consider “undeveloped” are better left alone.

Heart of Darkness
was originally published in
Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine
. It was released in three parts in February, March, and April of 1899.
was not a widely read magazine, but many of those who did read it were wealthy.
Many of the publications in Blackwood’s were by anonymous authors; Conrad still chose to attach his name to Heart of Darkness
Conrad actively targeted his intended audience with his anti-imperialist message.

Works Cited
“Analysis: Setting.” Shmoop. n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2015
Atkinson, William. “Bound in Blackwood’s: The Imperialism of ‘Heart of Darkness’ in Its Immediate Context.” Twentieth Century Literature. 50.4 (2004): 368-393. Web.
Carey-Webb, Allen. “Heart of Darkness, Tarzan, and the 'Third World': Canons and Encounters in World Literature.” College Literature. 19-20.3-1 (1992). Web.
Chapman, Michael. “Postcolonialism: A Literary Turn.” English in Africa. 33.2 (2006): 7. Web.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Ed. Paul B. Armstrong. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2005. Print.
“Edward W. Said Biography.” Encyclopedia of World Biography. n.d. Web. 23 Nov. 2015.
Encyclopaedia Britannica Editors. “Joseph Conrad.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. n.d. Web. 23 Nov. 2015
Said, Edward W. “Two Visions in Heart of Darkness.” Heart of Darkness: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Contexts, Criticism. Ed. Paul B. Armstrong. New York: W. W. Norton, 2006. 422-429. Print.

Works Cited - Images
Albert, Antoun. Portrait of Edward Said. 2009. Photograph. Wikipedia.
Ambiguous Adventure. 2012. Photograph. Wordpress.
Blackwood’s Magazine. 2009. Photograph. Uppsala University.
Bridal Dress Clip Art. Clipart Panda.
Coburn, Alvin Langdon. Joseph Conrad. 1916. Photograph. Getty Images.
Lot 3: Antique Elephant Ivory Tusk. n.d. Photograph. Case Antiques.
Things Fall Apart. Goodreads. n.d.
Tarzan of the Apes in Color. 1914. Wikimedia Commons.
Middendorf, Erin. Kurtz’s African Mistress. 2006. Blogspot.
The Thames. 1872. Illustration. L’illustration Européenne.
Meander of the Congo in Salonga National Park. 2007. Softpedia.
Blackwood’s Magazine. 2009. Photograph. Uppsala University.
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