Heart of Darkness Blog Question; What Does “the Other” Reveal about Europe?

In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Conrad explores British and Belgian imperialism in Africa through Marlow’s narrative of his exploration. The treatment of the “other” in the novel often frightens the contemporary reader. Conrad’s vivid description of African people reveals something about Marlow, and maybe Conrad himself.

My main question is this: what does Conrad’s treatment of the “other” in the novel reveal about Europe? We held similar discussions to this when we read Dracula – do you see any parallels in Dracula and Heart of Darkness with how they discuss the “other”? How does this affect our relationship with the text?

3 Replies to “Heart of Darkness Blog Question; What Does “the Other” Reveal about Europe?”

  1. I think there are a ton of parallels between both Dracula and Heart of Darkness, specifically in how the other is treated. Both portray the other as a monstrous being/beings that are from the unknown. Dracula is found in a far away land in his gothic castle where Johnathan Harker experiences evil nightmares about vampires. Heart of Darkness follows a main character through there journey to an unknown world filled with”black beasts” and a jungle that continuously gets uneasy. In both situations the world where the main character is visiting is a world that is new to them, and they are the outsider (other). The ironic part is that in terms of the stories the beings/creatures in these world are classified as the others. There is also the English connection, where both showcase the ultimate power of English power, culture, and technology. I believe that not just Conrad’s story but also Stoker’s reveal that Europe is not and can not be explained as the other, but everything outside of its boundaries is that “other”. European culture is so prevalent, especially European colonizations and imperialism. One example being when maps are used in each text. Dracula uses an atlas at the beginning of Dracula to pinpoint his invasion on English society. Then in Heart of Darkness the narrator references a map on a table that uses colors to show the colonial boundaries by nations in Africa. There is a direct connection in each.

  2. In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, European whiteness is seen as a badge of honor, this can be seen in Brom Stoker’s Dracula as well. Jonathan Harker prides himself as an Englishman just as Marlow does. They both like order and structure in their everyday lives. They believe that they thrive from the efficiency of the European lifestyle. Thus creating extreme problems for both characters when they are subjected to the “other’s” environment. The other’s environment completely throws off both Jonathan Harker and Marlow; they are separated from their European way of life and struggle to adapt to their strange surroundings. I think it is interesting to look at the similarities of how the other is described. Both texts use animalistic categorization to define the others appearances. In Heart of Darkness, Africans are described in the same way animals and nature are. The Africans are spoken about with almost no differences than the bushes and trees of the landscape, “Black shapes crouched, lay, sat between the trees leaning against the trunks, clinging to the earth,” (Conrad). To me, there is not much distinction between the human and the environment that is described. The “Black shapes” are given almost no humanity, they are just apart of the landscape. The other is treated as less than humans in Heart of darkness, they are seen as prehistoric and subhuman. This prehistoric aspect can be loosely connected to Dracula. Dracula was ingrained with the older ways of life, the rest of the world moved forward while he remained in the past. His books were not up to date and his knowledge of the European ways was lacking as well. Furthermore, Dracula and vampires are seen as a beast, the same thing is said about the cannibals in Heart of Darkness. The other is so different and so primitive they have no problem with eating their humans. Almost nothing else can further separate people from beasts than the restraint of cannibalism. Conrad treats the other more as people from the wrong side of the fence. They are people that are less than European people who display prehistoric actions. The other does not have a language which further connects them more so to animals than regular humans. They are described as creatures and beings and not people. Lastly, they are not really useful unless they have been converted towards the European needs and wants; such as the woman who was forced into making the Accountant’s clothes or the helmsman who was killed in the attack.

  3. It quickly becomes apparent that there are very strong parallels between Heart of Darkness and Dracula. One parallel that may be of interest is the recurrence of the theme of defeating an “other” using certain techniques that only the “civilized” have. In Dracula there was a focus on modernity and technology in the characters quest to defeat Dracula(and his “empire”), whereas in Heart of Darkness there is an emphasis on efficiency in order to build up their own empire. In both stories the “others” are not depicted as being normal or acceptable in societal standards. Both others are described as appearing to have legitimate health issues that make them in the mind of the reader as a negative thing to be an “other.”

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