Tag Archives: Bratlinger

Ambiguous Darkness

25 Jan

“Africa is to Europe as the picture is to Dorian Gray – a carrier onto whom the master unloads his physical and moral deformities so that he may go forward, erect and immaculate. Consequently Africa is something to be avoided just as the picture has to be hidden away to safeguard the man’s jeopardous integrity. Keep away from Africa, or else!” (Achebe 7)


Although I agree more with Brantlinger’s view of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, I found Achebe’s argument to give some interesting points. Especially his comparison of Dorian Gray to what he believes Conrad’s Africa to be. You’ve probably all read Dorian Gray, or at least know the basic story line. If Africa is like the picture, slowly decaying while Europe strengthens, then Conrad’s message in his novel would definitely be “keep away from Africa” because that is the hiding place to Europe’s own shortcomings (if I’m understanding this correctly). But then Europe can only improve if Africa deteriorates. Is that really the message Conrad is giving? I believe Conrad to be much more ambiguous in his message to his readers; he is not telling us what to believe or how to view Europe or Africa. We take what he gives us and make our own evaluations. As Brantlinger states, “At what point is it safe to assume that Conrad/Marlow expresses a single point of view? And even supposing Marlow to speak directly for Conrad, does Conrad/Marlow agree with the values expressed by primary narrator?” (Epilogue 2). Achebe seems to think Conrad’s novella is straight forward – black and white. However, not only does the distancing narration make this idea problematic, but also the characterization of Kurtz complicates this; he lives in the middle of black and white, quite literally in fact. Brantlinger discusses Kurtz as divided between two desires: to change/correct the ‘savages’ or identify with them. He states, “Kurtz is a product of this painful division. Yet not even Marlow sees Kurtz’s going native as a step toward the recovery of a lost paradise; it is instead a fall into hell, into the darkness of self-disintegration.” Kurtz has lost himself in this split. He has both a life with a ‘savage’ woman and a life with a European woman. If the ‘idea’ of colonialism (that Conrad discusses on page 4) is development and progress of (possibly) both Europe and Africa, then can Kurtz be seen as the embodiment of this idea? Does Kurtz’ death symbolize the death of progress in colonialism or at least the death of the redeemable quality of this idea? Even if this might not be the case, I think it’s safe to say that Brantlinger is correct is saying, “Ambiguity, perhaps the main form of darkness in the story, prevails.”