Colonialism and Darkness Essay

Submitted By yummypig
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Pages: 7

CONRAD Heart of Darkness; KIPLING Beyond the Pale (Plain Tales from the Hills)
Writing in the latter part of the nineteenth century, Heart of Darkness and Beyond the Pale (Plain Tales from the Hills) were published in Blackwood’s Magazine for an implicitly colonial and masculine readership.1 Both writers draw upon autobiographical experience, with Conrad employing his 1889 experience as a sailor in the Belgian Congo, and Kipling his six year childhood and adult return to British India. The two writers demonstrate distinct philosophies and styles, and the extent to which this is manifest shall be the centre of this essay’s debate. While RASKIN contends a fundamental dissimilarity between the two2, contemporary critics such as SYMONS frequently reviewed the writers together, famously Captain Courageous and Nigger of the Narcissus.3 This essay examines the two works within three frames of reference: a) the purpose of the work; b) narrative technique; and c) imagery and symbolism. It will demonstrate that Conrad and Kipling promote fundamentally distinct views towards the Scramble for Africa- the Pole criticises the colonial project itself, while the British Imperialist criticises its implementation. Nonetheless, upon close examination the writers cannot be labelled as wholly dissimilar to the extent argued by RASKIN, as both warn against the integration of White Man into the Native community and question the authenticity of fiction itself.
While Heart of Darkness refers prima facie to the impenetrable jungle at the heart of the ‘dark continent’4, it alludes also to the darkest side of human nature, seen in the brutal colonists and ivory traders. YALE SCHOLARSHIP proposes it matters little whether the novella is ‘set in Africa, Chipping Ongar or Baden Baden’.5 The fact that Africa and Congo are never named, instead referred to as ‘some ghastly nowhere’, supports the notion of the novella’s transferability, and Conrad himself remarked, ‘people read me [not for subject matter], but the effect my work produces’.6 ATTELL disagrees. To strip the novella of all its context demonstrates great ignorance.7 Heart of Darkness at its core offers a scathing critique of the ‘horrors’ of nineteenth century colonialism (examined further below), and Conrad’s sailor experiences in the Colonies suggest the subject choice quite deliberate. The balanced and convincing view is that the novella is both philosophical and historical, whereby the problems of colonial domination are used to expose deeper philosophical implications.
Similarly, the title Beyond the Pale purports a deeper meaning and refers to the uncivilised Irish population of the fourteenth century, who lay beyond the boundaries of English control in Greater Dublin, ‘The Pale’. Kipling hereby grounds the story upon critical undertones of colonialism and notions of separatism between the Colonist and Native. Beyond the Pale distinguishes itself from Heart of Darkness as it is a moral fable in nature rather than mere philosophical exploration. The opening two paragraphs warn to observe correct behavioural codes, whereby ‘White go to White and Black to Black’. However, this moral message of separatism is riddled with ambivalence, arguably stemming from Kipling’s deep-rooted affinity with India, having lived there as a child until the age of six.8 The division between the White and Native is qualified by the Hindu proverb, which acknowledges the potency of love, and the delivery of the crucial moral punishment seems hesitant, with Trejago receiving a cautiously described ‘slight stiffness’. Thus, Beyond the Pale and Heart of Darkness are distinct in their philosophical aims, but not to the extent critics presume.
In Heart of Darkness, the narrative frame imbues the novella with a universal, parable-like quality. Pervasive in medieval tale-telling of CHAUCER and BOCCACCIO, Conrad transforms the technique to enable the narrators to be distant observers of events. The…