My interest in Joseph Conrad is centered around understanding what brought him to the Congo and how the events that transpired there influenced his attitudes in Heart of Darkness. I also wanted to gain a greater understanding of the historical events that led to the colonization of the Congo. This interest is basically grounded in the fact that prior to my exposure to Heart of Darkness and Things Fall Apart, I knew virtually nothing about what actually led to the colonization of the area.
It is my hope that through researching these areas I will have a deeper understanding of the two novels that focused on the Congo. In the article, “Post-colonial Literatures and Counter-discourse,” Helen Tiffin raises a number of issues in regards to the hybridization of the colonized and how European universals invariably clash with that of the native. From the very beginning of the article, Tiffin notes that there is a “call to arms” (so to speak) that encompasses the “demand for an entirely new or wholly recovered ‘reality,’ free from all colonial taint” (95).
This hope is idealistic, especially when evaluating the role that the English language plays in the lives of those who are colonized. Tiffin realizes this fact and views most post-colonial literature as a “counter-discursive” mode of expression that is highly involved in “challenging the notion of literary universality” (96). The most interesting challenge raised by this European universality is the fact that many post-colonial authors use English as the means to express or disassemble notions of these supposed commonly held mores, thereby creating a hybridized literature.
Tiffin notes that in a “canonical counter-discourse . . . [the] post-colonial writer . . . takes . . . basic assumptions of a British canonical text and unveils those assumptions” (97). This is clearly seen in Things Fall Apart where Chinua Achebe creates an environment that fully explores Ibo culture and often draws parallels between the European “universals” and the native traditions. By composing the novel in this way, Achebe succeeds in (as Tiffin so eloquently notes) deconstructing “assumptions from the cross-cultural standpoint of the imperially subjectified ‘local'” (98).
In other words, a hybrid voice evolves in a way that can be aligned with a distinct Minority Literature theme: by dismantling universal European values and using the English language to do so the colonized people are using the dominant cultures words and/or values against them to not only pick apart these values, but to hold a mirror up to what has been lost by the native people of a particular land. There is, however, a likelihood that there will be some level of recovery that begins to take place for the native as a result of this discourse, which is not addressed in Tiffin’s article.
Hopefully, through the hybrid that is created by these institutions, post-colonial literature can serve as a tool to give those who are colonized a voice in which to, not only express the obliteration of their traditional cultures, but also to begin a healing process whereby they can rebuild and preserve as much tradition as possible under the circumstances. Tiffin, Helen. “Post-colonial Literatures and Counter-discourse. ” The Post-colonial Studies Reader. Ed. Bill Ascroft et. al. London: Routledge, 1995. 95-98.
Website Review: Contemporary Post-colonial and Post-imperial Literature in English This website, created by George P. Landow of Brown University, serves as a comprehensive research tool that includes a startling number of articles, themes, and histories in reference to colonialism and post-colonialism. Not only are historical overviews available for virtually every nation colonized by the English, there are also sections available where students can research the various political situations, religions, and terms associated with colonialism and post-colonialism.
Furthermore, themes such as hybridity, orientalism, and orality are discussed in multiple articles. For example, the section on hybridity offers twelve papers on the topic. Even though many of the papers are written by students, my review of the website found that the various analysis’ were articulate, well-written, and well-documented. While this could be viewed as a negative facet of the site, Landow also includes writings from the faculty of universities from around the world and full bibliographies are available for each contribution.
Finally, a researcher can also perform research based on a particular country or author. For Chinua Achebe alone there sixteen various themes or concepts that can be explored. Under each theme, several articles or papers are available that relate in some way to Achebe’s works. Other than papers by students comprising much of the website, the shear magnitude of information available makes this site a must for those performing research on the internet about colonialism or post-colonialism. Landow, George P. Post-colonial and Post-imperial Literature in English. 995 http://landow. stg. brown. edu/post/misc/postov. html accessed 15 June 2001. Historical event: Early Colonization of the Congo To gain a greater understanding of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart a awareness of the historical backdrop of the Congo is necessary. Populations along the central Congo basin can be traced back from the middle of the Stone Age and by around A. D. 100, the area became increasingly settled because of the ability to farm yams, bananas and harvest palm oil.
Trading between the various tribes in the area became more common. The website, “History of the Republic of Congo” notes that the population growth and increase in trade played a large role in the “increasingly complex social and political organization among those peoples who dwelt in the savannas. ” These societies had complex social structures that typically were clan-like in nature, and those in the rain forest area around the Congo River either formed fairly large “chiefdoms” or remained somewhat socially “fragmented” (History).
Conversely, the southern savannah had actual monarchies that were hierarchal in nature. These areas were divided into provinces that had local appointed chieftains that served as liaisons between the central monarchy and local villages. It should be noted, however, that variations existed within each of these structures. Things began to change rapidly for the future Congolese in the late 1800s. Competition between the Portuguese, Dutch, English, French, and Arabs over the lucrative slave trade in Africa quickly caused the swift decline of tribal life for the natives.
The monarchies also suffered rapid decline due to the horrible instability wrought by the colonizers. Even though the Civil War put an end to the slave trade towards the end of the century, the Arab nations continued these practices. At the height of the slave trade “15,000 slaves a year were sent out of the lower Congo river area” (History). The natives were further decimated due to internal conflicts and civil wars. This constant social upheaval resulted in the Congolese being an easy target for upcoming Belgian conquest.
The devastation caused by the slave trade was not the only factor that radically changed the life of the natives. Booker T. Washington notes that after King Leopold of Belguim declared (and received the endorsement from other European nations) the Congo a free state under his rule, a drastic change occurred with “the social status of the native and his relation to the soil”. All areas that were not populated were declared “property of the state” and “it became a crime for [the native] to gather . . . rubber and ivory” (Washington).
Even though the natives were supposed to be free, they were unable to support themselves economically and were forced to be victims of the “ruthless and massive . . . exploitation of African labor” (History). King Leopold’s “agents” were directed to use as much force needed to plunder the Congo’s resources. Unfortunately, some of these “agents” were natives who were given guns to apparently kill enemies of the Congo Free State. Those same enemies tended to be enemies of the agent. Along with the innumerable atrocities being heaped upon the Congolese was what has been described as “Belgium Paternalism” (History).
This “meant that basic political rights could be withheld indefinitely from Africans as long as their material and spiritual needs were properly met” (History). Much of this policy dealt with Christianity in its various forms and resulted in a type of cultural decimation. However, political tyrannies were also justified in this way. Many natives were even forced to grow food for the colonizers and not themselves. Even though the Congo Free State ended in in 1908, the Congolese were unable to even elect local councils until 1957.
The ramifications of this colonization are still felt today. The far reaching consequences were seen by Booker T. Washington in 1904: One of the most unfortunate results of this methods of dealing with the African is the heritage of misunderstanding, mutual distrust, and race hatred that it inevitably leaves behind it. This alone . . . will render fruitless for many years to come every effort to bring the great mass of the natives under the better and higher influences of our Christian civilization.
While Washington is expressing the same ethnocentrism in regards to religion that the colonizers do, he is quick to point out an issue that is still dominant. Time has yet to heal the fact that the colonized Congolese lost many of their cultural traditions, social and political structures, and in many cases they lost their lives. History of Republic of Congo. http://www. emulateme. com/history/zaihist. htm accessed 27 June 2001. Washington, Booker T. “Cruetly in the Congo Country. ” The Outlook 78 (Oct. 8, 1904). http://www. boondocksnet. com/congo/congo_washington041008. html ccessed 1 July 2001. Biographical Report: Joseph Conrad Jozef Teodor Konrad Nalecz Korzeniowski or Joseph Conrad was born in Poland in 1857 shortly after the Crimean War. His father, Apollo Korzeniowski was a “poet and an ardent Polish patriot” who was eventually exiled to northern Russia for his role in fighting against Russian rule (Encyclopedia Britannica). His wife Eva followed with the four-year-old Conrad. Unfortunately, Eva’s health rapidly declined and she died in 1865 after contracting tuberculosis. Tragically, his father faced the same fate and passed away in 1869.
Conrad was then sent to live with an uncle throughout the rest of his adolescence. His childhood can be described as quite tumultuous despite the fact that he apparently was able to develop a strong relationship with his uncle, whose liberal ideas had a great impact on young Conrad. Described as “a very highly strung youth,” Conrad left Poland at the age of nineteen to avoid “being conscripted for service in the Russian army” and became an apprentice sailor in Marseilles (Biography). This event marked the beginning of travels for Conrad that took him from the Carribean to the Pacific.
While he mastered the French language during this period, it was his landing in England in 1878 that marked his lifelong romance with the English language. Conrad capitalized on his twenty some odd years at sea by using his various exploits as the backdrops for his over fifty various works. While Conrad traveled widely and wrote about a myriad of exotic lands around the world, it was his time in the Congo that served as the setting of Heart of Darkness. The Congo had apparently been the object of fascination for Conrad since childhood.
He made note of this attraction in A Personal Record when recalling an incident that took place around the age of nine: . . . while looking at a map of Africa of the time and putting my finger on the on the blank space then representing the continent, I said to myself with absolute assurance and amazing audacity . . . “When I grow up I shall go there. ” qtd. in Meyer 94 According to biographer Frederick Karl, during the months leading up to Conrad’s journey into the Congo he began the first pages of Allmeyer’s Folly. However, he was also trying to gain command of his own vessel.
Even though he dreamt of this journey from childhood, “the African venture was by no means inevitable” (Karl 274). After applying for many positions that were headed for different destinations all over the world, Conrad finally gained the command of a steamer bound for the Congo after the previous captain unexpectedly died. (Karl) Through evaluating Conrad’s diary and various correspondences, it becomes clear that The Heart of Darkness most likely depicts some of Conrad’s true feelings at a raw time. However, it must be noted that he transformed and elevated this period in his life into high fiction.
At times he himself appeared to be exposed and almost gutted open by the voyage into the Congo, and thus was able to transfer much of this experience into the short novel. In one letter he passionately stated, ” Everything here is repellent to me. Men and things, but above all men” (Karl 294). At the same time however, the majority of the actual journal contained disjointed and decidedly ‘unliterary’ descriptions of the landscape he encountered. For example he describes “Another broad flat valley with a deep ravine through the center” (Karl 290).
He also made brief, detached note of dead bodies that were encountered on the long hike to his vessel, and would quite often have notations that were one word sentences: “Mosquitos” (Karl 291). This is hardly the same vivid, reflective language used in Heart of Darkness. It should also be noted that while there are discrepancies between the novel and his journal (Karl is quick to point these instances out in the biography), there are also similarities. For example, Conrad’s visit to the company’s office before the voyage and the deplorable condition of the ship were all depicted in his journal in striking detail.
Perhaps the most interesting facet of Conrad’s journey into the Congo is that is seemed to have paved the way for the end of his sea-faring days and the beginning of his career as a writer. The manager of the station in the Congo, Camille Decommune, and Conrad did not get along at all. Therefore, Conrad’s hopes in regards to advancing his naval career were dashed. He was also plagued with bouts of dysentery. In one correspondence he “suggests that either someone will find reason to discharge him or another attack of dysentery will send him ‘to another world . . . ” (Karl 295). At thirty- three years of age, it seemed that Conrad’s lifelong career was coming to an end. During the voyage Conrad did, however, complete six chapters of Almayer’s Folly. After his treck into the Congo, Conrad’s health was never the same and even though he made a few more voyages, “in 1894 . . . his sea life was over” (Encyclopedia Britannica). However, in that same year he sent Almayer’s Folly to a publisher. After its acceptance, Conrad’s literary career was solidified. One could say that Conrad’s time in the Congo turned him into a writer.
However, as Karl notes, “it was only one ingredient” (300). It was also his lifelong tragedies and travels that assisted in his ability to compose vivid fiction. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. “Conrad, Joseph Encyclopedia Britannica Article. ” http:/authorsdirectory. com/cgi-bin/search2000/authorsdirectory. cgi? id=35093. accessed 14 June 2001. Karl, Frederick R. Joseph Conrad The Three Lives. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979. Meyer, Bernard C. , M. D. Joseph Conrad A Psychoanalytic Biography. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967.
Wilson’s Web Biographies. “Conrad, Joseph Dec. 3, 1857-Aug. 3, 1924. ” 1996 Biography from World Authors 1900-1950. http://p26688. cl. uh. edu:2071/cgi-bin/webspirs. cgi? sp. usernumber. p=599729&url=yes&sp. nextform=show1rec. htm&sp. dbid. p=S(XC)&SP. URL. P=I(XCZ9)J(0000019715)&. accessed 14 June 2001. Overall, my research for this essay yielded several surprises and new interests. I also wish that I had more time to explore different avenues. However, the time constraints prohibited me from reading and learning as much as I would have liked.
The Tiffin article, “Post-colonial Literatures and Counter-discourse,” was a favorite over the semester as it seemed that universalism and hybridity were constant themes. What interested me is that both the colonial and post-colonial texts dealt with these concepts. In Heart of Darkness, the reader can see European universals heaped on the native is a startling fashion. The natives have no voice, and even though it is difficult to see where they hybrid issue would come into play with them, Kurtz represents a hybridized colonizer to some degree.
In Things Fall Apart, Achebe was quick to point out how the native cultures share many European universals. However, they are tweaked for the Ibo culture, which creates a hybrid. In Passage to India, the voice of the colonized people is heard through Aziz. He gets “touched by Western feeling” every so often (57). And even Mrs. Moore seems to represent a hybridized European. However, the action is played out in terms of European universals or ‘manners,’ which makes the work all the more fascinating. The language alone in Roy’s text seems to set her work apart from the others.
However, Christianity serves as a European universal throughout the novel and the issues raised serve as an ‘extreme’ version of a hybrid text. Basically, these themes are seen in each text and would make for an interesting extensive research project, especially if the focus was on how the dialogue between the colonized and colonizer is evaluated in terms of how the actual universals seem to morph into a hybrid of their own. I found myself returning to the website, “Contemporary Post-colonial and Post-imperial Literature in English,” repeatedly to get clarification on various concepts.
The sections on nationalism, universality, hybrid, and gender provided ‘at a glance’ information. However, it was the histories that proved the most helpful. Unfortunately, my knowledge of history in general is sorely lacking and I found that it benefited me to better understand the historical context of each novel. What shocked me most about the colonization of the Congo was the shear magnitude of devastation to the native cultural and political structures. While I am sure that this would be true of most (if not all) colonized nations, learning about it in some detail is startling and sobering.
When I pursue my graduate degree I believe that it will be essential to have a greater understanding of the historical context of whatever period of literature that I study. Having that knowledge enables me to read a text with an understanding that is simply not feasible without a solid backdrop to place it against. The biography of Joseph Conrad yielded the most surprising results of all of my research. I chose to focus on his trek to the Congo and expected to find that Heart of Darkness was highly biographical. Instead, I found that the opposite was true.
Even though he used some real life events, those events were used as a tool to magnify and fictionalize the experience. Furthermore, I never realized that virtually all of his works were composed after his days at sea were over. I had assumed that he was already an author with a solid and successful writing career. Finally, I think that I would enjoy reading and researching a complete biography of Conrad as opposed to focusing on this specific period in his life. His A Personal Record seems like it would provide incite into an extraordinary author that led an exciting life.