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New Historicism In Brook Thomas ‘Heart Of Darkness’ Essay

In an attempt to place Heart of Darkness in a new historical perspective, Brook Thomas writes methodically, with intention, in an effort to convey his ideas. In an effort to get to his main point, Thomas must first define the terms he is going to use in his argument. This definition not only leads to a lengthy essay, but lends an easier, hand holding approach to his discussion. Thomas believes this handholding approach is important because it brings his readers directly to how new historicism should be a focus of trying to bring recognition to a particular subject of history in an effort help those in a similar case.

The primary points Thomas uses to bring readers to his end goal of recognition of a problem are: a definition of how Joseph Conrad believes fiction lends a more accurate description of history, how Heart of Darkness can be viewed through many critical lenses and how those lenses are in turn defined by the narrative, and how a political view of “The Other” can be attributed to a temporal Eurocentric resonance through a comparison of Marxist critique.

It is then through the comparison that Thomas arrives at his point of bringing recognition to not only Conrad’s goal in writing the narrative, but what Thomas believes should be any new historicist’s goal when approaching the text. At the beginning of the essay, Thomas gives a quote directly from Conrad. The quote is Conrad questioning the validity of history and giving an alternative, more truthful, interpretation. “Fiction is history […] being based on the reality of forms and the observation of social phenomena” (266).

This is different from history in that history is based “on second-hand impressions” (266). Meaning that through fiction, one receives a firsthand account of events. While they may be derived from a fictional character’s mind, they still offer firsthand accounts as opposed to secondhand through the use of documents and writing. Thomas argues that this distinction is important because it opens the doors to many historical inquiries into Heart of Darkness. Thomas later does this through an observation of one of Conrad’s most notable narrative techniques.

With a utilization of breaks and gaps of narration, Conrad is intentionally trying to pull the reader from the lines of the page and into a literal thought about what is taking place. This observation is important in that it allows Thomas to back up his claims of Conrad’s intentions for writing the narrative. One of the first lenses Thomas highlights is post-structuralism. Thomas believes it, “offer(s) a theory that assures us that the desire for the presence of truth in inevitably an unfulfilled desire” (271).

He believes that Heart of Darkness “helps locate the historical situation that created the conditions for the formation of post-structuralist thought” (271). When a post-structuralist is able to first locate the overarching structure that serves as the framework for Conrad’s narrative, then are they able to dive deeply into the questions it presents. A similar relationship between narrative and theory is seen through a Freudian lens.

With an emphasis on psychoanalysis Thomas states, “Freud’s narrative about the human psyche is also illuminated by narratives like Conrad’s about what happens when a rational westerner journeys into Africa” (271). It is important for Thomas to look at these lenses first because it shows the depth and font of knowledge the narrative possesses. However, Thomas also uses these theories as a way to trace a line of historical approach between each. In this effort, he is allowing new historicism to align itself as the power behind the questions and multiple approaches.

It is only through a new historical context that these other lenses are applicable. Throughout the essay Thomas has a continuous mention of “The Other. ” An observance of The Other allows Thomas to provide evidence for his claims. While Thomas is applying a Marxist lens, The Other serves a pivotal role. There is a parallel between Conrad and Marx in that they “construct a narrative in which human beings quite literally make history through their labor” (283). The difference between the two is that “Marx would consider any escape from that history to be an escape from the truth of human experience” (283).

Thomas argues that Conrad is trying to bring “The Other” to light as not a literal being, but rather an internal characteristic of the Eurocentric west. He does so by arguing and discrediting any other new historical approach to the text by saying, “any new historical criticism worthy of its name will share in this goal of using historical analysis as a way to help those in the present work toward the construction of a new future” (283).

This, Thomas believes, is important because rather than irectly bringing this problem to light, Conrad instead wraps “The Other” in its own veil of questioning. In this shroud it holds more power than if it was directly addressed. In Thomas’s argument on the ideas of work and the job of an artist for the workers, he states, “it is work, then, that constructs the lie of civilization that hides humanity, necessarily, from the prehistoric truth of itself” (282). Meaning, that Thomas believes that work numbs the senses and mental capabilities of the workforce in an effort to conceal the truths associated within itself.

A vicious cycle of how work produces history, which in turn is hidden by said work. This, he later goes on to discredit with the theory that perhaps “the reason why people with hands […] are restrained from seeing a glimpse of the truth [… ] (is) because they are given no time to become conscious of the history” (282). Both of these ideas follow a similar mold as a post-structural/Marxist thought on repression of the worker by an overarching structure. What if this structure doesn’t exist, but is rather a product of its time?

Thomas argues that workers are naive of history either due to their inability to recognize it, or their inability to have the time available to recognize it. One could argue that similar oppression of “The Other” is occurring in modern time, but it isn’t hidden from the workforce. There isn’t a structure looming over the workforce’s heads trying to obscure the truth of past or present history. The dissociation from history, either current or past, derives from an inability to sympathize with things non-related to the workforce’s lives.

As the workforce represents the majority of a population it is their dissociation from “The Other” occurring in non-related areas that lends to an inability to recognize history. This isn’t due to a propensity for utter devotion to one’s work so much so that it eliminates an opportunity to recognize current or past events, and it isn’t due to one’s work hiding the truth, but rather due to humanity’s inability to sympathize with things unknown, or unrelated.

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