Heart of Darkness


Any insight on the "interminable waterway"--regarding the Thames as an extension of the Congo and vise versa, each river a with common factors, that sort of thing?

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The rivers in Heart of Darkness are interesting because they are gateways both into and out of civilization. Thus traveling down the Thames leads away from civilization (that is, London) while traveling down the Congo lead into civilization, or away from the primitive world of Kurtz. So the two rivers are essentially mirror images of each other rather than parallels.

Well, but civilisation is only a front--the wilderness, the darkness is still there, beneath the surface--Conrad makes this clear through imagery of the fickle lights of London in the midst of that vast (literal) darkness of the sea and the night.

And even keeping in mind that traveling down the Thames is traveling away from civilisation and traveling up the Congo is traveling towards civilisation (and vise-versa), wouldn't that still make them the same river, in essence? Both are routes to and from civilisation; it only matter which direction one travels. I view them, thus, as more parallel than anything; the Thames and the Congo are just part of the "interminable waterway." ...Whatd'ya think?

(this was my conclusion upon finishing our HOD unit)

You will all probably want to research the history behind the breakup of the continent of Africa, into states, by Victorian England. This process fractured geographic landmarks, characteristics, and assets, such as rivers, so that what once was shared by a few, or several, tribes, was cut off and available to fewer or one. So, I read the passage as symbolic in that the breakup and sectioning-off of the geography in itself threw the continent and all its tribes into upheaval. Therefore, where before by African standards, civilization existed, unrest and an uncivilized temperament eventually reigned because all tribes still needed the waterways, and even marriage between various peaceful tribes was suddenly impossible.

So, the author/narrator was actually comparing "African" civilization, which we westerners would construe as "uncivilized", with what we had nonetheless forced upon them by removing these cultural assets and traditions. So, we would have been critical of their previously savage ways, and ironically only added to our own cruel perceptions.

I had read of this, and ironically, my shoe repair man is from Uganda. He, without my prompting, actually confirmed the above in a conversation with me (while I was picking up my shoes), and also stated that all of Africa's current civil unrest stems from the above.

So, comparing the Congo with the Thames is actually the cruel irony of comparing our (seemingly) civilized ways with Africa's uncivilized ways. But, we forced this unrest upon them...so, we actually turn out to be the uncivilized society, not the natives of Africa.