Heart of Darkness

Overplayed or Underappreciated: The Question of Conrad in the British Canon College

Joseph Conrad’s work is an apparent staple of the 20th century British canon. Few literature students manage to weave their way toward a degree without being exposed to his iconic novella Heart of Darkness. While it is undeniably a powerful piece of writing, the analysis of its themes has been so repetitive and overplayed that one begins to wonder if it deserves its place in the canon at all. In contrast, Conrad’s later work—namely the short story titled The Secret Sharer—offers a far more subtle, nuanced approach to similar themes. Although it is presently less popular than Heart of Darkness, The Secret Sharer is far more worthy of analysis and therefore more deserving of a place in the British literary canon.

In order to determine whether a work belongs in a canon in the first place, we must first contemplate what exactly a canon is. In his essay “An Idea and Ideal of a Literary Canon,” Charles Altieri paraphrases Frank Kermode when he says, ". . . canons are essentially strategic constructs by which societies maintain their own interests, since the canon allows control over the texts a culture takes seriously and the methods of interpretation that establish the meaning of 'serious'" (38). In other words, any given collection...

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