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A Powerful Read
on 27 December 2016
As a yacht anchors in the Thames and the crew settle down one of them, Charles Marlow, recites an experience he had when he took to sailing on freshwater. And so we have here one of Conrad’s most read and studied works, although this is only a novella. First published in serial form in Blackwood’s Magazine this tale still has the power to provoke and stimulate discussion.
Obviously inspired by and based in part on the author’s own experiences this is a story that really grips you. As Marlow takes a job to captain a steamboat up and down the river between trading posts in Africa, he is employed by an ivory business. As Marlow keeps hearing of the genius Mr Kurtz, he is intrigued. But when he actually meets Kurtz things are not what they seem.
Taking in Imperialism and the rapacious way of companies to drain areas of natural resources for their own profits this is something that we are still dealing with today. With the native Africans treated like dirt and looked down upon we also see how the Europeans employed by the company come in different guises, from lazy incompetents to those greedy for profit and gain, all backstabbing each other for their own personal advancement.
We see that Kurtz is from a new way of thought, with the idea of suppressing the native religions and superstitions and trying to make them more like ‘civilised’ Europeans. This novella has come under attack at different times due to such things as supposed racism and so on, but personally I along with many others have found this to be slightly erroneous. Conrad firstly was writing in the language and prejudices of his time, and he does portray the inhumanity shown towards the native population quite graphically. His story also makes us think and question what right we have to change a whole people’s ideas and beliefs just to make them the same as ours. In all Conrad shows us here the cruelty and greed that we can show to one another, and how the real world is, which makes this so powerful and intense a read.