Friday, July 25, 2014

Heart of Darkness: Imperialism

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is a large and effective critic of imperialism, which exposes the hypocrisy and tyranny of imperialism portrayed through the brutalities in Africa. Conrad in this novel criticized the intentions of imperialism, which challenged the presumptions of society. His aim in Heart of Darkness was to unveil the underlying horror of imperialism. Conrad sarcastically remarks that it was something like an emissary of light, something like a lower sort of apostle", which demonstrates how he despised the justification of imperialism.

The keynote of the theme of imperialism is struck at the very outset of Marlow’s narration. Marlow speaks of the ancient Roman conquest of Britain,. Their conquest has always been associated with cruelty and brutality. To Marlow:" The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing ."

Conrad's view of imperialism is reflected through Marlow. Marlow challenges the practice of imperialism. " It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind." There is a hint of evil in Marlow's reference to the city of Brussels as a “white sepulcher". The phrase "white sepulcher" means a place which is outwardly pleasant and righteous but inwardly impure, full of vices, corruptions and evils. Marlow’s experiences in the Congo clearly show that instead of civilizing the savages the white men who went there became exploiters. The colonizers treated the Africans was more like slaves rather than people. The evilness of imperialism s shown very well in this quote:  “As Marlow travels from the Outer Station to the Central Station and finally up the river to the Inner Station, he encounters scenes of torture, cruelty, and near-slavery.’’ At the very least, the incidental scenery of the book offers a harsh picture of colonial enterprise.

This novel also portrays the inhumane behaviors as we find in the below quotation

"Each chief was authorized to collect taxes; he did so by demanding that individuals should work for a specific period of time for a minimum payment. This, of course, was another name for slavery. The so-called taxpayers were treated like prisoners; their work was carried out under the supervision of armed sentries" (Heart of Darkness; pg 81). This quote sums up the immortality and the misuse of power against the Africans. It also gives insight into the horror of the colonization that was taking place at that time. One critic (Wilson Harris) helps describe Conrad's view and vision of the way that the Africans were treated. Harris writes "He sees the distortions of imagery and, therefore, of character in the novel as witnessing to the horrendous prejudice on Conrad's part in his vision of Africa and the Africans".

As we go through the novel we find that the sole purpose of the white men was to indulge in the exploitation of ivory from the natives and brutality over them. Thus "faithless pilgrims", is Marlow calls them. “They do not work; they simply laze around and intrigue. Everyone is there for the money; they have no higher principles or purpose in life. Their sole desire is "to tear treasure out of the bowels of the land ,. . . with no moral purpose at the back of it than there is in burglars breaking into a safe."

Through the descriptions of Marlow in the novel, Conrad conveys to us the callousness of the white man towards the natives. After getting down from the swedish  captain's steamer, Marlow sees some awful and grim sights. He sees a lot of people, ‘’mostly black and naked, moving about like ants’’. Marlow feels deeply upset at the sight of the Africans.

I could see every rib, the joints of their limbs were like knots in a rope; each had an iron collar on his neck,
and all were connected together with a chain whose bights swung between them, rhythmically clinking.

He sees black figures crouching under the trees, leaning against the trunks, and clinging to the earth, dying slowly.’They were dying slowly – it was very clear.  They were not enemies, they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now – nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation…lost in uncongenial surroundings, fed on  unfamiliar food, they sickened, become inefficient, and were allowed to crawl away and rest. (Conrad 2)

The Company had no qualms regarding the mistreatment of the natives, as described by the following account:

It is also disgusting for us to watch the manner in which the cannibal crews of Marlow’s steamer are being treated by the white owners of the steamer. The cannibal crews are studious and fine fellows. But the pity is that they are properly fed. Their hippo meat war thrown overboard by the white men who could not stand the rotten smell of the hippo meat. Now the cannibals crew have nothing to eat. But they exercise self restraint amd do not attack the white men on board in order to meat their flesh. Thus the white men are absolutely uncovered about the welfare of the cannibal crew on whose labour and toil they depend.

“Heart of Darkness is by, common consent, one of Conrad’s best things an appropriate source for the epigraph of the hollow men.”    (R. R. Leavis)

Conrad not only exposes the futility and the failing of the Belgian imperialism over the Congo but also reminds us of British imperialism in various countries of his time. Today white imperialism has crumbled and most of the counties have become independent. Conrad's accusation of imperialist rule in Congo had a valuable message for both the exploiters and the exploited. In the business of exploration, both exploiter and exploited are corrupted.

To conclude we can sum up, Heart of Darkness is a poignant account of the horrendous brutalizing effects of colonialism. Conrad here discloses the reality of imperialism and shows this system as corrupting. This story becomes the longing to wring the heart of the wilderness and exterminates all the brutes. It is an excellent portrayal of the evilness and suffering caused by imperialistic powers exercising their powers in wrong ways. The white men are presented as the blood suckers monsters that have on sympathy, human feelings for the barbarisms, and uncivilized natives of distant islands. Conrad's aim in this novel is thus to expose the evilness of imperialism by providing a glimpse of truth.

Social Picture in "A passage to India"

A passage to India is a realistic portrayal of the contemporary Indian society of the colonization period. It gives more or less an accurate picture of life in India in the 1920’s. This novel gives us the fruitful picture of local customs and beliefs, Hindu – Muslim conflict and historically true account of the conflict of the cultures of the East and West which were prevalent in that society.
One of the most important issues in that is portrayed in A Passage to India is the arrogance of the British ruling class in conflict with the native pride of the Indian people. The ruling people always feel superior to themselves and tries to keep themselves aloof from the native and the result is the hatred and bitterness that are generated in the minds of the native people against the ruling class.

The beginning of the novel reveals the wide gulf existing between the white rulers and the brown Indians. The town of Chandrapur is divided into two parts, the English civil station and the native section. The civil station shares nothing with the city except the overarching sky. The railway line divided the European locality from the Indian locality. Thus the city is tensed with antagonism, of class and race. They separate themselves from the population, declaring their own superiority over the masses as they build their walled compounds content to be out of sight and sound of any Indians, with the exception of their servants (of course) (Kurinan 44). They seek to make Britain in India, rather than accepting and glorifying the resident cultures. They remain strangers to it, practically living in a separate country they provided for themselves, yet ruling one that they remained aloof from (Eldridge 170).

Forster depicts that there was no sign of friendship between the English and the Indians. At the very outset of the novel, Dr. Aziz shows his scornful attitude to the English, wishing only to consider them comically or ignore them completely. He shows his distrust by saying to Hamidullah"whether or not it is possible for Indians to be friends with Englishman." Another native contends that it is impossible but Hamidullah believes that this friendship is only possible in England. He remembers how he was treated cordially by the English. But their attitude totally changed when the colonial rule is established. Aime Cesaire states, "it is simply the savage nature of colonization that changes man into their most primal state.

At that time the British people used to treat the Indians with disrespect. It is demonstrated by Major Calleneder's summon to Aziz and his wife's oblivious attitude towards Aziz. This sense of superiority had a tremendous impact on the native people and they remarked bad comments against them.

However, Miss Quested, Mrs. Moore and Fielding are among the minority of Britons who actually appreciated "the real India” We see in what way the Anglo-Indian think about the Indians when Adela expresses a wish to see the real India. One woman in the gathering says that when she was a nurse to Indians, she "remained sternly aloof from them."  Nihal Singh says, "  the British in India despise and ostracize Indians (Ibid)

The English officials and their wives are suspicious of Indians. They are furthermore distant and reserved in their behaviour towards the Indian. Mrs. Turton says "Britons are superior to everyone in India except one or two of the Rani's." The attitudes of the city Magistrate, Ronny Heaslop is typical of the entire white bureaucracy. He holds a low opinion about Indians and can't develop any understanding with them. He fulfills the characteristics of the administrative class. … caring only about his superiority over the Indians (Kurinan 43).

Any attempt of making friendship with ruling class results in disaster as it is seen when Dr. Aziz is  accused for the suspect of following Miss Quested,  none of the ruling class, with the exception of Fielding and Mrs. Moore, has the least doubt that Aziz is guilty. The collector takes the incident as confirming the view that the English and Indians should never try to become intimate socially because there is nothing ‘but disaster result when English people and Indians attempt to be intimate socially.’’ On the incident of Aziz's arrest, the colonized people shows their hatred which they cherished in their mind for many years. The Indian servants make no secret of their dislike for their English Masters.

Another important issue that was seen at that time was the mutual prejudices of Hindus and Moslems against each other. Nor are the relations between Hindus and Muslims very cordial. It is true they get closer to each other as a result of their common stand against the English on the occasion of the trial of Aziz. But otherwise the two communities are poles apart. Godbole reminds Aziz of cow-dung, and the rhythm of Hindu drums is uncongenial to Aziz. Aziz thinks that Hindus in general are slack and have no idea f society or punctuality. All illness proceeds from Hindus, says Haq. Syad Mahmoud describes Hindu religious fairs with biting scorn. The annual riots among Hindus and Muslems on the occasion of Mohurram prove to Ronny “that the British were necessary to India; there would certainly have been bloodshed without them.” Godbole thinks it necessary to have another wash if he has been touched by Moslems at the time of a religious ceremony. In short, Hindus and Moslems represent two different cultures and cannot become one. Then there are the divisions among Hindus themselves. For instance, in the Hindu state of Mau, “the cleavage was between Brahman and non-Brahman; Moslems and English were quite out of the running. In short, the native Indian scene too offers a spectacle of social conflict and lack of understanding.

 By analyzing the above discussion we can say that Forster’s A Passage to India is the portrayal of the mutual prejudices of Hindus and Moslems against each other, The nationalist feelings of both the communities and their antagonism towards the English officials, the arrogance and the sense of racial superiority of the white people which were the prevalent issues of that time in India.


01. Eldrige, C. C (1996). The Imperial Experience: From Carlyle to Forster. New York: St. Martin’s Press

02. Kurinan, V. G. (1969), The Lords of Humankind. Boston: Little, Brown, & Co.

03. Césaire, Aimé. Discourse on Colonialism. Trans. Joan Pinkham. New York: Monthly Review

 Find more on : Spark Notes

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Saint Joan is a historical play

Saint Joan is a historical play in the sense that this drama is based on the facts of history and its chief characters and events are taken from history. But as ‘Saint Joan’ is a drama, it is not a mere transcript of history, but an imaginative treatment of the facts of history blended with fiction. In spite of much authenticity, there is much modification in details and minor matters, much shifting, ordering, condensening and compressing of material. In this way this historic play is a blend of fact and fiction.

“Joan of Arc, a village girl from Domrémy, was born in about 1412; burnt for heresy, witchcraft, and sorcery in 1431… declared Blessed in 1908; and finally canonized in 1920. She is the most notable Warrior Saint in the Christian calendar, and the queerest fish among the eccentric worthies of the Middle Ages.” These are Shaw’s words to describe Jeanne d’Arc. She was a teenage peasant girl who crowned a reluctant king, rallied a broken people, reversed the course of a great war, and pushed history onto a new path. Both warrior and mystic, reviled as a heretic and witch, revered as a savior and eventual as a saint, Joan of Arc strikes a chord in history that reverberates across the centuries and calls out to us even today. She is a woman about whom Shaw said there were only two opinions: One was that she was miraculous; the other that she was unbearable.

Life and Career of Joan: In Shakespeare’s Henry VI, the presentation of the Maid ends in mere scurrility, Schiiller’s account of her has no contact with history and Voltire has made her ridiculous. But as for Saint Joan of Shaw, she was gifted with sound commonsense, and her cuccessful plans were rational and wise; but her faith is religion was mystical. “Her powers were human, but her confidence was devine.” “ The romance of Joan’s rise, the tragedy of her execution, and the comedy of the attempts of posterity to make amends for that execution,” have been presented with rare fidelity.

Medieval Atmosphere: In the preface, Shaw says, “to understand Joan’s history, it is not enough to understand her character; you must understand her environment as well.” It is true that the truth to history has been achieved by medieval atmosphere. He himself has taken care, “to let the medieval atmosphere blow through my play freely.” He brought the medieval institution like the church, the Holy Inquisition, the Feudalism, the divine inspiration, the torture, the executioner etc. the medieval atmosphere has been further accentuated by light skillful touches . The credulity of the Middle Ages, their superstitions, as belief in witchcraft and magic, their faith in religion, God and miracles, have all been emphasized.

Shifting and Ordering of Material; Character- Creation: Saint Joan is not a mere transcript or photographic reproduction of history. It is a work of art and as such in the interest of dramatic effectiveness, the dramatist has restored to much ordering and selection of material. While the records of the trial mere accurate and elaborate, and so very helpful, the dramatist could not get much help from history as regards his characters. They are all historical figures, no doubt, but not much could be known about their character and personality. The dramatist has himself to fill up and amplify the barest hints that he could get from history. As he himself tells us, "But I really know no more about there men...for them Shakespeare's manner." the minor characters specially are, therefore, admirable pieces of character -creation. Besides this, he was limited by the facts of stage-representation. It was for this reason that he has indulged in much condensation and compression of material. The trial of Joan and her burning at the stake have been presented in the drama as the business merely of half and hour or so, while in reality the trial of the Maid dragged on for more than a year
Shaw used the records of the original trial and appeals preserved by the Roman Catholic Church as his primary sources for the play. Saint Joan’s story has been told in poetry, novels, plays, and films in many different ways and with many different views of her as a person. Very little was known about her even in her own time and no pictures remain or perhaps ever existed. Her story has often been romanticized. Shaw’s play may very well be closer to the truth than most other versions were.

Colbourne said, “Saint Joan is a model for all historical plays”. It is not enough to give merely the facts of history. The facts must also be interpreted and made intelligible to the readers, this is Shaw‘s achievement in the play.

However, in the concluding part... (write on your own)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Brutus as the Tragic Hero

According to Aristotle, “A tragic hero is a character who is not eminently good and just, yet whose misfortune is brought about not by vice and depravity, but by some error or frailty…” The classic tragic hero has some type of tragic character flaw which creates an inner struggle, leads to his making a serious error in judgment, and leads to his eventual downfall and death.

 In Julius Caesar Brutus displays the traits of a tragic hero through out this play. His tragic flaw is his being too naive. He makes an error in judgment, and when this error occurred it causes his own downfall. But Brutus causes his own downfall when after killing Caesar all of Rome turns against the conspirators. And all these events cause his death. However, the factors that have made him a tragic hero are discussed below:

The main reason that Marcus Brutus deserves the title of tragic hero is his noble personality. First of all, throughout the play, he never deceives anyone. Although he did murder Julius Caesar, it was for the good of Rome, not to deceive Caesar. Everything that he did was for the benefit of someone else. Even though he killed Antony's best friend, Antony still recognized Brutus as "the noblest Roman of them all." He does this in Act 5, Scene 5, after Brutus' death because Brutus the only conspirator that actually killed Caesar because he "loved Caesar less but loved Rome more." He cared more about others than he did himself. For instance, in the process of killing Caesar, he could have easily backed out because he knew he might have been punished, but he knew in the long run, that it would help the plebeians most. Another example of his selflessness is in Act 2, Scene 1. Brutus decides not to tell Portia his plans for the murder of Caesar. He feels she already has enough stress in her life and does not need to worry or deal with his plans.

Brutus also frequently demonstrated many acts of affection toward others. In Act 1, Scene 2, he is reluctant to join Cassius's conspiracy because he did not want to betray Caesar. He had to weigh his choices and in Act 3, Scene 2, Brutus kills Caesar only because he is afraid of what will happen to Rome if Caesar remains ruler. He knew the commoners’ life would be difficult with the ruling of Caesar. He realizes what a honorable man Caesar was. This is shown again in the same Act and Scene when Brutus allows Mark Antony to speak at Caesar's funeral even though Cassius highly disagreed. Brutus realized Caesar deserved a proper ceremony, and that the best way to do that would be to let Caesar's best friend speak. Finally he shows his endearment for others in Act 5, Scene 5. This is the scene in which Brutus kills himself partly because Cassius, his best friend, died.

All tragic heroes possess a character flaw that leads to their defeat. Brutus' tragic flaw was being naive. He thought that everything was good in the world, and that all men were honorable. He believed all that people told him and felt no one would lie or deceive him. Just because he did not betray anyone, he believed the world would return this act. This characteristic led him to his death. All that he trusted deceived him at one time or another during the play. He allows others, like Cassius and Antony to betray him. He is too trustful and does not realize what people are capable of doing to him after making them his friend. Due to this tragic flaw, a downfall of the character occurred soon after. The events that occurred because of Brutus' naiveness led to his downfall and death. His first mistake was in Act 2, Scene 1. This was when the fake letters are sent to him from the conspirators. This was all a lie, a trap, to get Brutus to join in on the conspirator for Cassius knew he could not do it without Brutus' support. Brutus believes these letters are from the people of Rome and agrees to the death of Caesar. Another example of this naiveness is in Act 3, Scene 2. Brutus decides to allow Antony to speak to show honor to Caesar. In the end, this decision ruins him. Antony riles the crowd into believing that the conspirators are all evil and they must get revenge. In result, a war breaks out. His last error, was not so much because of his naive trait, it was just pure desire in Act 5, Scene 2. This fault occurred when he starts the battle without telling Cassius about it. Brutus realizes it is the time to strike and knows that he must start the battle. There is no time to tell Cassius. This choice, in the end, was the main reason for his suicide. He kills himself because he realizes it is nobler to commit suicide than become captured and dragged through Rome.

Another characteristic is that the character has to have an epiphany or has to learn from his mistakes. This characteristic also fits Brutus. When Brutus and Cassius are planning to fight Caesar and Antony, they get into an argument and Brutus realizes that he cannot trust Cassius anymore.

With all of Brutus's characteristics, he is obviously the tragic hero of this play. Throughout this drama, he demonstrates the quality of honor many times. He is a noble man and I think Antony sums in up well in his last part in the play, which reads,

"This was the noblest Roman of them all.
All the conspirators save only he
Did that they did in envy of great Caesar;
He, only in general honest thought
And common good to all, made one of them.
His life was gentle, and the elements
So mixed in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world, "This was a man!"

In the end, Brutus is defeated because of his tragic flaw. Brutus was naive and did not realize the real ways of the people he trusted. Marcus Brutus is the real tragic hero of Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, and this title should not even be argued.


MLA Citation:
"Julius Caesar - A Tragic Hero." 26 Apr 2011