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Conrad’s Ambivalence in Heart of Darkness

Author LiXing
Tutor YanXueJun
School South China University of Technology
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords Joseph Conrad Ambivalence Heart of Darknes
Type Master's thesis
Year 2010
Downloads 184
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Joseph Conrad‘s ability to endure as a writer is strongly related to his ambivalence, for that enables his works both to reflect and to question contrasting cultural preoccupations. Like anyone else, Conrad was influenced by the climate of ideas of his day; yet, he responded with a greater articulacy of intelligence and imagination to those ideas than most people would have done. Standing at the intersection of the late Victorian and the early Modernist cultural phases, he is both romantic and anti-romantic, both conservative and subversive. Conrad‘s writing voices a combination of nineteenth-century and twentieth-century preoccupation. Heart of Darkness is one of his most important and greatest novels. It is fundamentally and essentially of a mixed thing, a tale full of ambivalence and unresolved contradictions. This thesis takes Heart of Darkness as an example, with an aim of revealing the interwoven relationships among the social influences, Conrad‘s ambivalent ideology and multilayered text meanings.The first issue addressed in the article has to do with how Joseph Conrad‘s attitude was toward the Black, the White, the empire and words. The second problem has to do with the issue: how is his attitude shaped? Of course, he was not mechanically determined by ideology, class or economic history. But, Conrad was shaping and shaped by that social history and his personal experience in different measure. The third issue pertains to how Conrad‘s ideology is manifested in his work. How can readers judge the self-contradicting content in Heart of Darkness?In order to solving these above problems, the research methods adopted in the ensuing sections are diverse: postcolonialism is applied to study Conrad‘s ideology of Orientalism; the deconstruction theory is used to deconstruct some obscure words and images in the novella; the approach of cultural study has been implemented to study Conrad‘multicultural background. Besides, new criticism unexpectedly serves as a sharp tool for the close reading of the text itself.This dissertation is divided into seven parts. The first chapter is a brief introduction to Joseph Conrad‘s status in literature, his critical research history at home and abroad and the focus of this thesis. From chapter II to chapter V is the main body. Each part separately analyses Conrad‘s ambivalence toward the Black, the White, the empire and words and its manifestation in his novel. In chapter II, the thesis illustrates Conrad‘s sympathy as well as prejudice towards the Black. He makes negative statements about Africans, and, in the meanwhile, praises them for their energy, vitality and natural beauty. Chapter III shows the dichotomy of Conrad‘s worldview. On one hand, he shows his pro-white inclination. Influenced by social Darwinism, Conrad describes the predominant ideology of being the White, praises Victorian Ethic and expresses his vindication of the hero: Kurtz, no matter how vile crimes he has committed; one the other hand, Conrad also divulges the White‘s foolishness, greediness and pointlessness. He ruthlessly condemned them as hypocritical frauds. Conrad‘s conflicting attitudes to imperialism are the focus of chapter IV, which, briefly introduces the empires in Europe and colonial expansion in his time, and then shows his pro-imperialist attitude in Heart of Darkness through Marlow‘s lie to Intended, his ideal of empire, and the marked contrast between the good Thames and the bad River Congo. Meanwhile, Conrad‘s anti-imperialist attitude can also be easily felt in the work. The miserable situation in Africa, the undermining complication of the Thames, his mockery of passengers on Nellie, all these description show that colonialism is evil and should be finished. Chapter V concerns Conrad‘s ambivalence toward words. He regards language both as truth-revealing and truth-concealing. In Heart of Darkness, the image of Kurtz, his last sentence―The horror! The horror!‖and the concept of darkness give a full manifestation of Conrad‘s ambivalent thought. Chapter VI, from the perspective of his personal experiences, finds the reasons for the process of Conrad‘s ideology cultivation. He has a rich and colorful life. His Polish background, his fancy for the ocean, and the literary creation in his later life cultivate his strong sense of skepticism. Conrad is forever a rootless wanderer, loafing on the periphery of different cultures. The concluding part of this essay points out that Conrad‘s ambivalence gives readers freedom to decide for himself what of his worldview is worth accepting or rejecting.

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