Historical Context of “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrads, and both New Criticism theory and Structuralism THeory (2021)

This is a short “journal” essay I pumped out for one of my classes this week. I am going to throw my older pieces up here as well. Feel free to leave feedback, questions, and commentary. Let’s nerd out! Note: this was a brief run down of the context surrounding “Heart of Darkness” and in no way is intended to minimalize the plight of the Congolese.

“Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad was inspired by Belgium’s occupation of the Congo under King Leopold II’s guidance. Leopold II created a slave state of the Congo, to produce rubber, known as the “forgotten Holocaust.” Belgium enslaved the Congolese from 1865 to 1908. “Acts of violence and atrocity were committed that continue to weigh on our collective memory,” Philippe said in his letter, “I continue to express my deepest regrets for those past wounds” (“King Apologises for Belgium’s Bloody Colonial Rule of the Congo” para 6). Joseph Conrad wrote “Heart of Darkness” in 1899 while Leopold II was still claiming absolute authority over the Congo. The Belgian Congo existed until the Democratic Republic of the Congo declared independence in 1964.

New Criticism appeared in the 1930s, and Structuralism appeared in the 1950s. Both of these theories focus on the form of literary works over the text’s meaning (Bertens 46). Structuralism seeded following WWI and sprouted after WWII focusing on the schematics of language (Bertens 48). American New Criticism arose after WWI and during the heart of the American Great Depression. It focused on morality and aesthetic beauty backdropped against the grim economic struggles following the first world war.  “Great literature, with its focus on a spiritual realm of unselfish harmony where all petty quarrels are forgotten or have become irrelevant, could overcome social conflict and anti-patriotic sentiment….” The text continues on to discuss how “social and economic equality pales next to the equality” found in literature (Bertens 12) which reflects the juxtaposition of the beauty in literature and poetry contrasted against the horrors of humanity whether it is the Great Depression or enslavement of the Congolese.

Works Cited:

Bertens, Johannes Willem. Literary Theory: the Basics. Routledge, 2014.

Carole Stone, and Fawzia Afzal-Khan. “Gender, Race and Narrative Structure: A Reappraisal of Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness.’” Conradiana, vol. 29, no. 3, Oct. 1997, pp. 221–234. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsjsr&AN=edsjsr.24635074&site=eds-live&scope=site.

H. C. Brashers. “Conrad, Marlow, and Gautama Buddha: On Structure and Theme in Heart of Darkness.” Conradiana, vol. 1, no. 3, July 1969, pp. 63–71. EBSCOhost, doi:10.2307/24641386.

Kim, Chang-hyun. “Interaction of the Realistic and the Mythic Structure in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.” The Journal of English Language and Literature/Yǒngǒ Yǒngmunhak, vol. 48, no. 4, 2002, pp. 901–913. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mlf&AN=2002874600&site=eds-live&scope=site.

King Apologises for Belgium’s Bloody Colonial Rule of the Congo; The King Is a Direct Descendant of Leopold II, Whose Brutal Reign in the Congo Free State Inspired Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.” The Telegraph Online, 30 June 2020. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsbig&AN=edsbig.A628144381&site=eds-live&scope=site.

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