Third Time’s the Charm: Heart of Darkness in Relation to Literary Theory

In my opinion, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is performing or doing theory in, what could be argued, a multitude of ways. The reasoning as to why I say that Conrad’s writing lends itself to multiple ways of theory is because multiple interpretations, besides those relating to its clear racial, imperialist and colonizing bases, can be made by readers and studiers of literary theory. Part of literary theory is uncovering or bringing to the forefront that which is not obviously explained or presented to the reader within a text. Based on our own personal experiences and individual knowledge bases, we can make arguments for various aspects of theory being presented in Heart of Darkness. Two specific theories that we have discussed in class that I see evidence of in the novella are post- structuralism and post- colonialism.

In Conrad’s writing, he explains the process of colonizing through the eyes of a imperializer. This explanation puts into question the means through which imperialization and colonization occur, therefore seeking to deconstruct or break this process down. I see most of the performance of theory occurring in how we, as readers, interpret the text. For example, because I know something about literary theory, I can explain how reading Heart of Darkness makes me think about or reflect upon topics such as racism, slavery, colonization, etc. I have questions about why and how- but, I’m not entirely sure that the text itself seeks to deconstruct these concepts, as much as it seeks to offer an account of them from the lense of a specific character. I think the theory at work here does not come so much from the text as it does from the readers. The same goes for post- colonialism. In Heart of Darkness, we are reading on the subject of colonialism, at is it happening within the novella. The “post”, I feel, is coming from modern- day reflection and knowledge of the content base, which is why so much criticism on racist/ pro- imperialist sentiments in the way the novella is written exists. I think that our attitudes towards Heart of Darkness and whether or not we agree with how the written work is being presented and the language it uses, has much to do with the theory we derive from it.


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