Faces Life Grotesque Masks

The aims of this essay are to try to analyse the novel, “Heart of Darkness” from an orintalist perspective and to prove that the text applies to some of Edward Said`s theories regarding it. Edward Said defines Orientalism as „a style of thought based upon ontological and epistemological distinction made between the Orient and the Occident." (Said)

The main assumptions from where I will begin my essay are the following: “Orientalism assumed an unchanging Orient, absolutely different from the West.” (Said, 182). „Africa formed not so much an intellectual spectacle for the West as a priviledged terrain for it.” (Said, 185).

In order to achieve my objective, I used as critical methods the theories expressed byprofessor Edward Said in his texts, namely „Culture and Imperialism” (1993) „Orientalism” (1978) and „The Politics of Knowledge”.

Orientalisms main goal is to try and figure out why people from the West ( and not only) such as the French or the English who had colonies in the Orient, have preconceptions about the people that live there, because they are different (different skin colour, different culture, views etc.). The West is seen as civilised, while the people from Middle East are regarded as uncivilised, uneducated, savage and primitive. Also, The West tries to impose its values, such as religion on these people,using as a justification the fact that they want to civilise them, when in reality all of this is just a pretext for conquiring them. The representations of Orient in literature have little in common with what the Orient is actuallylike. According to Saids theories we should not take literally what is being written in literature, of how art choses to represent the Orient because we risk to make some huge errors, because these are unreliable sources. For example in paintings the Orients is romanticised or seen as exotic, when in fact, the reality is different. Edward Said argues that one of the key factors which led to this misunderstanding of what and how the Orient is like, could be imperialism. People needed a justification for the fact that they were conquering the East. So,under the appearance of wanting fo help them evolve, they actually made their life a living hell.

Joseph Conrad’s“Heart of Darkness” was inspired by the authors times when he was a sailor. The main characters of the novel are Charlie Marlow and Kurtz who represent the European people that encounter a world completly different to theirs. The story is told from Marlows perspective; he sails up to the Congo as an agent of a belgian company.Marlow finds about Kurtz, who is regarded as asensible, powerfuland inteligent man and becomes intriguid by him and by the fact that so many people are interested in him. However Kurtz is in fact a racist person who treats poorly the natives and does only care about his personal interests. Marlow and Kurtz are representative figures for the Europeans who regarded the Orient, as a territory which can be easily conqured and ruled over and who lacked the ability to understand and accept the differences between their culture and the Western one.

In Joseph Conrad`s novel the inhabitants of Africa are regarded as savages, are treated without any sign of empathy by the Europeans and this can be clearly seen from the following quotes, which I will proceed to analyse.

„He was an improved specimen;he could fire up a vertical boiler. He was there below meand, upon my word, to look at him was as edifying as seeing a dog ”... ( Chapter II) – the native is compared to animal, showing how Marlow ( the European) is superiour to the native, while the latter is reduced to being equal to a dog. Also, Marlow shows how racisthe can be.

„You could see them from afar the white of their eyeballs glistering...They had faces life grotesque masks” (chapter I) - description of the black people, they have a savage and strange appearance to the Europeans. The fact that they have a different skin complexion makes them look horrifing to the Europeans.

„They were dying slowly... they were nothing, but black shadows of diease and starvation...” (chapter I) –black people are suffering from the bad treatment they receive from the Europeans.

„The conquest of the earth, which mostly means taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves” ... What redems it is the idea only” (Chapter I ) - the conquest of other lands is mostly done by force and violence, however for the whites, the ends justify the means, so it is acceptable in their perspective to hurt the others.

To sum up everything that I have just said, they way that Europeans look at the countries of Middle East is through a way that distorts the reality of those places and people. Furthermore, these people have these preconceptions based on what they have found about Est in workd of literature and not only. Literature is used as a way of justyfing the political actions of the West; it alsoimposes its values on these people, using as a justification the fact that they want to civilise, educate and help them, when in reality this is a pretext for conquiring them and „Heart of Darkness” portrays perfectly this situation.