Genre: fiction, novella, adventure,
Setting and time: The River Congo, end of the 19th century
However, I cannot see how this novella can be considered postcolonial, because Conrad criticizes European colonialism using the rhetoric of racism. I can see why Chinua Achebe denounced the novel as racist (read his essay here). African people in Heart of Darkness are just ‘limbs and rolling eyes’, even ‘cannibals’ and ‘savages’. They don’t have names and they don’t speak (and if they do, they say ‘Mistah Kurtz – he dead’!). In other words, they are barely human! Conrad’s only intention is making them mysterious and morbidly fascinating. As Achebe wrote in his essay, it can be argued that the attitude to the African is not Conrad’s but his fictional narrator’s, Marlow. The narrator behind the narrator clearly serves the purpose of creating a distance between the moral message of the story and the author. If this was Conrad’s intention, however, he fails to hint at an alternative frame of reference by which we may judge the opinions of the characters. Sure, Conrad wrote this novel in 1899 and I live in 2008, but I find quite alarming that the text is studied so much without acknowledging that! Of course I value the symbolism and the ambiguity of the tale, but I find it terribly dated.
I also didn’t like the end of the story, when Marlow lies to Kurtz’s girlfriend about his last words. I have the impression that Conrad was a male chauvinist (is that the right word in English?). I quote directly from the text: ‘It’s queer how out of touch with truth women are’. When Marlow suggests that women have to be sheltered from the truth in order to keep their own fantasy world from ‘shattering before the firs sunset’ I was very offended!
Nonetheless, I admire Conrad because English was not his native language: he began learning it at 21 and yet he’s one of the most significant authors in the Western canon. He writes very well and his narrative is engaging, but I can’t really say that I enjoyed this book. Maybe my expectations for this classic were too great, but I can't be the only one with this feeling of uneasiness about it.