Book: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
A Guest Post by Craig Martin
I read voraciously and used to read even more. Four books a week seems slow when I include the audiobooks that accompany me on countless hours of train and plane travel. But when I’m asked to talk about a book that has motivated me to visit a place or to start traveling, I’m somewhat at a loss.
One book that’s heavily influenced my view of the world is Joseph Conrad’s [amazon_link id="161293045X" target="_blank" ]Heart of Darkness [/amazon_link], made into the film [amazon_link id="B003UESJJC" target="_blank" ]Apocalypse Now[/amazon_link] by director Francis Ford Coppola. In Heart of Darkness, the protagonist Marlow recounts a journey from Britain deep into the Congo. It’s a story of a journey, of imperialism and of the madness that lurks just behind the thin walls of sanity.
It’s tough reading at times, with long sentences bursting with imagery and hints through a sharp use of vocabulary and tone. It rewards, if you can call it that, with a slow, meandering journey up a river and an ending that doesn’t really satisfy the readers’ narrative impulses. For that, I love it.
Critic Chinua Achebe infamously called Heart of Darkness an inveterate piece of racism as it uses the African people and landscape as nothing more than a foil for European protagonists; the dehumanised indigenous characters are nothing but backdrop. This resonates with my own post-colonial Pakeha* reading and is an urgent call to action for travelers and writers to move beyond stereotypes, stop casting ourselves as the heroes of our stories and start to uncover the threads of narrative we travel through.
In the end, Heart of Darkness is a book that has inspired me to stretch my viewpoint, to act compassionately for social justice, to travel. Otherwise, we may well end up in a culture as happily blinded to our societal prejudices as Conrad was.
Craig Martin is the co-publisher of the Indie Travel Podcast and Indie Travel Podcast Magazine. Along with Victorian literature, he enjoys self-reflective movies and the better sort of modern Fantasy novels.
* Pakeha is a term used to describe the non-Maori peoples of New Zealand, especially those of European descent.
Thank you so much, Craig, for taking time to do this. For those of you who haven’t read about Craig and Linda Martin on their website (which I recommend you do as soon as you have left a comment below), Craig and his wife live on the road, so making a contribution like this, in addition to their blogging and publishing a magazine keeps them busy indeed. And thanks also, for adding the word pakeha to my vocabulary.
I would like to clarify one thing for those who are more familiar with the movie Apocalypse Now than with the novel, Heart of Darkness. Coppola very loosely based his film on the Conrad novel, which, as Craig says, is set in Africa as opposed to the Vietnam setting of the movie.
Craig’s point is a very good one. As travelers we need to constantly redevelop the sensitivity to realize when we are influenced by stereotypes and find ways to move beyond them. Have you found other books that help you do that? Please let us know in the comment section.