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Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Dante's Inferno
Terence N. Bowers
College of Charleston, Version of record first published: 30 Mar 2010.
To cite this article: Terence N. Bowers (2004): Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Dante's Inferno, The Explicator, 62:2, 91-94 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00144940409597182
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VeVe A. She receives the name of the family. After the nourishment of the family reunion. Conrad’s HEART OF DARKNESS and Dante’s INFERNO I descended the hill. Joeres. Ruth-Ellen B. .” Revising rhe Word and the WorM: Essays in Feminist Liremry Criricism. . . Willa Cather. Mrs. inscribed with precepts. Ed. emotional. By eating that slice of pie. save an undecipherable fragment” (96). accepts it willingly. . 249-78. “Reunion. The Counrry o f rhe Poinred Firs and Other Srories. When the narrator is served. and spiritual ways. Chicago: U of Chicago P. . renews community. and Madelon Sprengnether. Mrs. -LAURA NOTE 1. Sarah Ome. Sandra Zagarell first uses the term “narrative of community” to identify a subgenre of literature that had yet to be recognized as unique. Todd reaffirms her connection to the family and the community at large. New Yo&: Anchor.” Mrs. and reaffirms her status as healer. she accepts reunion. NICOSIA. Todd and her entire family. Zagarell. Todd helped me generously to the whole word Bowden and consumed Reunion herself. . obliquely. Mrs. Not only has the narrator been accepted into the clan. and assumes their name.] I discovered that a lot of imported drainage-pipes for the settlement had been tumbled there. [. in a voice and syntax that come as near to Mrs. . Afterward. towards the trees. [. With her own ingestion of the word. Todd is ever-aware of her calling and is now edified to serve it with renewed vigor.Downloaded by [University of Chicago] at 10:20 19 December 2012 community. the narrator partakes in a communion with Mrs. Todd’s speech pattern as in any segment of the text: “I came near to feeling like a true Bowden. Eds. and allows it to nourish her in physical. and parted from certain new friends as if they were old friends.] At last I 91 . we were rich with the treasure of a new remembrance” (98). “Narrative of Community: The Identification of a Genre.] 1 avoided a vast artificial hole [. 1989. . 1993. the narrator offers. New Jersey WORKS CITED Jewett. Todd ends the evening’s festivities and the whole of the journey home with forays into the shrubbery to secure “some boughs of a rare shrub which she valued for its bark” (99). Clark. she has become one of them in word and spirit. Sandra. Clifton. Todd sees to it that she receives an appropriate slice: “Mrs. There wasn’t one that was not broken. [. With the ingestion of the Bowden name.] the purpose of which I found it impossible to divine.
Each figure in Hell suffers not in an arbitrary fashion.]” (9). but no sooner within it than it seemed to me that I had stepped into the gloomy circle of some Inferno. that presence now becomes clear and unavoidable. . . Marlow.” (Conrad 25-26) If up to this point readers have not noticed the presence of Dante’s Divine Comedy (especially the Inferno) in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.got under the trees. the overturned railway-truck without a railway. also applies to European imperialism. In alluding to Dante’s Divine Comedy. the “broken” drainage-pipes. My purpose was to stroll into the shade for a moment. Similarly. Those who have committed the greatest sins are placed deepest in Hell and suffer the most. the primary narrator of Conrad’s novella.‘ they have not fully emphasized or explained what is arguably the central aspect of that relationship-the differences between the Inferno Marlow visits and the one Dante describes. Yet the world fabricated by European imperialism is revealed as still more sinister when compared to the Hell represented in the Inferno. These differences clarify the peculiar nature of the Hell formed by European imperialism. European imperialism is supposed to bring technology. Although Dante’s Hell is a terrifying place. we learn that it is part of a just and good universe. First. We realize that like the pilgrim in the Inferno. and its guiding idea. and other fruits of Western civilization to Africa. the rule of law. illuminated zone (though not with celestial light) in Hell’s first circle and experience no pain. “it was just robbery [. we quickly perceive that world to be a moral sham.] on a great scale [. the sunken steamboat-the imperial project has simply created a junkyard while robbing Africa of its riches. inhabit a pleasant. Thus Hell in Dante’s vision has a finely calibrated moral design. As Marlow says in reference to Roman imperialism. Still others who have not willfully sinned. but which. we learn. its logic of punishment. Conrad activates in the reader’s mind a text that describes an ordered and moral cosmos. is journeying through an underworld. such as unbaptized babies and virtuous pagans born before Christ. but as the products of Western know-how that Marlow finds in Africa indicate-the “vast artificial hole” that has no purpose. enlightened forms of government. whereas those who have committed lesser crimes receive lesser punishments. Heart of Darkness invites us to contemplate the moral structure of the world created by European imperialism. Hell is a realm of justice where the wicked are punished according to the principle of “contrapasso” or counter-penalty (Inferno 38: 142). and understanding that design is a crucial lesson that the pilgrim and the reader must learn in their journey through the underworld. . . but endures a punishment that is quantitatively and qualitatively tied to the sin committed. Although commentators have fruitfully explored the meanings generated by the intertextual relationship Conrad forges between his text and Dante’s. In fact. Whereas in 92 Downloaded by [University of Chicago] at 10:20 19 December 2012 .
Yet they are treated just as cruelly as those “called criminals” and even end up lower down in the Inferno (Marlow “descended’ to them). This idea becomes clear in the figure of “the Company’s chief accountant”-that “miracle” upholding the standards of Western civilization in the wilderness with his immaculate grooming (28)who callously complains of the groans of a dying agent because they make it “difficult to guard against clerical errors” (30). They were called criminals. In the Inferno the pilgrim is discouraged from sympathizing with the souls in Hell. for they are. after all. and the outraged law. but because it gets in the way of robbing Africa and making money. thus indicating the mindless violence that pervades Europe’s imperial domains (2 l). 93 Downloaded by [University of Chicago] at 10:20 19 December 2012 . . unlike Dante’s. however. had come to them. in the Hell created by European imperialism death and torment are meted out in an arbitrary.2Conrad has Marlow repeat what he said about the chain gang“They were not enemies. thus revealing a monstrous inversion of the moral principle governing Dante’s Hell. even children (one of the dying souls was “almost a boy” ). I. drawing a connection between their brutal plight and the arbitrary bombing of the coastline: “these men could by no stretch of the imagination be called enemies. Conrad shows. sinners. part of a just cosmos.Dante’s work. This Inferno. Such indifference to human suffering is logical when God has been replaced by money. which. It is not by accident that those labeled “pilgrims” seek not spiritual salvation like Dante’s pilgrim. like the bursting shells. but money in the form of ivory (“The word ‘ivory’ rang in the air. Early in the journey. irrational fashion. Marlow’s ship comes across a man-of-war “shelling the bush” for no apparent reason. This idea is immediately confirmed when Marlow encounters a group of men at the Outer Station locked in iron collars and points out the senselessness of their punishment. and such misplaced sympathy ends up clouding his understanding of sin (“pity confused my senses” [5: 721). is the guiding idea-indeed.] You would think they were praying to it” ). because those punished do not deserve it or because sympathy confounds his moral sense. The explanation for why this moral principle is systematically violated becomes clear when we compare how Marlow and Dante’s pilgrim are taught to respond to the suffering they witness. Seeking relief from this sight. and governed by the rational principle of contrapasso. Conrad here makes his most explicit reference to Dante to focus attention on the evil structure of this Hell. Marlow is also discouraged from showing sympathy-not. an insoluble mystery from the sea” (24). for example. punishes the innocent. Hell is God’s creation. the religionof imperialism. . or “shadows” as he also calls them (the equivalent of the “shades” Dante encounters). they were not criminals” (26)-to underscore the workers’ innocence. Marlow “descended” toward some trees only to find himself in “the gloomy circle of some Inferno” amidst a group of “dying” workers.
Alighieri.” Ninefeenth-Century Fiction 9 ( 1955): 28Ck92. More general. Kirilov and Aboguin. for Kirilov’s son had died barely five minutes earlier. . seeking the doctor’s aid. is Yarrison’s essay. and appropriatedly so. lives that forever separate the characters. 2. Anton Chekhov “often pairs two kinds of characters with opposing traits” (104). Cleary. “Women in Conrad’s Ironical Epic: Virgil. emphasizes their opposing lives. despite the briefly lived hope that their common suffering could unite them. Cleary. Mark Musa. Evans.” Conradiunu 16 ( 1984): 183-94. The entryway is unlighted. made evil by the quest for ivory. Heart of Darkness and The Secret Sharer. 1981. the home is described as dark. the once idealistic. the presence of Dante in Heart of Darkness suggests that the imperial age marks a colossal and profound betrayal of the Christian ideals that have guided European civilization. Sherwood. Chekhov’s ENEMIES Anne Frydman notes that in his early stories. Kelly. In this last respect. “Dante on His Head: Heart ofDarkness. College o Downloaded by [University of Chicago] at 10:20 19 December 2012 NOTES 1. When Aboguin. but also relevant. Ed.” Modern Fiction Studies 2 (1956): 5 M 2 . and Federer. But also implicated in this evil is Marlow’s audience-both the company officials aboard the Nellie and contemporary readers. “Conrad’s Underworld. f Charleston -TERENCE N. and trans. whereas the men [. “The Symbolism of Literary Allusion in Heart uf Darkness. Roben 0. This is certainly true in his short story “Enemies.” Conradiana 7 (1975): 155-64. Conrad. Yarrison. BOWERS. Federer. WORKS CITED Anspaugh. The Portaable Dante. The Divine Comedy.” Conradiana 27 (1995): 135-47. Key studies are those of Anspaugh.” The light and dark imagery used in relationship with the two main characters. the consumers of Africa’s spoils who are ultimately responsible for the creation of an Inferno that brutalizes the innocent and violates Christianity’s core values. Evans. Anspaugh notes the irony that Dante’s souls are “responsible for their own deaths. 1995. “Marlow’s Descent into Hell.And the presiding angel o f this religion is Kurtz. as is the lamp in his drawing room. New York: Penguin.] in the grove have been driven to the brink of death by their European masters” ( 139). and Heart of Darkness.. rings the doorbell at Kirilov’s home. allowing the twilight and the dark September evening to 94 . Lillian. Dante. New York: Bantam. now satanic being. Dante. Betsy C. Joseph. Thomas R.and Terry G. .
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