To this extent, it punctures one of the myths of imperialist race theory.
But, as the critic Patrick Brantlinger has argued, it also portrays Congolese villagers as primitiveness personified, inhabitants of a land that time forgot.
The “door”, as these wormholes are called, is “a rectangle of complete darkness — the heart of darkness”.
This is a more complicated kind of Conrad reference.
When, amidst the gathering “gloom”, he begins to reminisce about his stint as a “fresh-water sailor”, his companions know they are in for one of his “inconclusive experiences”.
Setting the opening of Heart of Darkness on the Thames also allowed Conrad to foreshadow one of the novel’s central conceits: the lack of any absolute, essential difference between so-called civilized societies and so-called primitive ones.
John Attridge does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness - or “The Heart of Darkness”, as it was known to its first readers - was first published as a serial in 1899, in the popular monthly Blackwood’s Magazine. Eliot thought the book was -y enough to provide the epigraph for his epoch-defining poem, The Waste Land - although another American poet, Ezra Pound, talked him out of using it.
Confronted with local villagers “stamping” and “swaying”, their “eyes rolling”, he is shaken by a feeling of “remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar”.
Whereas most contemporary readers will be cheered by Marlow’s scepticism about the project of empire, this image of Congo’s indigenous inhabitants is more problematic.