Despite official protest from one of my LitKicks compadres about having Heart of Darkness in my queue of classics, I’ve gone ahead and read it anyway. Because that’s what I do. And now that I’ve read it, I’m not really sure what the deal is with this book. Heart of Darkness? Really? Okay, People Who Decide What Goes In The Literary Canon, if you say so, but, um, really?
See, it’s like this. Once upon a time, I was a bright-eyed high school student. I was getting ready to take AP English, and the summer before school started, we students were supposed to read four books: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley, and Heart of Darkness and The Secret Sharer by Joseph Conrad. It was summer, and I had plenty of other things to do, all of which involved being a 16-year-old on summer vacation, but still, I managed to get through three of the four. Heart of Darkness was the one that didn’t make the cut. I tried reading it, really, I did. I tried several times, but I’d make it to the third page, my eyes would glaze over, and I’d call up my friends and see if they wanted to go to the movies. It was a way of life, and I’m not ashamed. Now, ten years later, I have finally finished this high school reading assignment. I feel like I should feel something, because it’s been a long time coming, but really, eh. Heart of Darkness. Whatever.
The book centers around a sailor named Marlow, who is telling a story about how this one time, in Africa, he met this guy named Kurtz. In fact, the majority of the book is Marlow’s narrative of his trip to Africa and his subsequent sojourn up the Congo river into — are you ready? — the heart of darkness. This is all perfectly well and good, but if this is going to be the story, why can’t the book just be the story instead of an extended monologue? Am I really supposed to believe that there are people in the world who would sit around and let someone talk at them for 70-odd pages? Impossible. I could believe that Marlow’s listeners would stop him and say, “Uh, could you get to the point, mate? This whole business about not being able to get rivets for your steamboat — not that interesting.” Otherwise, well, who did Conrad think he was kidding?
Heart of Darkness is about imperialism and the darkness within people, which are very fine themes as far as themes go. It was made into a movie starring John Malkovich as that crazy scamp Kurtz, and also, more famously updated by Francis Ford Coppola into the film Apocalypse Now. It was short, which made me like it much better than this other classic I tried to read, and it was pretty quick, easy reading overall. With all that in mind, I’m not sure why it inspires absolutely no reaction from me whatsoever, because I feel like it should. And it’s really too bad, because this is the last book on my list for my Jamelah Reads the Classics series, so I really wanted to go out with something better than “I was supposed to read this in high school, and Marlow talks too much” but alas, that’s all I’ve got for you today. Maybe I should’ve listened to Levi after all. Who knew?