To Marlow, voice is the supreme symbol of civilization, and civilized understanding is expressed through words. The absence of words, or the inability to express something in words, signals meaninglessness. The psychedelic experience brings one into direct confrontation with the breakdown of language (the ‘transcendence of verbal concepts’ cited in the introduction), its inability to express the hidden truth of existence. Marlow becomes aware of this—primarily through his direct experience with Kurtz—yet he does not fully allow himself to believe in the failure of language. After all, language is still the most effective tool he has for communication.
Sound is a signifier of meaning to Marlow. If sound is comprehensible, i.e. English or the sound of the sea, then it belongs to civilization and intelligence. If it is incomprehensible, not English, or the silencing of sound, then it belongs to savagery and ignorance. Thus, understanding is represented in sound as well as in thought or action. For example:
‘With one hand I felt above my head for the line of the steam whistle, and jerked out screech after screech hurriedly. The tumult of angry and warlike yells was checked instantly, and then from the depths of the woods went out such a tremulous and prolonged wail of mournful fear and utter despair as may be imagined to follow the flight of the last hope from the earth. There was a great commotion in the bush; the shower of arrows stopped, a few dropping shots rang out sharply—then silence, in which the languid beat of the stern-wheel came plainly to my ears’ (Conrad, 82).
The whistle is the signifier of civilization, of all that is incomprehensible to the primi...
... middle of paper ...
...For the story is full of silence, full of the memory of the savage. Does his telling allow him to let go of the savage, erase the memories of the palpable force of the wilderness?
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Editor Robert Kimbrough. New York: Norton, 1988.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Editor Paul O’Prey. Middlesex: Penquin Books Ltd., 1983.
Cox, C. B. Conrad: Heart of Darkness, Nostromo, and Under Western Eyes. London: Macmillan Education Ltd., 1987.
Guetti, James. ‘Heart of Darkness and the Failure of the Imagination’, Sewanee Review LXXIII, No. 3 (Summer 1965), pp. 488-502. Ed. C. B. Cox.
Ruthven, K. K. ‘The Savage God: Conrad and Lawrence,’ Critical Quarterly, x, nos 1& 2 (Spring and Summer 1968), pp. 41-6. Ed. C. B. Cox.
Watts, Cedric. A Preface to Conrad. Essex: Longman Group UK Limited, 1993.
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