Heart of Darkness and A Passage to India

The following is a work in progress, the first chapter in a possible thesis project. Though the actual analyses of these two fictional works is still underway and will be added soon, what follows is a brief description of the historical details that underpin the two narratives and an explanation of my critical approach. See Marlow and Mrs. Moore for an abbreviated version of the upcoming textual analysis. SG

Joseph Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness and E. M. Forster's novel A Passage to India are two examples of literature about Empire. Both works utilize Britain's Age of Empire as a backdrop for the narratives and they explore British attitudes and behavior in the exotic locales of the imperial frontier. The two selections are also prominent in being among the most brilliant and complex of the genre. Using a Marxist critical approach, this study will compare and contrast the two works as examples of "realistic" fiction which both represents and critiques the societies in which they were produced.

To compare and contrast Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness with E. M. Forster's A Passage to India might at first appear to be an unlikely coupling. Apart from the obvious differences in length and form, since Heart of Darkness is a novella of approximately one hundred pages whereas A Passage to India is a full-length and fully developed novel, and the differing literary approaches the two forms necessitate, (an issue that will be addressed later in this study), the two works are also separated by a generation and were produced in different periods of each artist's career. Heart of Darkness was published in 1902, sixteen years after Conrad began writing in 1886, as one of the three short stories contained in Youth; A Narrative and Two Other Stories. The story was produced midway in Conrad's writing career since he continued to write fiction until his death in 1924. That same year, 1924, Edward Morgan Forster published his sixth and final novel A Passage to India. Though he continued to write essays and criticism until his death in 1970, A Passage to India crowned the fictional phase of Forster's writing that began in 1904; it is widely considered his most mature and complex novel.

Each novelist also came from very different backgrounds and their fiction reflects their differing life experiences. Joseph Conrad was born in 1857, the only child of Polish immigrants who were exiled by the Russian government from their Ukrainian homeland. Both of his parents died when he was a child and he lived in Poland with an uncle until he left home at age sixteen and joined the crew of a French ship in Marseilles in 1874. After twenty years at sea, (during which time he also became a British citizen in 1886), Conrad settled in England in 1894 and devoted himself to writing. Conrad drew heavily on his experiences as a seaman for material in his fiction and Heart of Darkness is no exception; much of the tale is loosely based on Conrad's experiences as mate of a small river steamboat in the African Congo in 1890 (Megroz, 62-3).

E. M. Forster was born in England in 1879. His father, a middle-class English architect, died when Forster was only a year old and he, too, was an only child and was raised by his mother. His life was influenced by his great-aunt who left him eight thousand pounds in trust when she died in 1887. He was educated in English public schools and at King's College at Cambridge. His education was followed by a year of travel in Italy and Greece with his mother which provided material for his early novels. Forster travelled to India a number of times beginning in 1912 and A Passage to India, started prior to World War I, is considered to draw heavily on these visits.

Despite these contrasts, the two works of fiction have a number of themes in common. The action of each work takes place against the backdrop of Empire. Heart of Darkness is set amidst the scramble for Africa that took place among the European imperial powers in the last three decades of the 19th century and which culminated in the Boer War. A Passage to India takes place among the British in India following World War I when the British Empire was in its decline. In this respect both works are part of the realistic tradition in literature; they are typical in their realistic representions of the historical conditions in their respective periods and are similarly typical in their treatment of the 'culture clashes' between Europeans and the natives they encounter. These similarities make these two works of fiction especially amenable to Marxian analysis as they satisfy Marxist scholar Georg Lukacs' theory of art given in Terry Eagleton's book Marxism and Literary Criticsim:

"A 'realist' work is rich in a complex, comprehensive set of relations between man, nature, and history; and these relations embody and unfold what for Marxism is most 'typical' about a particular phase of history. By the 'typical' Lukacs denotes those latent forces in any society which are from a Marxist viewpoint most historically significant and progressive, which lay bare the society's inner structure and dynamic" (28).

Much of my analysis in this study will utilize a Marxist critical approach to literature (which will be explained in more detail in the following section) and I hope to bring out in this study how the two works of fiction fulfill Lukacs's specialized definition by revealing the problems and inherent contradictions of imperialism, both of theory and practice, in the ways each work represents historical conditions.

Apart from historical setting, the most significant way Heart of Darkness and A Passage to India accomplish this "typical" representation is through their portrayal of characters. Both stories are related from the viewpoints of European characters who find themselves in foreign lands as direct representatives of a European Power or due to some connection with imperial activity, although A Passage to India is unusual for the fiction of the time in also featuring the viewpoint of a colonial native. Because all of the contact between the Europeans and the natives, and for that matter between Europeans who meet within an imperial context, is influenced by the economic imperatives of imperial conquest, the relationships that develop between the various characters are to a great degree structured and determined by these conditions. Furthermore, both Heart of Darkness and A Passage to India are significant in the degree to which they closely examine the individual psychology, and the underlying ideology that informs it, of the European imperial "foot-soldier," the representative "on the ground" who carries out the imperial duties and designs of his homeland in a climate that is hostile and in a culture he does not understand and where he is not welcome. Alan Sandison concurs in The Wheel ofEmpire: "Whether as administrator, trader or adventurer the imperial intruder in his embattled consciousness provides the most dramatic evidence of the moral struggle which his physical presence symbolizes" (121). The heart of this study will be the examination of how the economic conditions of imperialism express themselves through the characters in both works in terms of ideological assumptions, cultural misunderstandings, and psychological crises and what these reveal about the imperial mission itself, as well as the culture that gave rise to it.

Following this political analysis will be an exploration of some of the aesthetic and spiritual issues suggested by the two works. The river that the protagonist Marlow travels in Heart of Darkness serves as a multi - level symbol in the story as do the Marabar Caves in A Passage to India and thus each of these "nature" symbols tie various facets within each individual work together in a uniquely organic way; each symbol represents not just one thing or idea but a number of things or ideas and yet, in some ways, they remain the ambiguous center of each work. Just as both authors exhibit an overall difference in emphasis and narrative technique, Conrad and Forster use these symbols in different ways and for different purposes, thus revealing elements of their distinctive artistic styles as well as providing comments on imperialism apart from each works' characters, setting, and plot.

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