While reading Conrad’s Heart of Darkness I immediately noticed the connection the text had with many other writings from the Victorian era. From my reading, it seemed Kurtz’ goal in the jungle was one of conquest. He felt the need to rule over the lesser foreigners. This exact ideal is characterized in Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The White Man’s Burden.” The poem explains how it is England’s duty, a moral obligation, whether the ones being colonized like it or not. The poem goes on to justify this blatant invading, and a portion of the English population began to agree with this mentality. I believe the same happens with the Company and Kurtz’ character. They continued to colonize the jungle and viewed themselves as superior. However, Conrad juxtaposes this idea with that of the idea of modernity, another challenge that many from the Victorian era felt. With such an increase in population, colonization, and technology, they struggled with their place in society. I believe Conrad shows this through Kurtz’ infamous lines at the end of the novel. He says, “The horror, the horror…” essentially realizing the complex views of the time.
Archive for October, 2012
Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” focuses on the character of Gregor, who at the start of the story is turned into a giant insect. The rest of the story gradually shows Gregor being alienated from his family and life. Many focus on Gregor’s family and how they distance themselves from him. Even his sister, who was close to him, eventually does not want to take care of him. What I found interesting, however, was Gregor’s alienation with his human self. At first, he is very scared and confused at the transformation. However, as the story progresses, he becomes more and more comfortable in his insect form. This is evident in the scenes where he happily eats the rotten scraps his sister left him, or when he is shown leisurely crawling around his room. As hard as it was for him, he began to slowly forget his past human life and adapt with this new life. I was curious as to whether this theme of adaptation was one that was brought up repeatedly during Modernism? Regardless, though Gregor tried to adapt fully to this new life, in the end he still harbored many of his human feelings. He continued to feel he was a burden to his family, and in the end this overtook his adaptation to his new life.
The twentieth century was filled with war and revolution, but also progress. This era is noted having focused heavily on the idea of modernity, almost to the point of obsession. This passion for constant progress was seen in the arts, literature, technology and science. It seemed that in this era, society was dead-set on the idea of mastering this idea of modernity. I think this passion for mastery and understanding of the progress that was happening around them stemmed from a past experience. When thinking back in time, specifically to the Victorian Era, they also faced the similar issue of progression. The Industrial Revolution had just ended, and under Queen Victoria, people entered a new era. This age of transition seemed to be a very jarring thing for the population. By the end of the Queen’s reign, population had increased over three times. In literature of the time, it was evident that the Victorians struggled with their place in history and the idea of modernity. I believe it was due to this past experience that the Modernist movement took the idea of progression and mastery so seriously.
Henrik Ibsen is known for popularizing dramatic realism in the late 19th century. This style of writing was severely different from earlier literature, which primarily focused on the aristocracy and used verse. Ibsen’s famous play, A Doll’s House, contained several of these genre defining characteristics that help cement Ibsen in that role. A Doll’s House focused on contemporary, working class people, and used prose, making it seem more conversational and realistic. That being said, the play is also identified as a tragedy. At the time the play was written, a tragedy, for the most part, implied that the character starts a good position, and by the end of the story, is in a worse one. I find this strange, as in my eyes, I do not believe Nora to be in a worst situation at the end of the play. I believe the title of the play, A Doll’s House, refers to Dora being dehumanized over the course of her marriage and simply manipulated and controlled like a toy. She is confined to her place in the “doll house” and lives to conform with societal norms. By the end of the play, she breaks free from these societal chains. She is left without money and without family, which may be the basis for many labeling the play a tragedy. However, from a psychological (which was another key feature of Realist literature) and emotional standpoint, I believe Nora has progressed. She is no longer bound by her societal role and can start a new life without masking her true self.