A Comparative Study of “Heart of Darkness” and “A Passage to India”
At a glimpse, it might seem quite uncanny to compare two such seemingly dissimilar works as Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and A Passage to India by E.M. Forster. Apart from disparity in their length and structure (Heart of Darkness: a novella, A Passage to India: a fully developed novel), the two narratives are separated by a generation and were produced in differing periods of each writer’s career. Each of the two novelists emerged from a very different background and had a very unique upbringing. In the case of Conrad, the novella is the direct outcome of his experiences as in charge of a small river steamboat in the African Congo in 1890. For his part, E.M. Forster, after having traveled so often through India, seems to have produced A Passage to India as a result of his own ‘passages’ there.
Regardless of all these factual differences, the two novels have much in common. Both works deal with the issues of colonialism and not only ‘fall’ into the category of post-colonial literature, but doubtlessly trigger a lot of debatable problems related to colonialism that otherwise lay hidden under the feigned integrity of the British rule. Just as Heart of Darkness, though apparently dealing with an ordinary seaman’s journey, is claimed not to be a ‘typical’ one, similarly, the “Passage” that Mrs. Moore and Adela Quested take to India is a lot more than simply a passage. This multiplicity of meaning makes it quite obvious that both the novels must be comprehended at various reading levels in order to derive complete essence out of them.
Both the novels carry the burden of factual evidence from specific eras of history. A Passage to India puts before our eyes the time of decline of the British Empire following World War I, while Heart of Darkness takes us into the realm of the European Imperial Powers resulting in a lot of scuttling in Africa. In this way, both E.M. Forster and Joseph Conrad can be taken as perfect examples of the writers who could explicitly voice the mood of a particular moment in history. The views of natives expressed in both the novels against ‘imperialism’ and its impact are the epitome of their times. ‘Social Darwinism’ and ‘Euro-centrism’ are two notions directly traced by both the novelists in a thorough manner. Only the ‘Fittest’ could survive in the world depicted by them and the only possible ‘center’ for the production of ‘fitness’ in that world was doubtlessly considered to be ‘Europe’.
The mastery of the production of outstanding characters that fix so well in their actual costumes of history can only be the trait of an exceptional writer. Both Conrad and Forster are bestowed with this trait which they exhibit well in these two masterpieces. 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 in a way that it also throws light on the viewpoint of a colonial native. Conrad’s characters take up their roles and move ahead with the flow. Kurtz is one of the most skillfully created characters in both psychological and moral terms. He is depicted as a representative of the entire Western civilization. Just like Ted Hughes’s ‘Hawk’ in ‘Hawk Roosting’ boasts about itself that: ‘It took the whole of creation/To produce my foot, my each feather/Now I hold Creation in my foot’, similarly, ‘All Europe contributed to making of Kurtz’ which gave vent to his ‘unspeakable rites’ and ‘unsound methods’. His conclusion at the end to ‘Exterminate all the brutes”, seen in the political-cum-moral dimension, can be considered as capitalist exploitation aspiring at world supremacy. Forster’s characters are very strong and fully developed. Like Conrad, we find him focusing on the trials of the individual in a situation of moral isolation leading either to destruction or illumination. Dr. Aziz, a mess of extremes and contradictions, seems to be an embodiment of Forster’s notion of the ‘muddle’ of India. Directly or indirectly, Forster wants us to see many of the characteristics of Dr. Aziz as the traits of many of the Indians in general. Fielding is yet another interesting character in the novel. Just as Marlow serves as an intermediary between the two extremes of Kurtz and the Company, similarly, Fielding appears to be a moderator between the Court and Dr. Aziz.
Human Relations and their limitations is yet another very important aspect recurring time and again in both the novels. Forster is exceedingly drifted towards humanistic philosophy and his characters turn out to be good subjects for psychoanalysis. Nowhere do we find his voice clearer and louder than in A Passage to India, in which human relations are pushed to the very limits, trying to break boundaries of numerous kinds and attempting to bridge the gap between cultures and castes, a gap that remains as wide as ever by the end. Despite Dr. Aziz’s claim that “This picnic is nothing to do with English or Indian; it is an expedition of friends”, he has to pay a heavy price for attempting to be intimate with English people even though everything gets resolved in his favor ultimately. We certainly agree with the idea the result is just a disaster ‘when English people and Indians attempt to be intimate socially.’ Similarly, Heart of Darkness can also be studied as Marlow’s journey into the depths of human psyche and relations. The darkness becomes a prejudice that fails to see other culture as humans and rejects all sorts of intimacy between people of different races.
Symbolism is an important tool for writers. But for some particular writers, this tool turns into a very powerful weapon with which they can not only defend their thoughts well but very skillfully convince their readers to support their standpoint. Both Conrad and Forster own this very weapon and utilize it fully in their work. The landscape, rivers, caves and even various characters are taken as symbols representing very complex ideas.
Darkness is associated with almost all the places and people that Marlow comes across including his own self. The river Thames, like the dark Africa, turns out to be one of the dark places. ‘And this also,’ said Marlow suddenly, ‘has been one of the dark places of the world’ (Conrad 7). The river that Marlow travels in serves as a multi-level symbol in the novel as do the Marabar Caves in A Passage to India. Each of these ‘nature’ symbols represents not only a number of ideas but at the same time they remain the vague center of each idea. The river that, according to Marlow, resembled ‘an immense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at rest, curving afar over a vast country, and its tail lost in the depths of the land’ reminds us of the snakes that Dr.Aziz mentions to Mrs. Moore , saying, “There are bad characters about and leopards may come across from the Marabar Hills. Snakes also.”
The experience that Miss Quested had at the caves can also be taken as the realization of her own inner darkness. The hysteria she experienced afterwards could also be compared with the last words of Kurtz, ‘The horror, the horror’. The Fact that Mrs. Moore had a similar feeling of awe after hearing the echo in one of the caves is another hint into the power of the symbol of Caves. Dark as they apparently are, these caves seem to be laden with the ability to throw light on the inner darkness of humans. Like Coleridge’s ‘caverns measureless to man/down to a sunless sea’ presented in ‘Kubla Khan’ , these Malabar caves of India have their own awe, their own terror and their own dreadful impact.
The endings of both the novels leave a somewhat similar impact on the readers. While everything seems to ‘lead into the heart of an immense darkness’ for Conrad’s protagonist, all the forces of nature seem to deny the union of East and West in the world of Dr. Aziz and Fielding. ‘No, not yet,’ and the sky said, ‘No, not there.’
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At a glimpse, it might seem quite uncanny to compare two such seemingly dissimilar works as Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and A Passage to India by E.M. Forster. […]