The Edwardian Era: Poofy Hats, Poofier Elitism An Analysis of the British Literary Scene during the Reign of Edward VII 6/1/2014 By Griffin J Rademacher
Table of Malcontents Foreword/Preface: Four Locutions Preceding Countenance………………………………...Page 3 Overview: From Empire to Island…………………………………………………………...Page 6 Poetry Analysis: Liberated from the Fold……………………………………………..…….Page 9 Short Story Analysis: In Comes the Cold……………………………………………….…Page 14 Play Review: Garden Tools out in the Ache and Pain…………………………………..…Page 18 Novel Analysis: Get in the Congo Line……………………………………………………Page 22 Works Cited………………………………………………………………………………..Page 25 Image Citations…………………………………………………………………………….Page 28
Four Locutions Preceding Countenance
“‘Fool that I am!’ said the Invisible Man, striking the table smartly. ‘I’ve put the idea into your head.’” ~ The Invisible Man, H. G. Wells.
The quotation above holds precisely nothing special for me in regards to its meaning. However, it is the only thing that ever made me want to read anything by Wells; I had heard that he was the inventor of science fiction, that he was way ahead of his time, that War of the Worlds had a very famous movie with Tom Cruise in it. But this quotation, haphazardly included in the beginning pages of The Wright Three, which I read sometime around sixth grade, comprises my entire motivation for actually reading Wells’ work, and that is for one simple reason. It is catchy. This blasted set of words has been pinwheeling around my head like a very anxious moth for years, never perfectly remembered; this is exactly like having a tune stuck in your head, but you can only remember one line of the chorus, so you have to either try to think up words that at least sound okay, even if they aren’t even close to the originals, or give in to the torture until you hear something catchier. So, earlier this year I skimmed through the information about various literary periods until I saw some authors I thought would be cool to read. I tried in vain to rationalize the idea of reading up on John Locke, John Milton, and all the other Johns of the Neoclassical period, before realizing that pretty much everyone in the class had quite sensibly chosen time periods from the 20th century, making for actual comprehensible reading. In what may have been a misguided endeavour to choose the most modern time period wherein authors still used incredibly lofty or antiquated language, I stumbled on the Edwardian Era like you might over a bump in your
Persian rug in the midst of the night, subsequently firing your useless maid and appointing the first downstairs-dweller you see to Executive Rug Smoothener, only to find yourself running your fingers through the ruins of your hair at breakfast the next day, like a meth addict who has just yesterday gone cold turkey because the tea-brewing wench is going over your carpeting with a steamroller. At any rate, Wells’ name jumped out at me from the fog like a mischievous leper would in order to relish the startled cries of passerby. It was followed in short order by that of George Bernard Shaw; I was immediately stricken with a fiery yearning to read Pygmalion, as I knew it was essentially about linguistics, an area which interests me immensely, as many of my impulses are along the lines of, “Hey! A thing that isn’t broken! Must! Take! Apart! To see! What makes! It tick!” Scanning the other authors, my thoughts became slightly more reserved: Joseph Conrad (“I’ve...heard Apocalypse Now is good…”), W. B. Yeats (“I guess poetry that doesn’t rhyme is still poetry...And that thing about something slouching towards some place is cool.…”), Rudyard Kipling (“I’ve been hearing a song adaptation of one of his poems since forever, it’s pretty good…”). My mood was one of guarded excitement, until I read the phrase, “However, four fifths of the English population lived in squalor.” Apparently, I live for divisive social issues, like classism, because that one sentence absentmindedly tossed coal and pepper on the flame I had kindled from this era, o’er which I meant to roast deeply ruminations mine. As a sidebar, I must admit that, having read more of a breadth of Yeats’ work, I am incredibly happy that I didn’t choose a boring poet; I think if ever there is a list of influences on me, he and Shelley will quite nearly knock it over by making it top heavy with their names.
Continuing: the Edwardian Era seemed kind of like the Korean War of Literary Periods, forgotten but important. It thus seemed to call to me in the night, to which I replied, “Shut up! It’s hard enough to sleep in this crazy, messed up world without hearing you babble about the crazy, messed up world of 100 years ago!” But it has worn me down; I will now endeavour to capture this time period, take it apart to see how it all fits together, and show you my thoroughly, if haphazardly, labeled diagrams on the subject.
From Empire to Island
The Edwardian Era existed as a transition between the British Empire’s height of decadence and the disillusionment and bitterness found in the trenches of World War I. The period is hardly well-defined as it marked a more general shift, especially in literature; the British Romantic attitude was challenged until, at what is generally marked the end of the era, World War I broke out and forced most issues to come to a head. The literary world was in many ways a reflection of the social environment, the political imperialism and nationalism, and the economic concerns of the British Empire and its citizens. The social structure of Edwardian life consisted of a simmering rebellion against tradition masked by a surface decadence. While the shallow picture of Edwardian social mores is one of high fashion and a well-entrenched aristocracy, the reality of the period was one of young men and women disrespecting elders and a new premium on individuality, rejecting the previous ideals of the respected “settled in folks” and elderly. The period was noteworthy for both its scientific advances and the rise of women’s rights to the popular consciousness. Women began to demand, in an organized manner, equality in society; the prevalent attitude of men being quite chauvinistic, the backlash from women was especially strong, and they gained the right to vote in 1918. Henrik Ibsen, a playwright who was a strong influence on Edwardian authors, came to be noted for his strong female characters. The technological advances of society also played a major role in literary themes and popular thinking; scientific advances were becoming increasingly controversial and exciting, such as the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, which was still recent in the public’s mind. A new view rose into fashion among the public, this being that science would reveal many wonders to humankind never before conceived; this lead to the
rise of science fiction, as it distracted the people from their seemingly average lives and gave them hope that those lives could, at any minute, become almost supernaturally exciting. H. G. Wellsâ€™ novella The Invisible Man is a reflection of this, as it consists of the reactions of ordinary citizens to an extraordinary occurrence.
The Edwardian Era saw the British Empire at the end of its territorial growth, sometimes struggling to retain control of its colonial possessions; although a resurgence of nationalism was seen, especially once World War I began, it was not entirely British nationalism. Though the British government was ultimately in control, its colonies were seen as somewhat lawless and were often populated with a mix of British nationals with a fondness for the region and oppressed locals who were waiting for an opportunity to leave the Empire. In Joseph Conradâ€™s Heart of Darkness, the themes of life in a lawless area, far from any real government, and oppression of locals who hate their rulers but respect them out of fear, are prevalent. Additionally, some problems of this sort existed closer to home; the Irish fight for independence gradually rose to prominence and eventually succeeded (to a degree). The poetry of W. B. Yeats was influenced by his political beliefs; an Irish national, he wrote from the perspective of one under British oppression. He did, however, write in a decidedly pessimistic style about the future of his country, even after it gained independence. The economic concerns of the British people were irretrievably tangled with their social concerns; the aristocracy dominated the economy, but the new resistance to traditional societal structure and a newfound support of socialism gave rise to myriad political units seeking to reform the economy. The Labour Party began to represent the concerns of the average worker in Parliament, and advocated for trade unions, which would create a fairer workplace. Socialism
existed mainly as an idea in Britain; not much significant progress was made towards it, and the main group proponing it was the Fabian Society which favored more local governmental control but not Marxism. However, the main importance of this was that the people were demanding some greater degree of economic equality. Additionally, writing had ceased to be the domain of the rich; about 85 percent of the British population was literate. This allowed poorer people to voice their opinions and gave rise to a movement of realism in literature, which was intent upon representing actual, contemporary experiences accurately and made the plots and characters much more relatable than those created purely by the privileged. The play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw explored the ideas of high society and its tendency to judge based on first impressions, specifically that of oneâ€™s speech, and the notion of a newfound social mobility and resistance of it by the well-rooted upper echelon. This era saw great change for Britain; it existed between nobility and mobility, between footnote and right to vote, between empire and island. It saw a return to entertainment grounded in reality; even fiction was scientific, and seen as possible. It saw a rejection of rigid Victorian society, of tradition, and of control by the elite few. It saw a new type of attention turned towards nobility, not one of passive, wishful thinking, but somewhat of an obsession and a drive to rise to that level. It set the stage for much of the 20th century, as can be seen first in depictions of the harsh reality of war written by the common man during World War I, then later in the rise of womenâ€™s suffrage. It used commentary about society itself to influence the thought of generations to come, and reflected upon and decided upon a new course for that society.
Liberated from the Fold The Second Coming, An Irish Airman Forsees His Death, and To a Child Dancing on the Wind; the Poetry of W. B. Yeats Change, specifically the changing of the guard as generations wax and wane, was a fairly common theme for the Edwardian authors. W. B. Yeats’ writing was no exception to this; even in youth, much of his work was concerned with the idea of growing old, and with the idea of that which is old haunting those who are young. He also desired a disruption of the old order, a changing of the contemporary state to suit those who actually had to live with it, rather than those who had established it and faded away. One of the first things which tends to be mentioned about Yeats is his Irish nationalism; although he was hardly a working class Irish Catholic, and was in fact part of the “Protestant, Anglo-Irish minority” (Poetry Foundation) which considered itself primarily British, he nevertheless grew up embracing his Irish heritage and even being scornful of the British. Much of his poetry is defined by this; he frequently framed it with Irish mythology (Poets.org) and often used it to express sentiments against Ireland remaining under England’s control. A primary example of this is his poem, “An Irish Airman Forsees His Death,” which rather overtly questions the reasoning behind any Irishman fighting or dying in World War I. The other main influence on Yeats’ poetry was his unrequited love for Maud Gonne, an Irish revolutionary, (Poets.org) although this seems to have had less to do with his being an Edwardian poet and more to do with his being a poet. Yeats’ allusions tend to come in one of two flavors; the first of these is a regional Irish one. In example, the Irish Airman says his country is “Kiltartan Cross” (Yeats, “An Irishman Forsees His Death,” line 5); this means that his country is not Ireland, but Kiltartan Cross, a
western Irish barony, where the generally accepted subject of the poem, Robert Gregory, lived before he died in World War I. (shmoop, “An Irish Airman Forsees His Death: Lines 5-8 Summary.”) Yeats’ other allusions tend to pertain to mysticism, something he grew more heavily involved with as his career as a poet progressed; though it was off-putting to some of his readers, he persisted in it. (Poets.org) These references are especially prevalent in “The Second Coming;” first Yeats mentions a “widening gyre,” (Yeats, “The Second Coming,” line 1) which essentially refers to the concept of regularly occurring periods of history characterized by opposites colliding, during which societies could become truly great. The other primary mystical concept in the poem is that of “Spiritus Mundi,” a kind of collective unconscious which Yeats believed in; he thought it was a myriad place of ideas and images which certain historical people, generally of the artistic variety, had been able to access. (shmoop, “Spiritus Mundi.”) Although the mystic is obvious and even slightly overwhelming in “The Second Coming,” Yeats by no means allows it to completely dominate the poem; rather, he uses it as a framework for his reality-grounded perceptions. He makes no overt references to the subject of his poem; however, it seems quite likely that he is describing not only the times in which he lived but also the British Empire at the time, which governed his home. In saying “the falcon cannot hear the falconer…Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” (Yeats, “The Second Coming,” lines 2-4) he evokes the strong imagery of a wild animal, having once been tamed, which is now guided only weakly or even not at all by its domesticator; this forms the association of something reverting to its natural state. However, it is immediately qualified as “mere anarchy,” stealing away the luster of freedom originally introduced by the poem. This demonstrates that the subject of the poem is allowing things to return to their natural state entirely, rather than relinquishing control in a manner maintaining civilization. The change in
state from control to chaos is marked further on in the poem by the restoration of an ancient and terrible order, rather than the progress of society. Yeats leads into this by first presenting the idea that something must happen, something to return things to their once glorious state; this is exhibited in lines 9-10, where he says, “Surely some revelation is at hand;/ Surely the Second Coming is at hand.” On the one hand, the poem says that a “revelation,” i.e. a new epiphany must occur; on the other, it equates such a thing to the return of the old order, i.e. “the Second Coming.” With this biblical reference, Yeats establishes the focus of the rest of the poem; the return of the primordial, which quickly becomes the apocalyptic. In describing the being which he has invoked in a vision by demanding a Second Coming, the poet says, “…somewhere in the sands of the desert/ A shape with a lion body and the head of a man,/ a gaze blank and pitiless as the sun…” (Yeats, “The Second Coming,” lines 13-15). This at first imparts merely the idea of something quite ancient, immediately calling to mind the image of an Egyptian Sphinx; however, it seems to spiral into primeval, dangerous madness with the description of its gaze. This demonstrates a belief that something from times long past would be quite unable to empathize with humans as they have become; anything suitably ancient would be completely careless for those who are not immense and enduring. It cautions against a return to old principles; they have no place in contemporary times, except to further a terrible toppling of all of the wonderful and dreadful aspects of society in equal measure. The poem’s overall feel of a destruction of all order warns that although change is warranted, retrogression will destroy all that is just and beneficial in the world. Another of Yeats’ compositions which deals with the subject of the old is “To a Child Dancing on the Wind;” it is a warning from one wise because of years, and highlights the polarity and separation between different generations. The poem’s narrator struggles to impart
his knowledge about the world; he seems genuinely worried for the poem’s subject, a member of the youngest generation at the time. This is seen when he says, “But I am old and you are young,/ so we speak a different tongue;” (Yeats, “To a Child Dancing on the Wind,” lines 5-6) this equates the inability of the narrator to articulate his worldview in a manner which is actually meaningful to a language barrier. This motif describes the difficulty of relating the experiences of one who has known much of the world to one who has known so little. Having demonstrated the impenetrable nature of the young psyche, Yeats elaborates by expressing the tragedy of this situation. He says, “Oh you will…Suffer as your mother suffered,/ Be as broken in the end;” (Yeats, “To a Child Dancing on the Wind,” lines 7-10) this stresses the idea that the narrator can say nothing to truly make the poem’s subject understand the complexity and terrible nature of the world, which is something like a torture, as the narrator must now watch this child be injured by a harsh world, having tried and failed to prevent this through speech. This poem observes a new generation which is the heir to the world, a generation comprehending nothing of the awfulness of that planet; while the new folks are much happier, as evinced by the description of the child’s eyes as “daring” and “kind” (Yeats, “To a Child Dancing on the Wind,” lines 1-2), they are also fated to be hurt by that which they inherit. W. B. Yeats was a man who desired freedom for his people; however, he also desired for them to see the world as it truly is, or at least as he believed it to truly be. He took up the Irish cause for change, for the eradication of an ancient and flawed system; however, in equal measure, he tried to warn them about the dangers of that which is old and established, that which has been since the ancient times, that savagery to which humans in their natural state are particularly inclined. He knew things must not remain as they were, but urged the world to not only destroy the system which it can easily tell is suppressing it, but also to attempt an escape
from that which has been, as the substitution for a poorly-crafted system of no society at all is no better than spending a life under the thumb of those in power.
In Comes the Cold The Red Room by H. G. Wells H. G. Wells was known for ushering in the future long before it had a chance of arriving. He is said to have invented science fiction; but even in his pieces of other genres, the idea of the future is prevalent. This is especially true in the matter of his short story “The Red Room,” in which a ghost story becomes obsolete. It is dominated primarily by the motifs of younger generations replacing and outshining older ones, of the exploration of the world and how that reveals more about humanity, and of the seemingly meaningful divisions of society quickly growing to mean nothing as time marches inexorably onward to the beat of a drummer who has somewhere to be. From the beginning of the story, it is established that the scene was already set long before the narrator made his entrance; it has already become public knowledge that the room he has decided to let is haunted. His dialogue with the chorus of elderly custodians unfolds the situation further; they attempt to impart the knowledge given them by the years, but he insists that his own experience is broad and deep. He says, “’Eight-and-twenty years…I have lived, and never a ghost have I seen as of yet.’” and is interrupted by the elderly woman, who replies, “’Ay…and eight-and-twenty years you have lived and never seen the likes of this house, I reckon.” (Wells, page 190). This reveals his belief that he has a sufficient grasp on the nature of the world, and the seeming contradiction in his ideology made by his lack of many years. This is underscored by the elderly nature of those who warn him of the danger they perceive in his plan. However, their warnings are obliterated by his ability to comprehend that which does not fit into the worldview of others; he realizes what none who have come before him realize at the tale’s end. Wells uses the resolution of the story to demonstrate that, although convention dictates that
those of advanced age have the most knowledge and wisdom about the world, those who are not yet locked into one specific way of thinking are those who will better the human race through progress. He hints at this reversal of the established order with reversed symbolism, such as that of the candles; traditionally, the symbolism of lights among the darkness has been safety and the ability of humankind to overcome the all-surrounding despair and ignorance of the world; and the candles certainly seem to represent a striving to retain sanity and a good life, but are cast in an entirely different light by the ending. When it is shown that the candles were, in fact, creating fear where there should be none, the quiet regime of all that the reader thought he or she knew is toppled, leaving him or her faced with the immense question of whether the preservation of a good system is worth refusing risk and missing out on a beautiful, much less fearful future. This is explored further with the motif of exploration prevalent in the work; the author urges that exploration into the unknown be undertaken, even against the better judgment of one’s subconscious impulses. This is accomplished even simply through the plot of the story; the narrator resists his fear and quashes the rebellion within his own mind against his actions, and is rewarded with a knowledge benefitting the world. In fact, the one time that he gives in to his primal fear and allows it to control him, he suffers rather great injury; when he flees that which he does not understand in the form of the apparently-haunted room, he has a terrifying fall and wakes up with a head injury. His expedition into the previously-not-comprehended is mainly demonstrated by his journey through the moonlit corridor; this is made apparent by the following quotation, in reference to a decoration in the hall; “…its shadow fell with marvellous distinctness upon the white paneling, and gave me the impression of someone crouching to waylay me. I stood rigid for half a minute perhaps. Then, with my hand in the pocket that held my revolver, I advanced, only to discover a Ganymede and Eagle glistening in the moonlight.” (Wells, 192)
This is a simple statement of risk and reward; the narrator is apprehensive, fearing that which he does not see clearly, perceives a threat, confronts it, and is shown that it is no hazard to him. Wells thereby encourages the reader to venture forth with little trepidation towards understanding; merely by moving himself physically from one locale to another, the narrator makes previously arcane and dangerous places into habitable, easily comprehended spaces. At daunting personal risk, this man from the new generation betters the understanding of all and overturns the system of the past. This previous state of being is additionally shown to be outmoded, lurking as it is in the shadow of the knowledge that has been discovered by those who have truly inherited the world. There are frequent allusions to nobility, as the story takes place in a castle, owned by a “ladyship” (Wells, 192) and cared for by the chorus of elderly opinions that is the group of custodians. The reason the room is said to be haunted in the first place is because of the death of a duke there; it is taken for granted that, as he was part of the ruling class, his wisdom and creation of the assessment of the situation were to be trusted. However, by the simple comparison of who is left alive by essentially the same situation demonstrates that, in the face of the unknown, which exists on a much larger scale than human society, the distinction of nobility is completely and utterly useless and misguided. The narrator thinks, on the subject of the duke’s death, “That had been the end of his vigil, of his gallant attempt to conquer the ghostly tradition of the place; and never, I thought, had apoplexy better served the ends of superstition.” (Wells, 193) This shows the narrator’s skepticism; because he has grown up in a pragmatic generation, in a generation critical enough of nobility and the system which it perpetuates, he is willing to question that which seems to be already established. He acknowledges that the duke died, but refuses to believe as all others do merely because the death occurred; he refuses the notion of
correlation implying causality. Thus, Wells introduces the notion that intelligence about the world itself, the kind of mental ability that benefits humankind by acquiring useful knowledge, depends on individuals, but those individuals need not be royalty. He quietly mentions that those who have been entrusted with society are not those who give it the knowledge it requires for progress, raising the question of why they are in power in the first place. â€œThe Red Roomâ€? serves as a gentle but quite overt nudge from author to reader; Wells leaves the reader to draw his or her own conclusions, but makes it quite clear what he believes. He looks to the future, seeking not to castigate the reader for fear of risk, but to assuage that fear; he seems to be beckoning his audience towards him, away from an outmoded system that barely takes care of them into an enlightened future. However, he also tells those reading that they must be courageous to follow him there; they must be willing to undertake personal risk and not to accept blindly that which they have been taught. He begs the people of his time to give up on the system that gave up on them long ago, and to run with arms outstretched to the wondrous adventure of the future.
Garden Tools out in the Ache and Pain Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw “Pygmalion” represents something of an odd dichotomy; on the one hand, it is quite critical of the society in which it takes place, while on the other, it acknowledges that any society must be made of people, some worse than others, and calls out the younger generation rather specifically for becoming too complacent in the system they were born into. Shaw uses the obvious regional division of language in England to underscore his point; much of the play is concerned with linguistics and with the accents cultivated by different environments. He also uses the vehicle of the play to convey the dangers of succumbing to the temptation to trust mere surface judgments of those around one, and reprimands contemporary society for encouraging such behaviour. Shaw’s use of characterization both lauds the older generation which created the system of government in Edwardian times for their good intentions and disapproves of how they set about raising their children in it and of how those children have allowed themselves to be a part of that obviously corrupt system. This is evident from the beginning of the first scene, wherein the audience observes a wealthy mother and daughter seeking a cab by sending out the mother’s son for one. The daughter is quite cross with Freddy for how long it’s taken him to conduct his search, while the mother is more mild, telling the daughter that it had not taken so long and that he could’ve done little more than he already had. However, when Freddy returns, the mother too grows angry with him; by presenting these two in a negative light through their speech, Shaw is demonstrating that they have allowed themselves to be spoiled by society. Another prime example of this is the figure of Pickering; he is shown through his actions and dialogue to be an empathetic man. In example, when Eliza is being accosted and overwhelmed by the crowd, he
says, “Come, come! he cant touch you: you have a right to live where you please.” (Shaw, 373) This demonstrates that he cares even for a perfect stranger, and wishes not to accidentally do her wrong by letting the apparent detective arrest her. Pickering, one of the older people in the play, constantly is shocked and indignant about the behaviour of many towards Eliza, defending her from Higgins’ general apathy. He seems as one looking on in horror while those raised by the society he had believed in, as a member of the upper class, mistreats this girl at each turn; however, until it would be directly his fault, he does not intervene. Higgins additionally represents a call to arms for the younger generation; he is generally presented as a terrible person, for the most part because he helps perpetuate society by not fighting it and by caring little for others. On the subject of Higgins, another aspect of the play must be examined; a large portion of it is focused on language and how it differs from place to place. Shaw uses the idea of distinct dialects to underscore the vast array of differences among British subjects, and the apparent futility of trying to unite all of them under one flag, much less a flag that benefits few of them. However, he maintains an optimistic outlook on this by pointing out that they all still speak the same language and can communicate with each other with relative ease. This is even expressed through Higgins’ harsh words; when Eliza is pitying herself because she feels downtrodden by society, he has these angry sentiments for her: “A woman who utters such depressing and disgusting sounds has no right to be anywhere—no right to live. Remember that you are a human being with a soul and the divine gift of articulate speech: that your native language is the language of Shakespear and Milton and The Bible; and dont sit there crooning like a bilious pigeon.” (Shaw, 377) In a society that frequently looked down on the poor as inhuman, Shaw reminds his audience that even speech is a marvel; he also encourages them to use it, as it is
essentially all they have to combat the system. This is a demonstration of his belief that speech is an essential part of the human experience and must be utilized at every turn. It also forms the opinions of others; because Eliza is wallowing, Higgins (though he is on the acerbic end of the scale) forms the opinion that she is weak and delicate and bothersome. This formation of opinions from immediate, external factors continues as a motif throughout the work; most of the characters help to demonstrate, in one way or another, society’s obsession with differences in people’s speech. Higgins and Pickering devote their lives’ work to it; Eliza allows her life to be run by others because of it. It is presented as a negative thing, locking those who make successful use of capitalism into their original class. Shaw contends that even when people are able to escape their station, they become yet another part of society’s problem by reinforcing the spoiled nature of the class they are now a part of; he uses Higgins and Eliza to exhibit this in this excerpt: “LIZA: I should just like to take a taxi to the corner of Tottenham Court Road and get out there and tell it to wait for me, just to put the girls in their place a bit. I wouldnt speak to them, you know…HIGGINS: Besides, you shouldnt cut your old friends now that you have risen in the world. Thats what we call snobbery.” (Shaw, 407) This demonstrates how Shaw observed that people easily were overcome by the delight of getting ahead in the world and did not remember the difficulties they themselves had faced. With such a statement, Shaw cautions against abandoning empathy and even sympathy when things go well, as it is the source of many of society’s problems. Shaw uses his characters’ voices to speak to the problems of his society; moreover, he encourages his audience to rebel against that society. He begs them to use their voices, rather than to remain silent; he tells them that thinking their lot in life is terrible means nothing unless they convey that to others. Shaw tells the young that they could be the future and change the
world, but if they desire to do so they really must take actual action; they must be brave enough to fight society, even as it is made up of other people who are not fighting.
Get in the Congo Line Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad Joseph Conrad lived rather differently from most of the well-known Edwardian authors; he critiqued society, but was one of the few who were, in fact, born into quite a low station, laboring for meals each day on a ship for much of his young life. (shmoop, “Heart of Darkness Intro.”) His work is concerned primarily with the sea; however, Heart of Darkness is concerned with that on either side of the sea; the place one sets out from, and one’s destination. It critiques society’s backward nature in rewarding the greed of the lucky; it comments on the useless nature of imperialism; it shows society that those whose psyches it has forged are damaged and have ruined great things. One of the most important things about Marlow’s character is that he does not exempt himself from the terrible nature of his tale; he tells of his own greed even as he narrates that of others. He also demonstrates that it has been instilled in him by society; when he determines to become a ship’s captain and journey to the Congo, he says that he has desired such a thing since childhood; the idea of exploring the world under the auspices of a company was presented to his young mind as one of glory, not evil. He also uses figures of speech to demonstrate how backwards this society is; he says, in reference to his decision to embark and sail on the “snake” of a river in the Congo, “’I went on along Fleet Street, but could not shake the idea. The snake had charmed me.’” (Conrad, 38) This figure of speech helps to show that Marlow understands society to be functioning in the opposite manner of how it ought to; it rewards greed and malicious intent towards others. It thus seems inevitable that the people it looses upon the world will be much less than those who came before.
Marlow also seems quite disgusted with the whole idea of imperialism; he does say that it was once glorious, primarily in the time of the Romans, but he is quite convinced that, in its present form, it is naught but evil. He demonstrates the knowledge that those whom the British were dominating and enslaving were people as well, and bemoans the lack of compassion conquerors have for those they oppress. He says, “’They were conquerors, and for that you only want brute force—nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others…It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale…The conquest of the earth which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.” With these words, he demonstrates his abhorrence for those involved in imperialism, realizing that he was, until recently, one of them in the smallest capacity. He shows that those men have no honor or glory to be spoken of; they are mere criminals, given a free pass by their society to wreak havoc on the world. The character of Kurtz is another matter entirely; he has accepted society’s conception of him wholeheartedly, allowing himself to reap all the benefits found by a demigod without restraint. Not only does he destroy that which he can control for his own benefit, but he also poisons life for others in doing so. In the novel’s beginning, a serene scene of glory and a wonderful nature is depicted on the Thames, where Kurtz and his audience are moored. However, at the work’s end, it is depicted thusly; “The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed sombre under an overcast sky—seemed to lead to into the heart of an immense darkness.” (Conrad, 104) This shows how even something as far away as the Thames, even something so peaceful, has been tinged by the terrible nature of such a wicked man. Through metaphors like this one, Conrad
contends that all of society is stained with the blood spilled by its conquerors; he shows that injustice cannot be escaped, and that it affects all people, not just the wronged party. With this idea, Conrad endeavours to inform society that all of it is responsible for the actions it condones or even ignores. While it would be nice to ignore injustice, Conrad dredges it up with the hope of disgusting those who have had an easy life; he is determined to get through to those in power and change their ideals to actually fit reality. He attempts to move their focus out of their own pockets and towards confronting the problems they have created; he seeks to end Britainâ€™s obsession with dominating those far away from it with ships for its own selfish purposes; he tries to make them realize that they, not those they seek to â€œenlighten,â€? are the true savages; he attempts to return them from their wicked brutality to being human. Conrad sought an end to British navel and naval gazing, as it was so harmful to the Brits and those they controlled.
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Cartoon on Cover: <http://pavementart.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/punch-march-7th1891.jpg>
Published on Jun 9, 2014