Dual Text Analyses: Heart of Darkness and All Quiet on the Western Front
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Dual Text Analysis: All Quiet in the Western Front / the Heart of Darkness
In this paper, we shall analyze two books: “All Quiet in the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque, and “The Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad. Our analysis centers on how the figures of colonialism and nationalism are present in both books. To do so, we shall answer to a provided set of questions as to shed light on the subject. To do a thorough analysis, we shall separate both issues while keeping the answers relevant to both books.
The Western Front
What is life like for the characters in All Quiet on the Western Front? Life in the trenches is horrible. “One cannot explain it. A man is walking along without thought or heed;–suddenly he throws himself down on the ground and a storm of fragments flies harmlessly over him;–yet he cannot remember either to have heard the shell coming or to have thought of flinging himself down.” (27). Bombs fall for days; the food is always scarce, and moldy. Soldiers can be in the trenches for days, confined to small holes. The best days for the soldiers are when they are relieved from the trenches. They can relax, and have fun while the battle rages in the front lines. However, as soon as those vacations end, soldiers are confronted by the trenches, whose silent company filled with blood and mud, awaits. For many soldiers, home is heaven, but for Paul “They talk too much for me. They have worries, aims, desires, that I cannot comprehend. I often sit with one of them in the little beer garden and try to explain to him that this is the only thing: just to sit quietly, like this” (79)
How do they respond to the situations they are placed in? They have all been put in a situation that is far from their experiences. Many of them are mere teenagers and have had no experiences with real life. For instance, Paul changes from a compassionate young man to a callous soldier who is incapable of mourning his comrades. “But it would be like gazing at the photograph of a dead comrade; those are his features, it is his face, and the days we spent together take on a mournful life in the memory; but the man himself it is not.” (58). Paul and his comrades are unable to picture a future without war. As we can see in the book, the war has transformed Paul, who has seen endless suffering, and despite not killing him the war had destroyed him.
Explain the perspective of the central character (Paul Bäumer)? Paul is not a hero, nor a high-ranking officer trying to gain merits to achieve a promotion. On the contrary, Paul is an average teenager who is drafted into war by his teacher, and the fear of being ostracized by his family and friends. To Paul, War is the first big experience he has ever had, that is why it marks him so greatly. At the beginning of the book, we see a Paul, who has lost all the respect he had for the authority figures he used to believe. “For us lads of eighteen they ought to have been mediators and guides to the world of maturity, the world of work, of duty, of culture, of progress–to the future. We often made fun of them and played jokes on them, but in our hearts we trusted them.” (Remarque 8). At this first glance of Paul, we see a betrayed young man, who considers his sacrifice useless, as it is only upheld empty ideas of patriotism; honor, and glory. To Paul, if the older generations would have guided his generation wisely, things would have turned out much better. However, as the book progresses, Paul views change as well. “Just as we turn into animals when we go up to the line because that is the only thing that brings us through safely, so we turn into wags and loafers when we are resting. We can do nothing else, it is a sheer necessity” (65). In this passage, Paul describes the realities of being a soldier, and the psychological process of turning from a man into an animal. At one moment, you are resting, and at the other you turn into an animal that fights for its life.
How does it correspond with the rest of the characters? Paul is nothing but a reflection of his friends. Although they all have their sympathies and desires, the figure of Paul agglutinates them together. They all share the same circumstances. Boys drafted because of the nationalistic desires of their elders; boys who had a life in front of them, yet those who should have cared for them let them down. In war, the only thing a man has beside his family is their companions. And despite having watched nearly all of them die, they are all he has. How does contradict? We cannot see a contradiction between the situations depicted in the book, and the views of the protagonist. In a way, it is a recount of the hardships of war.
What is the author’s opinion on Nationalism? If we look closely, one of the reasons for the World War I was nationalism. To Paul, nationalism is the cause that he enlisted in the army. It was the idea of nationalism that made many young men enlist in the military to lose their lives. However, when Paul finally killed an enemy soldier he has a moment that changed his idea of nationalism. “So I speak to him and say to him: “Comrade, I did not want to kill you. If you jumped in, here again, I would not do it if you would be sensible too. But you were only an idea to me before, an abstraction that lived in my mind and called forth its appropriate response. It was that abstraction I stabbed. But now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me.” (106). The abstraction is the nation; he stabbed the concept of a national taught by others different than us. When he stabbed the Frenchmen, he did not stab a fellow man, he stabbed France, he stabbed the enemy. To Paul and his friends, the enemies were not men like them, were the countries.
The Heart of Darkness
What is the life like for the characters in The Heart of Darkness? This novel provides a bridge between the Victorian era, and the modern ideas of colonialism and its characters are on the same page. The characters in The Heart of Darkness are alienated and are starting doubt about the future of the empire. In the novel, we can see a depiction of the Thames that the author intends to show as Africa. “A haze rested on the low shores that ran out to sea in vanishing flatness. The air was dark above Gravesend, and farther back still seemed condensed into a mournful gloom, brooding motionless over the biggest, and the greatest, town on earth.” (Conrad 2). In that way, the author intends to show his experiences in Africa, condensed in his vision of the Thames as he was leaving it behind. There are two separate forces in the novel. The colonists, and the native people. To the first, Africa was a promised land where they could use their status as Europeans to taker part of the benefits of the colonization. On the other hand, to the natives it was the hardest time in their history. People from different countries tried to evangelize and educate them. In the novel, the colonialization is a smoke screen to hide the problems in Africa.
How do they respond to the situations they are placed in? To Marlow, his journey shaped him. The visions of Africa seduced him. When he catches the glimpses of the natives and saw, the riverbanks of the Congo discovered a whole new world. He does not only saw new things. He listened to a myriad of sounds and started to consider himself part of what he saw, instead of the white colonist he was. “It was unearthly, and the men were—No, they were not inhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst of it—the suspicion of their not being inhuman. It would come slowly to one.” (Conrad 13)
How do they respond to the situations they are placed in? “A complaining clamour, modulated in savage discords, filled our ears. The sheer unexpectedness of it made my hair stir under my cap. I don’t know how it struck the others: to me it seemed as though the mist itself had screamed, so suddenly, and apparently from all sides at once, did this tumultuous and mournful uproar arise.” (16). Marlow is portrayed as a lonely man who used his experiences to come eventually to terms with the situations he is placed in. To Maslow, the rest of the white men he meets in Africa are hollow and empty. To Maslow, the so-called civilization is a mask where people hide to justify their actions. White men dominate, and Africa, being a new place with no rules, offers them the possibility.
Explain the perspective of the central character (Maslow). Maslow is a recurrent figure in Conrad’s works. However, it is here where the character achieves its greatest expansion. The figure of Maslow changes throughout the novel. At first, he is frightened by the attacks of the natives `Will they attack, do you think?’ asked the manager, in a confidential tone. “I did not think they would attack, for several obvious reasons. The thick fog was one. If they left the bank in their canoes, they would get lost in it, as we would be if we attempted to move.” (19) In the same way, the man acts as a buffer between Kurtz and the Company. In the same way, when Maslow recoveries from his situations, he reapers alive, and in peace with himself. His experience in Africa changed him to a point when he changes completely from a man full of angst to a man who has made peace with himself.
How does it correspond with the rest of the Characters? To answer this question, we shall use the figure of Kurtz “Perhaps he was just simply a fine fellow who stuck to his work for its sake. His name, you understand, had not been pronounced once. He was `that man.’ The half-caste, who, as far as I could see, had conducted a difficult trip with great prudence and pluck, was invariably alluded to as that scoundrel.” (9). Kurtz is portrayed as an evil genius who is gifted, yet degenerates into an almost-megalomaniac scheming. To Kurtz, Africa gives him the tools, and the justification for his amorality and evil. However, as we stated before, the characters in the movie are pictured as hollow. Despite Kurtz looks like a good man, he is not, like the eloquence of his actions is not coherent with his words. That is the seduction of Africa while it can improve a man’s morals, it can also destroy a man’s soul.
How does contradict? If we are trying to find a contradiction between the character and the protagonist, we can find one in the figure of Maslow and Kurtz. As we had stated before, they are opposites. The quiet Maslow, and the talkative Kurtz, like water, and oil. The moment that separates them was when Maslow intended to give Kurtz’s old letters to his girlfriend as a way to honor his memory. “There remained only his memory and his Intended — and I wanted to give that up, too, to the past, in a way — to surrender personally all that remained of him with me to that oblivion which is the last word of our common fate. I don’t defend myself. I had no clear perception of what it was I wanted.” (46)
What is the author’s opinion on Colonialism? We consider the author is using Maslow’s character a satirical expression of his idea concerning colonialism. While Maslow seems to be happy on the depths of colonialism, the author is trying to criticize the colonial administration. “They were no colonists; their administration was merely a squeeze, and nothing more, I suspect. They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force — nothing to boast of when you have it since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others.” (5). While Maslow is used to settle the belief that colonization brings wealth and well-being, it is all a satire to criticize the lengths the colonial administration go, to assure their profits.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Charlottesville, Va.: U of Virginia Library, 1996. Print.
Remarque, Erich Maria, and A. W. Wheen. All Quiet on the Western Front;. Boston: Little, Brown, 1929. Print.