Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Heart of Darkness: Metacognitive

Tzivia Halperin
AP Lit
Mr. Gallagher
January 16, 2009

Heart of Darkness Metacognitive

Joseph Conrad’s piece, Heart of Darkness, was extremely rich in detail and imagery, thus finding interesting words or phrases was not difficult, and by the end, I found I had highlighted at least one word or phrase every page. My initial difficulty sprouted from a lack of organization- I had jotted down so many words and phrases but didn’t know where to begin or how to manipulate them. It became imperative that I organized myself: first, I thought of an overarching idea or theme that I could to connect each of the three sections of the poem (as there had to be some cohesion) and settled on the idea of appearances are deceiving. The vagueness of this idea made it a perfect epigraph, which I found in Latin. The title of my poem, “The Earth Seemed Unearthly” not only served as an example of deceiving appearances but noted the somber mood that was prevalent throughout. I then delved into the specific themes and ideas apparent in the individual sections that could be connected to the deception of appearances. Section one noted much discussion of light and dark and hinted at humans’ inherent darknesses that may not necessarily be apparent. Thus, section one of my poem focused on this idea of the darkness of one’s heart, section two, the uncivilized nature of the “civilized” imperializers, and section three, the folly of exploiting the earth for gain. Further, I titled each section of the poem, rather than using Roman numerals, because each section was dissimilar and attempted to convey very different ideas.

The first section, which I entitled, Flicker, is meant to convey the impermanence of light. I wrote, “In the overheated catacomb,/ in the beastly dark,/a solitude was taking possession.” The darkness being addressed is one of an internal rather than external variety, although the imagery discusses a physical darkness. The importance of the first line also sprouts from the idea of a solitude, the implication being that men who appear content may be harboring a darkness, a sadness, which offsets them from the rest of the masses. By the end of the first stanza, I note, “Gnawing/ the last flickers/ of a light within/ the invisible wilderness.” I used invisible wilderness to serve as a metaphor for the heart, noting that as the darkness seeps in, it begins to overshadow one’s goodness, eventually quelling it entirely. I used few periods in the first section, the punctuation was more dominated by commas, which allowed a flow rather than choppiness to develop. This flow was mirrored by the structure of the poem itself in which certain lines were not justified, resembling, in my mind, the flow of water, the flow of darkness into one’s heart. The cadence of the speech is meant to at least in some respects parallel the cadence of the first section of Heart of Darkness.

Section two moves on to the idea of savagery, still keeping in mind that appearances are deceiving. I coalesced these two ideas into the theme: those who appear savage are not truly while those who appear civil are actually savage, entitling the section, Civility. The section begins, “Savage hyena in a bath of glitter.” The first line already establishes the irony of imperialism- imperialists who are quite savage, quite brutal are nevertheless valued for their work (“bath of glitter”). The section goes on to not only establish the weak motives of the imperialists (“Envy./ Admiration./ Glamour.”) but continues to note that they only feign positive motivations. Much of the imagery in this section is used to convey this point of contention, between what the imperialists truly are and what they pretend to be i.e. “papier-machĂ© Mephistopheles,” “pretence of progress” “immense snake uncoiled,” “tin-pot imposter,” and “harlequin.” The flow of this section changed as well, mirroring the climbing action in the book. As skirmishes developed, intrigues, and the establishment of camps, the savagery of the “civil” became more and more apparent. The firmness of the words is produced especially from the greater use of periods over commas.
Section 3, Meat, serves as the culmination of all these ideas- savagery and darkness, especially in relation to Kurtz. Kurtz who initially thought himself noble for spreading European refinement not only proved to be the antithesis but ultimately caused an emotional unraveling, as he came to terms with the poisonous effect he had on Africa. To establish this complex idea, I initially spoke of “The gnawing devils of hunger, the glows of fires,” which “beckoned/ germs to the world,” suggesting the inherent desires of imperialists (whether that be to spread civilization or merely augment their economy), motivating their explorations. The use of the word “germs” to convey explorers/imperialists/colonizers was to also convey a sense of disdain of their actions and note their poisoning influence on the world. The rest of the section, prior to the line break, was responsible for establishing setting and noting the negative effect of the imperialists, especially through the lines “The paw strokes on bowels of the land fetched a deep sigh/ from the apple-pie earth.” The personification of the earth addressed the fact that the negative effect of the imperialists was not going undetected. It’s a difficult concept for me to try to explain. But, essentially, seeing the physical effect on the earth- the destruction of groups of people, the destruction of natural habitats helped to inspire Kurtz’s epiphany, even if it was too late. In my mind then, the earth was responsible for the epiphany, for the mental awakening, and I personified the earth, suggesting that it was a conscious choice by the earth to awaken Kurtz, that it was the earth that ultimately had the last effect. This was conveyed especially through the lines, “The hippo will be butchered./ Gaped black./ Rotting./ Grass growing through ribs.” The hippo, a not-so-subtle jab at imperialists, was to be was going to be severely hurt- “butchered,” “gaped black” noting the darkness of imperialists’ hearts that is inevitably produced. The line “grass growing through ribs” was especially effective in conveying the idea that it is the earth that has the final effect on men rather than vice versa. The separation of the last four lines and the use of periods provides a greater forcefulness to the sentiments and choppiness of cadence. The ideas of darkness and savagery seem lead up to this idea and thus it is given extra weight.

Having been absent for one of the peer editing days, my poem was only edited by two people, Vanessa and Mary. They talked a lot about the mood of the piece, how strong the style was, etc. However, its significant use of imagery and metaphor, focusing on theme rather than plot detracted from understanding. Much of their understanding of the poem came from my explanations later and I deem this a weakness. Although I am content with the final product and am glad that I chose not to recycle plot, my writing took away from understanding perhaps. In revision, I didn’t change much beyond grammatical details including the change from Roman Numerals and subtitles to simply subtitles, noting that subtitles more clearly emphasized a shift in topic.
The final product was overall fitting for what I hoped to convey. The point of view was consistently 3rd person omniscient, understanding all of the flaws of humans and the thoughts of inanimate objects. The imagery was profuse and varying from metaphors, to personification, to symbolism. I changed certain punctuation choices throughout to note a shift in mood. Even line spacing contributed to the work as certain lines were offset to give them more weight. It was however difficult trying to connect each of the three separate ideas to the idea of deceiving appearances, although, I think I did so effectively.

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