The HSC trials are here, and quite a few students have asked me recently what I think of Heart of Darkness as a related text for the ‘Representing People and Landscapes’ elective for HSC Advanced English Module C.
Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness clearly explores themes of landscape both altering and reflecting the individual who is immersed in it, but as your aim is to make your Module C response stand out from the crowd, why not consider other related texts which are based on Heart of Darkness?
There have been numerous texts that seek to ‘speak back’ to the racism of Heart of Darkness. Other texts don’t necessarily challenge the novel, but have based their narratives on Conrad’s images of Africa– one such text is V.S. Naipaul’s A Bend in the River. Naipaul won the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature in 2001.
A Bend in the River takes the central metaphor of Conrad’s novel, the Congo river, to explore the Congo after it gains independence from the Europeans.
Remember that it is not only important to seek similarities to your prescribed text in your related text – you are also looking for ways your related text explores the rubric.
Let’s revisit the syllabus rubric for HSC Advanced English Module C
In this elective, students explore and evaluate various representations of people and landscapes in their prescribed text and other related texts of their own choosing. They consider the ways in which texts represent the relationship between the lives of individuals or groups and real, remembered or imagined landscapes. Students analyse representations of people’s experience of particular landscapes and their significance for the individual or society more broadly. In their responding and composing, students develop their understanding of how the relationship between various textual forms, media of production and language choices influences and shapes meaning.
Two major interrelated themes arise from the rubric for this text:
- Experiences of landscape are often historical: the African people’s relationship to their land is shaped by both imagined and remembered experiences of both African and European groups who occupied the land in the past.
- Representations of this experience can be intertextual – that is, they are inspired by, or endeavouring to challenge or revise representations of a particular physical environment in another text.
Let’s take a look at an extract from the novel.
A Bend in The River
The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it.
Nazruddin, who had sold me the shop cheap, didn’t think I would have it easy when I took over. The country, like others in Africa, had had its troubles after independence. The town in the interior, at the bend in the great river, had almost ceased to exist; and Nazruddin said I would have to start from the beginning.
I drove up from the coast in my Peugeot. That isn’t the kind of drive you can do nowadays in Africa – from the east coast right through to the centre. Too many of the places on the way have closed down or are full of blood. And even at that time, when the roads were more or less open, the drive took me over a week.
It wasn’t only the sand-drifts and the mud and the narrow, winding, broken roads up in the mountains. There was all that business at the frontier posts, all the haggling in the forest outside wooden huts that flew strange flags. I had to talk myself and my Peugeot past the men with guns- just to drive through bush and more bush. And then I had to talk even harder, and shed a few more bank-notes and give away more of my tinned food, to get myself – and the Peugeot – out of the places I had talked us into.
As I got deeper into Africa – the scrub, the desert, the rocky climb up to the mountains, the lakes, the rain in the afternoons, the mud and then, on the other, wetter side of the mountains, the fern forests and the gorilla forests – as I got deeper I thought, ‘but this is madness. I am going in the wrong direction. There can’t be a new life at the end of this.’
But I drove on. Each day’s drive was like an achievement; each day’s achievement made it harder for me to turn back. And I couldn’t help thinking that that was how it was in the old days with the slaves. They had made the same journey, but of course on foot and in the opposite direction, from the centre of the continent to the east coast. The further away they got from the centre and their tribal area, the less liable they were to cut loose from the caravans and run back home, the more nervous they became of the strange Africans they saw about them, until at the end, on the coast, they were no trouble at all, and were positively anxious to step into the boats and be taken to safe homes across the sea. Like the slave far from home, I became anxious only to arrive. The greater the discouragements of the journey, the keener I was to press on and embrace my new life.
When I arrived I found that Nazruddin hadn’t lied. The place had had its troubles: the town at the bend in the river was more than half destroyed. What had been the European suburb near the rapids had been burnt down, and bush had grown over the ruins; it was hard to distinguish what had been gardens from what had been streets. The official and commercial area near the dock and customs house survived, and some residential streets in the centre. But there wasn’t much else. Even the African cites were inhabited only in corners, and in decay elsewhere, with many of the low, box-like concrete houses in pale blue or pale green abandoned, hung with quick-growing, quick-dying tropical vines, mattings of brown and green.
In this extract, the narrator Salim evokes both memory and imagination in travelling to the centre of Africa. He imagines events which are deeply rooted in the collective memory of Africans – the slave trade. Salim travels back to the centre of Africa, in the opposite direction to his ancestors who were sold into slavery, and this reverse trajectory can be seen as a metaphor for an attempt to return to an ancestral past, as well as its inevitable failure. What Salim finds is not the Congo before European colonisation, but a country that has been indelibly changed by the violence of colonisation (“the town at the bend of the river was more than half destroyed”). Life in the Congo is now fixed in the modern world, and try as some of the characters might, they are unable to erase the colonial experience.
How to write about A Bend in the River as a related text for Judith Wright’s poetry: a sample essay paragraph that links related text to prescribed text.
The violent intrusion of landscape is explored in Wright’s ‘For New England’ through the fusion of her body with the surrounding flora and fauna. Her submission to the power of New England is expressed through the contrast of white and red in “dogwood blooms in my winter blood”. Naipaul’s A Bend in the River, a text that also charts experience in a postcolonial environment, focuses on the unfathomable density of the forests of Central Africa, a density illustrated through his exclamation that “there can’t be new life at the end of this.” While both texts reflect the persona or character’s alienation from natural environments, Naipaul’s character Salim finds a thread that ties him to the strange land through the imagined and remembered events of a collective memory of slavery. By envisaging the parallels between his own journey and the journey of captured Congolese through the Congo, the once alien landscape gains significance as a necessary part of his endeavour to experience the history of Central Africa.
Here is a colour-coded breakdown of the sample paragraph.
- Start with a sentence that recaps a key theme of your prescribed text. This will create a link to your related text.
- If this theme has not been discussed at length already in your essay, provide one or two pieces of textual evidence to strengthen your argument.
- Identify one aspect in which your prescribed and related texts are similar.
- The turning point in your discussion highlights the way in which the texts differ in their exploration of the rubric – that is, how they differ in their representation of people and landscape.
- Elaborate on this difference by summarising concisely how the scene/s you have in mind demonstrate key ideas of the rubric which your prescribed text doesn’t focus on.
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