Marc-Joelitza Montgomery is a writer at BHSEC, Cleveland. She is the recipient of the Literature Achievement Award in Fall 2018.
Class: World Literature
Novel: Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad
Focus-Freewrite: Which words or phrases surprise or interest you in Heart of Darkness, pages 86 to 87?
Marc-Joelitza: Marlow describes his experience in the accountant’s station in the Congo. He complains about the heat and the wait which feels like “an eternity ” (86). Marlow notices that “big flies buzzed fiendishly, and did not sting but stabbed” (86). He then sees a “sick man . . . too ill to groan. The flies buzzed in great peace ” (87). The European imperialists can be compared to the fiendish flies, and the sick man in pain might represent the Africans under imperial rule. Earlier in the book, Marlow discovers Africans suffer and die in pain because of the enslaved labor through which the Europeans put them. The Europeans make the Africans suffer so that they can make a profit off the Africans work. This explains why the Europeans — the fiendish flies — buzzed in “great peace”: they do not worry about the Africans who are tired, worn down, and in pain just like a sick man.
At this point, Marlow is presented with the choice of helping the Africans or contributing to their suffering by working with the Europeans. Marlow chooses to not let their suffering be convincing enough for him to take much pity, so instead he continues to work with the Europeans. Marlow chooses to be a fiendish fly and benefit from the Africans just like a fly would eat off something and benefit from it.
Marlow experiences a glimpse of pain when waiting in the station and cannot bear the circumstances. He does not want to go through the pain of being anything else but a fiendish fly. Even if he is not aware of it, he thinks that it would be easier and appealing to reap the benefits of someone’s suffering like a fly rather than suffering like the sick man. Marlow chooses the easy way out. He chooses lazy peace.