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Personal Reading Of Stephen A. Reid's Article The "Unspeakable Rites" In "Heart Of Darkness"

2196 words - 9 pages

Reid's article brings the "Unspeakable Rites" in Conrad's "Heart of darkness" into focus. It mainly raises the question of whether critics should examine Kurtz's rites or leave them unexamined. These rites are so horrible and terrible to the extent that critics have refused to examine them. These critics take such a stand as they tend to associate the ambiguity centring around Kurtz's rites with Conrad's desire to leave them shrouded in uncertainty. They, thus, see no reason for examining them. However, determined as he is, Reid stands against this view; he believes that these rites are to be examined. He says, "We must try to understand what those rites were." Arguing that the critical ...view middle of the document...

As soon as their man-god falls ill in such a way that death starts looming in the horizon, they kill him in order to ensure that his soul is caught and transferred into a suitable successor.Kurtz has established himself as a man-god, but he is aging and, thus, his health is failing. His worshippers, the natives, are very alert to this fact, for they believe that if Kurtz dies a natural death, there will be no one to drive back calamities and evil spirits. Will the aging Kurtz sacrifice himself for the sake of the tribe? Or will the natives act if he refuses to do so? Kurtz is a stranger; he is white, European, "Civilized," and a colonizer. He does not believe in those beliefs hold by the natives. Therefore, he is unwilling to be killed. Kurtz has established himself as a man-god just for the purpose of ensuring a better and safer exploitation of the natives. Thus, in order for him to perpetuate his position as a man-god, Kurtz changes the rituals; he sacrifices a vigorous young man and consumes a portion of his body. In doing so, Kurtz gets the natives to believe that he gains new life and power as well. But as Kurtz's illnesses become more frequent and pronounced, his sacrifices are increasing at astounding rates.Reid makes allegations that the idea of Kurtz's rites being linked to human sacrifices serves to clarify several inexplicable passages in the novella. In a bid to support his claim, Reid provides the reader with two examples of such passages. One of these centres around the agitation of the proud native woman in Kurtz's hut and the other is Marlow's moral shock at seeing the empty cabin. To what extent the way Kurtz account for these passages is viable will be highlighted in the second part of this essay.Reid says that Kurtz is forced into the rites; if he did not kill, he would be killed by the natives. Reid is, hence, arguing that Kurtz kills not out of desire "lusts," but out of necessity "Rites." Kurtz, in this respect, has no choice; he is trapped in his environment. Reid talks about Kurtz's "immense plans" which he associates with Kurtz's desire to ensure continued domination over ivory.He tries to account for the relationship between Kurtz's bestiality and his exploitation of the natives. He sees that Kurtz's unspeakable rites are means to an end- exploitation. Kurtz, Reid argues, is aware of his exploitation of the natives. The latter, however, deem Kurtz's rites necessary for their own security. Without them, their very existence is at stake. Reid does not deny that Kurtz gains sadistic satisfaction from these rites; hadn't the rite involved great relish Kurtz would not have carried them out. Simultaneously, however, Reid tells us that Kurtz might have been forced into the rites regardless of whatever spiritual enjoyment Kurtz gains. Reid, hereby, does not approve of attributing Kurtz's rites to uncontrolled "lusts." He writes, "The simple "giving in" to "uncontrolled lusts"- the usual explanation of Kurtz's disintegration...

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