Conrad’s Picture of Irony in “An Outpost of Progress”
The deterioration of Kayert's and Carlier's health can be interpreted as a reflection of the general state of colonialism. I esecially like how you incorporate quotes. a new paragraph when you start a new point (= relationship to the natives). If we examine how both of these central characters are introduced, we see that their failure is a result of the way in which they are singularly unsuited for the. (88) This treatment, supplemented by Kayerts' and Carlier's racist comments on . a fact which puts a dramatic stop to relations with the village chief, and means .
Conrad would usually have taken these elements to suggest the simplicity, ignorance and lack of moral restraint to be found in the Asian character, but for once he takes a different tack.
Instead Karain is portrayed as a brave, wise and resourceful leader of his people, and he commands the respect of the traders he talks to. Even the final device whereby Karain is hoodwinked into a false reassurance is portrayed only half-humorously.
The men are not trying to cheat Karain for mercenary motives — we are told that this is intended to be their last visit to the area anyway. Nor are the men seeking to mock Karain. Indeed, they regard him as a friend, and one of their own, and the trick is a genuine and kind attempt to help Karain.
The story therefore ends with the men showing their solidarity and support for their Malayan friend and helping to return his peace of mind. Once again we have a likeable Malayan, though admittedly we are told that he is liked a little less than a favourite dog would be. Arsat has made a similar fall from grace.
With his brother, he takes away a woman that he loves from his ruler. The story does not have a similar important role for the European visitor, who here only listens to the story. It is a minor story, but with interesting use of darkness and light, motion and stillness.
An Outpost of Progress
Arsat believes he can take his woman to a remote area where everything will stand still. It is set in post-revolutionary France, and concerns a family where the children are all born idiots.
The history of the parents is told to us with some pathos. No attempts by the father and mother are able to reverse the curse of all their children being born with the same condition, and the story ends with the mother murdering the father before committing suicide.
Conrad uses the story to make a point about the notion of god, and there are a few allusions to imply that the existence of children such as this serves to disprove the idea of a benevolent god, e. The story and the idea behind it are certainly interesting. It is indeed a moral question that all religious people need to ask themselves — why does god create children born with these disadvantages?
It is a little bit let down by its ending however, which is somewhat overwrought and melodramatic. Conrad himself hated the story. I always thought the station on this river is useless, and they just fit the station. Indeed, their house is poorly kept, and for edibles the two men rely on the dwindling Company supplies of pulse and rice since they have not planted a vegetable garden to support themselves as their director told them to do before his departure.
Deflation is very much the privileged medium for their moral portrait, and they are recurrently shown as poor examples of imperial authority and inventiveness. His composure and steadfastness counterpoint the carelessness of his white superiors.
The switching of roles is well rendered in this exchange, when Kayerts discovers that their native workers have been sold: I forbid you to touch them. I order you to throw them into the river.
If you are so irritable in the sun, you will get fever and die- like the first chief! The very title of this short story reads like an intended derision, a tone which is applied throughout the narrative. It spoke much of the rights and duties of civilisation, of the sacredness of civilised work, and extolled the merits of those who went about bringing light, and faith, and commerce to the dark places of the world First, the trading post is itself downgraded by its managers. Conrad adds gothic visual and sound effects to make the tale oscillate between drama and grotesque.
This accumulation of lugubrious details metaphorically enshrouds the colonial enterprise with a sense of gravity and ethical questioning. His personal history was a disgraceful paradigm of shameful things, from the desertion of the ideals of his Polish heritage to the seemingly capricious abandonment of his sea life. He had become, like Kayerts and Carlier, a creature of civilisation, living in reliance upon the safety of his surroundings Said, Kayerts, Carlier and Kurtz are such over-determined and peculiar examples of Empire that they cannot convey whatever shame may have been felt by their author.
In consequence of that friendship the women of Gobila's village walked in single file through the reedy grass, bringing every morning to the station, fowls, and sweet potatoes, and palm wine, and sometimes a goat. The Company never provisions the stations fully, and the agents required those local supplies to live. They had them through the good-will of Gobila, and lived well.
Now and then one of them had a bout of fever, and the other nursed him with gentle devotion. They did not think much of it. It left them weaker, and their appearance changed for the worse.
Carlier was hollow-eyed and irritable. Kayerts showed a drawn, flabby face above the rotundity of his stomach, which gave him a weird aspect. But being constantly together, they did not notice the change that took place gradually in their appearance, and also in their dispositions. Five months passed in that way. Then, one morning, as Kayerts and Carlier, lounging in their chairs under the verandah, talked about the approaching visit of the steamer, a knot of armed men came out of the forest and advanced towards the station.
They were strangers to that part of the country. They were tall, slight, draped classically from neck to heel in blue fringed cloths, and carried percussion muskets over their bare right shoulders.
Makola showed signs of excitement, and ran out of the storehouse where he spent all his days to meet these visitors. They came into the courtyard and looked about them with steady, scornful glances. Their leader, a powerful and determined-looking negro with bloodshot eyes, stood in front of the verandah and made a long speech.
He gesticulated much, and ceased very suddenly. There was something in his intonation, in the sounds of the long sentences he used, that startled the two whites. It was like a reminiscence of something not exactly familiar, and yet resembling the speech of civilized men. It sounded like one of those impossible languages which sometimes we hear in our dreams. Anyway, it is a different kind of gibberish to what we ever heard.
Where do they come from? They come from very far. They are perhaps bad men. Then the man, after looking round, noticed Makola's hut and walked over there.
The next moment Mrs. Makola was heard speaking with great volubility. The other strangers--they were six in all--strolled about with an air of ease, put their heads through the door of the storeroom, congregated round the grave, pointed understandingly at the cross, and generally made themselves at home. Kayerts also did not like those chaps. They both, for the first time, became aware that they lived in conditions where the unusual may be dangerous, and that there was no power on earth outside of themselves to stand between them and the unusual.
They became uneasy, went in and loaded their revolvers. Kayerts said, "We must order Makola to tell them to go away before dark. The immense woman was excited, and talked much with the visitors. She rattled away shrilly, pointing here and there at the forests and at the river.
Makola sat apart and watched. At times he got up and whispered to his wife. He accompanied the strangers across the ravine at the back of the station-ground, and returned slowly looking very thoughtful.
When questioned by the white men he was very strange, seemed not to understand, seemed to have forgotten French--seemed to have forgotten how to speak altogether. Kayerts and Carlier agreed that the nigger had had too much palm wine. There was some talk about keeping a watch in turn, but in the evening everything seemed so quiet and peaceful that they retired as usual. All night they were disturbed by a lot of drumming in the villages. A deep, rapid roll near by would be followed by another far off--then all ceased.
Soon short appeals would rattle out here and there, then all mingle together, increase, become vigorous and sustained, would spread out over the forest, roll through the night, unbroken and ceaseless, near and far, as if the whole land had been one immense drum booming out steadily an appeal to heaven. And through the deep and tremendous noise sudden yells that resembled snatches of songs from a madhouse darted shrill and high in discordant jets of sound which seemed to rush far above the earth and drive all peace from under the stars.
Carlier and Kayerts slept badly.
They both thought they had heard shots fired during the night--but they could not agree as to the direction. In the morning Makola was gone somewhere. He returned about noon with one of yesterday's strangers, and eluded all Kayerts' attempts to close with him: Carlier, who had been fishing off the bank, came back and remarked while he showed his catch, "The niggers seem to be in a deuce of a stir; I wonder what's up.
I saw about fifteen canoes cross the river during the two hours I was there fishing. Those fellows, having engaged themselves to the Company for six months without having any idea of a month in particular and only a very faint notion of time in generalhad been serving the cause of progress for upwards of two years. Belonging to a tribe from a very distant part of the land of darkness and sorrow, they did not run away, naturally supposing that as wandering strangers they would be killed by the inhabitants of the country; in which they were right.
They lived in straw huts on the slope of a ravine overgrown with reedy grass, just behind the station buildings. They were not happy, regretting the festive incantations, the sorceries, the human sacrifices of their own land; where they also had parents, brothers, sisters, admired chiefs, respected magicians, loved friends, and other ties supposed generally to be human.
Besides, the rice rations served out by the Company did not agree with them, being a food unknown to their land, and to which they could not get used. Consequently they were unhealthy and miserable. Had they been of any other tribe they would have made up their minds to die--for nothing is easier to certain savages than suicide--and so have escaped from the puzzling difficulties of existence.
But belonging, as they did, to a warlike tribe with filed teeth, they had more grit, and went on stupidly living through disease and sorrow. They did very little work, and had lost their splendid physique. Carlier and Kayerts doctored them assiduously without being able to bring them back into condition again.
The two whites had practically very little control over them. In the afternoon Makola came over to the big house and found Kayerts watching three heavy columns of smoke rising above the forests.
Then he said abruptly: Do you like get a little more ivory? He thought of percentages which were low. I know their camp. They are bad men, and got guns.
There is a great disturbance in the country. Do you want ivory? Makola said nothing for a while. Better get a fine lot of ivory, then he say nothing. You leave it to me, and keep indoors, sir. I think you had better give some palm wine to our men to make a dance this evening.
There's plenty palm wine--gone a little sour. They stood there till the evening, and Mrs. Makola looked into every one. The men got them at sunset. When Kayerts and Carlier retired, a big bonfire was flaring before the men's huts. They could hear their shouts and drumming. Some men from Gobila's village had joined the station hands, and the entertainment was a great success.
In the middle of the night, Carlier waking suddenly, heard a man shout loudly; then a shot was fired. Carlier ran out and met Kayerts on the verandah. They were both startled. As they went across the yard to call Makola, they saw shadows moving in the night. One of them cried, "Don't shoot! Then he whispered, "All right. I know my business.
They heard footsteps, whispers, some groans. It seemed as if a lot of men came in, dumped heavy things on the ground, squabbled a long time, then went away. They lay on their hard beds and thought: The station hands mustered every morning to the sound of the bell. That morning nobody came. Kayerts turned out also, yawning. Across the yard they saw Makola come out of his hut, a tin basin of soapy water in his hand.
Makola, a civilized nigger, was very neat in his person.
He threw the soapsuds skilfully over a wretched little yellow cur he had, then turning his face to the agent's house, he shouted from the distance, "All the men gone last night! Makola coming up found Kayerts standing alone. Then with sudden suspicion, and looking hard at Makola, he added: Will you come and look at the ivory I've got there? It is a fine lot. You never saw such. Kayerts followed him mechanically, thinking about the incredible desertion of the men.
On the ground before the door of the fetish lay six splendid tusks. I told them to take what they most wanted in the station. It is a beautiful lot. No station can show such tusks. Those traders wanted carriers badly, and our men were no good here. No trade, no entry in books: Look at this tusk.
I will report you--I won't look at the tusk.
- Conrad’s Picture of Irony in “An Outpost of Progress”
- Joseph Conrad's short story "An outpost of progress". A (post-)colonial Gothic reading
- Joseph Conrad’s "An Outpost of Progress" and "Heart of Darkness". Influences on the Colonizer
I forbid you to touch them. I order you to throw them into the river. If you are so irritable in the sun, you will get fever and die--like the first chief! They stood still, contemplating one another with intense eyes, as if they had been looking with effort across immense distances. Makola had meant no more than he said, but his words seemed to Kayerts full of ominous menace! He turned sharply and went away to the house.
Makola retired into the bosom of his family; and the tusks, left lying before the store, looked very large and valuable in the sunshine. Carlier came back on the verandah. We heard that shot last night. He found his companion staring grimly over the yard at the tusks, away by the store. They both sat in silence for a while. Then Kayerts related his conversation with Makola. At the midday meal they ate very little. They hardly exchanged a word that day. A great silence seemed to lie heavily over the station and press on their lips.
Makola did not open the store; he spent the day playing with his children. He lay full-length on a mat outside his door, and the youngsters sat on his chest and clambered all over him. It was a touching picture. Makola was busy cooking all day, as usual. The white men made a somewhat better meal in the evening.
Afterwards, Carlier smoking his pipe strolled over to the store; he stood for a long time over the tusks, touched one or two with his foot, even tried to lift the largest one by its small end.
He came back to his chief, who had not stirred from the verandah, threw himself in the chair and said-- "I can see it! They were pounced upon while they slept heavily after drinking all that palm wine you've allowed Makola to give them. The worst is, some of Gobila's people were there, and got carried off too, no doubt.
The least drunk woke up, and got shot for his sobriety. This is a funny country. What will you do now? They believed their words. Everybody shows a respectful deference to certain sounds that he and his fellows can make. But about feelings people really know nothing. We talk with indignation or enthusiasm; we talk about oppression, cruelty, crime, devotion, self-sacrifice, virtue, and we know nothing real beyond the words.
Nobody knows what suffering or sacrifice mean--except, perhaps the victims of the mysterious purpose of these illusions. Next morning they saw Makola very busy setting up in the yard the big scales used for weighing ivory.
Tales of Unrest by Joseph Conrad
By and by Carlier said: Makola took no notice. When the balance was swung true, he tried to lift a tusk into the scale. It was too heavy. He looked up helplessly without a word, and for a minute they stood round that balance as mute and still as three statues.Why We Cube - A Speedcubing Documentary
Kayerts trembled in every limb. He muttered, "I say! He turned his back on the others, as if about to do something tricky, and noted stealthily the weights which Carlier shouted out to him with unnecessary loudness.
When all was over Makola whispered to himself: We must look after it. At midday they made a hearty meal. Kayerts sighed from time to time. Whenever they mentioned Makola's name they always added to it an opprobrious epithet. It eased their conscience. Makola gave himself a half-holiday, and bathed his children in the river. No one from Gobila's villages came near the station that day. No one came the next day, and the next, nor for a whole week.
Gobila's people might have been dead and buried for any sign of life they gave. But they were only mourning for those they had lost by the witchcraft of white men, who had brought wicked people into their country. The wicked people were gone, but fear remained. A man may destroy everything within himself, love and hate and belief, and even doubt; but as long as he clings to life he cannot destroy fear: In his fear, the mild old Gobila offered extra human sacrifices to all the Evil Spirits that had taken possession of his white friends.