Wait…What?

Here’s an example of a prose-deficient paragraph from my past; it comes from an essay analyzing the themes of Heart of Darkness from my senior year of high school english class. I didn’t totally understand the themes I was discussing, especially the one featured in this paragraph, so I tried to compensate for my lack of knowledge with a lot of passive voice and over-complicated sentences. I think I used all these techniques to try and allow the reader to be entertained by the way the words fit together so they wouldn’t end up noticing the lack of sufficient support for my arguments…and it just ended up sounding really overwritten and confusing:

“A second aspect of Conrad’s philosophy of life channeled through his works of literature is that of the clear distinction between awareness and naïveté. Conrad frequently uses women as an example of this naïveté, yet occasionally also uses his male main characters to help portray this part of his philosophy. For example, when Marlow first sets foot in Africa, he receives a symbolic “slight shudder of the soil under my feet”(20). This shudder, though literally caused by a mine set off by one of the station workers, represents the massive shock that Marlow experiences when he realizes what is really going on in Africa. Back in the “civilized world,” he could never have imagined the horror and inhumanity of what his fellow Europeans were doing to this beautiful continent; he had been living in a “world of [his] own,” the fantasy world usually associated with women in Conrad’s works, women who are supposedly too simple-minded to comprehend the unpleasant realities of how the world really functions (14). Although it may seem at first glance that Conrad is merely using the words of Marlow to express his own sexist ideals, by the end of the novel it becomes clear that Conrad actually envies those who cannot comprehend the true horrors of the world. While Marlow converses with the blatantly ignorant Intended about Kurtz’ death, he refrains from telling this delicate woman the true conditions of her fiancée’s death because he claims “it would have been too dark,” meaning that he believes it kinder to keep this woman in her own world, untroubled by gruesome reality (96). Similarly, Conrad uses the tragic character Arsat to represent this hatred of complete enlightenment and envy of blissful ignorance. After watching his beloved wife die of illness, Arsat is left living with nothing but awful memories of war, death, and regret. This awful state is evidenced by his statement “I can see nothing,” referring to his belief that everything left in his life is dark, clearly wishing that he did not have to live with the troubling memories of what he has experienced before (Conrad 6). Thus, Conrad examines the gaping boundary between the enlightened and the naive in both of these works of literature.”

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