Personal Reading of Stephen A. Reid's Article The "Unspeakable Rites" in "Heart of Darkness"

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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 function should not stop where Conrad does, Reid…show more content…
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 seems to me a psychologically unsound way of describing the case especially when a more precise explanation is available." According to Reid, Kurtz's problem of maintaining his rule underlies his constituting the rite of sacrifice and the attendant cannibalism whereby he carries out these rites. Reid here draws on "determinism" in claiming that Kurtz's descent into bestiality is inevitable; according to him, should there be anybody in Kurtz's shoes, he will have to act just as Kurtz did. It is this inevitability which accounts for critics' refusal to examine these rites.

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