Home > Free Essays > Literature > British Literature > Literary Subjects in British Literature after 1798

Literary Subjects in British Literature after 1798 Essay

Exclusively available on IvyPanda Available only on IvyPanda
Updated: Oct 6th, 2021

The representation of foreign lands in popular fiction has been an integral part of world literature because it provides readers insight into the way people of a particular period perceived their world and the people in it. Obvious changes can be seen throughout the past couple of decades, and no two pieces of literature, whether from the same period and place or not, can truly deliver the same image of being a stranger in uncharted land. The three texts explored here, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Kubla Khan, and Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart are all popular examples of writers exploring foreign lands, though the language, tone, and ideas of each are singular and offer a unique perspective of an encounter between the author and his or her people and the foreign inhabitants of a strange land.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad stands the test of time as one of our language’s foremost works depicting a European man in a foreign land. Conrad follows Marlow’s journey up the Congo River in search of a fellow officer who has reportedly gone native. This novel is ideal when examining the confrontation between an outsider and foreign land. Throughout the work, Marlow contributes to the overall sense that the English, in Africa for their infamous missionary work and bloody colonization, consider themselves civilized in comparison to the natives who they perceive as lacking in decency, spirituality, intelligence, and community. It is made apparent to the reader, though, that the Europeans in Africa are no more civilized than the natives, that in fact, they’ve committed more gruesome and destructive acts in the name of religion and country than the natives have in their simple effort to survive.

When Marlow witnesses the natives he remarks: “They howled and leaped, and spun, and made horrid faces, but what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity—like yours—the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar” (Conrad 100). This is Conrad and Marlow’s admission that they realize how similar the hearts of both Africans and Europeans really are. Near the beginning of the novel, as Marlow’s ship approaches the opening of the Congo River they witness a French ship blasting cannons aimlessly at the shore. This is one image that Conrad uses to emphasize the mind-altering effect that this foreign land has on its visitors. Readers are meant to perceive this scene as the debilitating effects of the land on its visitors, but Conrad takes it further by making Kurtz, the perfect image of a European officer, just like the outrageous natives. Perhaps this is Conrad’s way of telling his readers that despite the difference in location, language, skin color, and culture, there are certain aspects of the human soul that are the same anywhere, at any time.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Kubla Khan is quite atypical when considering literature about foreign lands. It certainly focuses on a foreign and, in the minds of his contemporaries, mystical place: Kubla Khan was the Mongol and Chinese emperor of the Yuan dynasty, whose palace at Xanadu is the setting with which Coleridge works. It is generally believed, and claimed by the author himself, that Coleridge based the poem on a collection of hallucinations inspired by his consumption of opium (the subtitle of the poem, “A Vision in a Dream”, confirms this). Kubla Khan is also believed to be based on the description of the Xanadu palace by Marco Polo. As an English writer, Coleridge uses inspiration from an ancient account of a place he may have never seen. The real-life emperor Kubla Khan considered himself blessed by the Chinese gods and the equivalent of a son of God. He demanded that his palace at Xanadu be built to suit his greatness as Coleridge reiterates in the opening lines: “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan/A stately pleasure-dome decree” (Coleridge 1).

This is not only a vision of a foreign land; in his unique way, Coleridge uses a description of a few aspects of Kubla Khan’s life—his summer palace—to depict the power and majesty of an infamous near-deity and, at the same time, the particular magic that must have existed in this land and culture to have produced such an iconic figure. The tone and language of the piece are certainly mystical and idyllic; aside from being inspired by an opium hallucination, which makes for dream-like imagery, this is the author’s way of capturing the mystery and elusiveness of a foreign land. Unlike the other works, this poem deals with land and culture that, even during Coleridge’s time, was archaic. This adds to the mystic and foreign qualities of the piece. Another way Coleridge expresses his perception of the foreign land of ancient China is by using an allusion to Kubla Khan’s ten thousand horses, whose milk was granted to the select few who Khan deemed worthy. The closing lines state, “for he on honey-dew hath fed/ And drunk the milk of Paradise” (Coleridge 54). This allusion seems to bring together the culture of Kubla Khan’s people and the concept of Paradise, or perhaps heaven, which is rooted deeply in the religious beliefs that were prevalent during Coleridge’s time. Unlike Heart of Darkness and Things Fall Apart, which feature cultures that were contemporary to their authors, Coleridge explores a land that, even by his time, was archaic. This adds to the mystery and elusiveness of ancient China and gives us more of a view into the admiration and imagination of the author than the actual lifestyle of the characters in Coleridge’s poem.

Things Fall Apart differs from the previous two works in several ways. Among the most evident in the fact that while Conrad and Coleridge were white European men writing about a foreign land, Achebe is a Nigerian author writing in English about his country of origin. The main reason this text can be considered one about foreign lands is that it was written in English and has a long-time standing in the study of English literature. In Chapter 7, Achebe describes the arrival of the settlers in a metaphor: “And at last the locusts did descend. They settled on every tree and on every blade of grass; they settled on the roofs and covered the bare ground. Mighty tree branches broke away under them, and the whole country became the brown-earth color of the vast, hungry swarm” (Achebe 56). This seems to provide the opposite perspective of the one provided in Heart of Darkness. Achebe shows us this invasion through the eyes of the natives and gives us the sense of violation and sadness that besets the natives of foreign lands when they’re invaded by outsiders. While works by European or American authors about Africa will always have the perception of an outsider in an unusual world, Achebe’s work is that of a native living in the diaspora, writing of the home he has always known. Thus, the language and tone are unlike the other works because they display the portray a connection to the land and people that would not exist in a piece written by a foreigner.

These three works are integral in the exploration of English literature. While Conrad, Coleridge, and Achebe put forth work that contrasts the vast differences between a land and its culture with the outsiders who infiltrate, they simultaneously draw similarities that make us see that many aspects of the human condition are unchanging, regardless of one’s land or the language of origin. Reading texts like these benefit the reader’s understanding of literature in general, as well as inspiring travel and giving insight into cultures we may otherwise never experience. The language and attitudes expressed in the works analyzed here represent the time from which the works came and, in some ways, the perspective of the author on foreigners, travel, and relations between races and cultures. By reading and developing our ability to analyze works like these we get closer to understanding our own human nature and the inherent relationship we have with the culture into which we are born.

Works Cited

Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group: New York. (1959).

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Kubla Khan. Macmillan Company: London. (1902).

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Penguin Books Ltd: London. (1990).

This essay on Literary Subjects in British Literature after 1798 was written and submitted by your fellow student. You are free to use it for research and reference purposes in order to write your own paper; however, you must cite it accordingly.
Removal Request
If you are the copyright owner of this paper and no longer wish to have your work published on IvyPanda.
Request the removal

Need a custom Essay sample written from scratch by
professional specifically for you?

Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar

certified writers online

Cite This paper
Select a referencing style:

Reference

IvyPanda. (2021, October 6). Literary Subjects in British Literature after 1798. https://ivypanda.com/essays/literary-subjects-in-british-literature-after-1798/

Reference

IvyPanda. (2021, October 6). Literary Subjects in British Literature after 1798. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/literary-subjects-in-british-literature-after-1798/

Work Cited

"Literary Subjects in British Literature after 1798." IvyPanda, 6 Oct. 2021, ivypanda.com/essays/literary-subjects-in-british-literature-after-1798/.

1. IvyPanda. "Literary Subjects in British Literature after 1798." October 6, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/literary-subjects-in-british-literature-after-1798/.


Bibliography


IvyPanda. "Literary Subjects in British Literature after 1798." October 6, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/literary-subjects-in-british-literature-after-1798/.

References

IvyPanda. 2021. "Literary Subjects in British Literature after 1798." October 6, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/literary-subjects-in-british-literature-after-1798/.

References

IvyPanda. (2021) 'Literary Subjects in British Literature after 1798'. 6 October.

Powered by CiteTotal, automatic reference generator
More related papers