A note on parallelism between Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Mehreen Ahmed’s Moirae
written by: Mehreen Ahmed
When the stream of consciousness technique was first introduced at the turn of the 20th century, it was difficult for many publishers to accept it. Mainly because, such a style endorsed ungrammatical choppy sentences, and sentences that had not made much sense. After James Joyce, finished and published Ulysses, it was almost impossible to comprehend it, because of the many spelling and grammar errors in it: mother was spelt as nother and many such errors in punctuations through to the last chapter which concluded in a total mayhem with Milly’s thoughts. It had 5000 errors, and many of them were intentional.
Stream of consciousness as suggested by the terminology, is but an internal act of undeterred flow of thinking. When reflected in narration, the written language flows unplugged without stops. Sentence endings and punctuations in the narrative are rare and often ungrammatical with misspellings, as they would appear in the characters’ thoughts. Monologues, therefore, take precedence over dialogues and soliloquies. Such thoughts are sporadic and must never find an audience. They appear in the mind spontaneously and remain there for as long as the characters are engaged with the selves.
Only narrators who are omniscient and omnipresent have access to those private thoughts. It is their jobs to soak them up like a sponge and wring out the thoughts in narrations, to inform the reader exactly how they took place in the characters’ minds. As a mediator, between readers and the characters, the narrators do not interpret or intervene in such thought processes, rather allow for the narrations to be filtered through them.
Having said the above, how does this definition fit Moirae? Although Moirae is an ode to a nondescript, floating population, it is nevertheless an allegory and a dream allegory at that. The story is one of persecution where innumerable nameless people are seen fleeing their villages together on a boat called the Blue Moon, to seek asylum elsewhere. However, the place in which asylum is sought is not free of danger either. And they soon find their fates hanging in the balance, once again.
The narration takes place in a dream of the main character, a female protagonist by the name of Nalia. Nalia is intelligent, but is a poor village girl. She sees things through her wavering dreams which the narrator follows, and pens down as they appear. The only place where the narrator’s presence is felt is when she introduces her own PoV. However, those points of views have also been interjected in a dreamlike fashion, so they would merge seamlessly into an already existing dreamline that Nalia is dreaming.
As for the other characters, they have all been mediated through Nalia’s one gigantic dream, where diverse thoughts, voices, actions and experiences have slipped. We see them through a haze of smoke-screen. The many errors littered across the novel, are thus accounted for as stream of consciousness; a result filtered through this lucid dreaming. The ending of the novel is particularly dreamlike where a utopia has been painted and delivered to this long-suffering, plight-ridden people. A place where spectacular new life begins.
One parallelism that can be drawn between Mehreen Ahmed’s Moirae and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is this. Heart of Darkness is a voyage just not to Africa, but into the minds of a confused peoples, at the brunt of the horrific treatment by the British colonization. The chaotic, stream-of-consciousness style Conrad adopted displayed the confusion of those characters, and challenged the readers to think what the writer meant. Conrad experiments with this style, left some sentences without ending: “not a sentimental pretense but an idea;…something you can set up…and offer a sacrifice to….” (Conrad, Longman p. 2195), very choppy sentences full of holes for readers to interpret for themselves what they meant.
Conrad talks of the “two women knitted black wool feverishly,” similar to Moirae where the character Nalia records her story in her knitting, in her dreaming, of the horrendous persecutions by the regime. This which substitutes Conrad’s British of”weak-eyed devil(s) of a rapacious and pitiless folly” (Conrad, Longman pp. 2198, 2199, & 2202). Like Conrad’s mind moves through a long literary monologue to convey to the reader his ideas, Nalia in Moirae does the same, interpreting perceived notions of democracy through long monologues in her knitted tales.
A critically acclaimed writer, Mehreen Ahmed has published flash fiction, short stories, novels, historical travelogue, academic reviews/article and journalistic write-ups. She has published with Routledge: Journal of Computer Assisted Language Learning, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge journals Language Teaching, Language Learning and Technology, Straylight Literary Magazine: University of Wisconsin-Parkland, English Department, Storyland Literary Review, Wordcurd, Story Institute, Cosmic Teapot Publishing, The Sheaf: Campus newspaper for the University of Saskachewan and the Dawn blog. The Midwest Book Review, has reviewed one of her books, The Pacifist. Two of her short stories, The Anomalous Duo has been translated in German, Familie (er)zählt: Selection of stories completed; Sammlung abgeschlossen, (In press) and The Black Coat, in Greek: ΤΟ ΜΑΥΡΟ ΠΑΛΤΟ, published in Nyctophilia.gr. She has an MA in English Literature, Dhaka University and an MA in Applied Linguistics from the University of Queensland, Brisbane Australia. She was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, but lives in Australia.