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Invisible Laborers

Invisible Laborers 

by Tiffany Kinney

Even though industrialization transforms the traditional pastoral, it continues to function as a method of oppression, by obscuring economic relationships, through directed focus and dialectic theory. Conrad’s Heart of Darkness reflects the traditional pastoral, characterized by “some form of retreat and return” (Gifford 1). By focusing on nature through Marlow’s journey, the African natives become part of the periphery, thereby allowing for exploitation. Howard’s End reflects a transition from the “popular and sentimental [pastoral] to one that is imaginative and complex” (Marx 5). Mrs. Dalloway makes the final leap into a “pastoral of the mind,” where characters retreat into their thoughts to escape bustling London (Gifford 10). Morphing into an imaginative pastoral continues to obscure laborers’ relationship with the land by replacing the land.


Heart of Darkness is a traditional pastoral which obscures the natives by personifying them as nature, describing them as “within” the landscape or on the periphery. “The face of the forest was gloomy” mentions Marlow, thereby personifying nature as a human (Conrad 148). This depiction makes human features appear as part of the landscape. By creating a landscape described as human, actual humans are “merg[ed] with the landscape” (Williams 132). Through this merge a working relationship to the land is obscured, wherein “men were subjugated to [land]… bought and sold like [real-estate] (Williams 39). The workers are further described as “mostly black and moved about like ants,” therein forging a deeper boundary “which helps to mask real problems of an industrialized civilization” (Conrad 116, Marx 7). Besides becoming part of the landscape, workers were obscured by a focus towards describing the landscape. “When vegetation rioted the earth, the big trees were like kings” explains Marlow (Conrad 136). With a focus on “kings” “there is a note of idealization [accompanied] by extended retrospect” (Williams 17). This idealization allows for “actual exploitation of the people who lived and worked in the rural landscape” (Gifford 9). The idealization of nature continues as nature begins to dictate how characters should feel when “a change came over the water, and serenity became less brilliant and more profound” (Conrad 104). By allowing nature to dictate feeling, the landscape is given emotional and not just physical qualities. These qualities function by de-humanizing laborers as landscape, making exploitation easier.

Natives in Heart of Darkness are also exploited by appearing on the periphery of their landscape. “A nigger was being beaten nearby” and “the hurt nigger moaned somewhere nearby” makes the native a “nearby” after thought (Conrad 125, 128). An after thought which functions by placing natives on the periphery, obscuring their “back breaking labor” and “evading the bitterness of the time” (Conrad 154, Williams 45). The natives were exploited to “tear treasure out of the bowls of the land” (Conrad 133). This land served to obscure them through personification as the land, description “within” the land and life on the periphery.

Throughout Heart of Darkness, Marlow suggests guilt associated with exploitation. “The reality-- I tell you fades. The inner truth is hidden--- luckily, luckily” therein suggesting the above guilt (Conrad 137). By using nature as a cloak to hide the working landscape, the “reality” of humanity does fade. When humanity fades, Marlow infers that exploiters are “lucky” to be hidden from the reality that they create. Marlow’s luck is echoed through his “choice of nightmare,” which implies a choice to venture into the darkness, as opposed to the laborers who were given no choice (Conrad 169). Exploitation of “the laborers, who we never see” is indirectly inferred with use of the word, “nightmare.” (Williams 54). Marlow’s references to guilt and native exploitation reflect “an oblique form” of presenting important “political or social issues” (Stevenson 17). Marlow’s oblique form emphasizes the unstable ground of “the impossibility of knowing reality with any certainty” (Stevenson 26). As the Nellie, “penetrates deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness,” uncertainty in the fog and with the arrows “undermine feelings of security and continuity” (Conrad 138, Stevenson 14). Impressionism characterizes the above method of recognition, as the sticks are transformed into arrows. By using literary conventions, attention is taken away from the already “oblique” content and placed on form, thereby forging a wider boundary between laborers and their land.

Howard’s End acts as a novel of transition from the traditional into the complex pastoral. As landscape in Howard’s End continues to become mechanized, a new retreat within the mind is suggested. Yet, this new retreat is tempered by Forster’s concern for “personal relationships throughout the novel” (Stevenson 20). The Wilcoxes demonstrate a reaction against the internal pastoral by being perpetually associated with their “pragmatic but soulless materialism” (Stevenson 21). This materialism is emphasized in their “ordinary London house” and reiterated when “they shall easily find another” (Forster 62). The Wilcox’s materialism promotes a “loss of connection… a failure of identity in a crowd of others… and [eventually] a loss of society” (Williams 150). Besides Wilcox’s materialism, societal loss is also reiterated when “human beings [being to] hear each other speak with greater difficulty” (Forster 79). This similar disconnection is suggested by a depiction of London as “a foretaste of this nomadic civilization that was altering nature so profoundly” (Forster 186). The above city, London, functions as industry encroaching upon the country, thereby promoting a pastoral of the mind.

To the dismay of Mrs. Wilcox, “London’s creeping” forces the Schlegel’s to leave their home (Forster 240). The above spirit of transition culminates in class relations, reflected between the Schlegel’s and the Wilcoxes. By extension, Charles demonstrates the Wilcox’s opinion of this transition when he “admits, [he’s] rather down on cosmopolitans” (Forster 75). This opinion is similarly demonstrated by Margaret Schlegel, who “felt for a moment that the whole Wilcox family was a fraud” (Forester 22). Class transitions between the elite intellectuals and entrepreneurial businessmen were invoked by industrialization and the Great War. The Great War influences the pastoral when it creates “confusion with the industrial and the natural” (Fussell 238). “Country life… [became] an alternative to war,” and also industrialism, as “[Edward’s] fortress gave way… [and Margaret] takes him down to Howard’s End to recruit” (Williams 24, Forster 237). The use of war terms “recruit” and “fortress” suggest the above confusion between the “industrial and the natural.” War terms are further reflected in Forester’s depiction of “the sky as a crimson battlefield of Spring” (Forster 89). By juxtaposing “Spring” and “battlefield” in description of the sky, a confusion of natural and industrial is similarly revealed. Natural and industrial confusion infer a transition between the physical and mental pastoral.

By focusing on the “problem of relation between the inherited landed families and… the professional people,” various classes are excluded (Williams 175). Stereotypes created by lower class exclusion, serve as “an identity label around [their] neck… forc[ing] a type of limiting human knowledge.” (Williams 151). Class exclusion is easily highlighted by the narrator’s assertion “that we are not concerned with the very poor” (Forster 34). Stereotypes promulgated by class exclusion are evident in the Schlegel’s characterization of Leonard Bass as “so poor. He lives a life where all the money is apt to go on nonsense and clothes” (Forster 97). Helen Schlegel further emphasizes this excluding stereotype, when she condescendingly declares that “uneducated classes are so stupid” (Forester 146). Besides exclusion, the lower classes are also subject to “a negative system of indifference” (Williams 154). Above indifference is exposed by Edward Wilcox, who claims “to trust people is a luxury, in which only the wealthy can indulge” (Forster 28). Howard’s End further attempts to obscure relations with the poor, when “visible individual facts, [are exposed] but often hidden, common destiny” is not (Williams 154). “Visible facts” are highlighted in the assumption that “there had always been rich and poor” (Forster 140). This assumption reflects visible facts, but pays no attention to a “common destiny” inferred as death.

With Howard’s End acting as a transition, Mrs. Dalloway reflects the full “inward turn” into the imaginative pastoral. Woolf’s novel culminates in Clarissa’s party, which is representative of a human wilderness, offering her guests a retreat. In Mrs. Dalloway, Clarissa acts as a “self conscious observer… [who] is … looking at the land,” imaginatively represented in the minds surrounding her (Williams 121). This internal pastoral is emphasized by Peter Walsh, who “found life like an unknown garden” (Woolf 152). Natural language again reiterates these moments as “buds of life on a tree, flowers of darkness” (Woolf 29). The natural language employed by Walsh implies a pastoral retreat into his mind, his life and his memories. Physical remnants of a the imaginative pastoral are characterized as “men and women, who do not so much relate as pass each other and then sometimes collide” (Williams 155). Clarissa’s party offers an opportunity for these minds to “sometimes collide” seeking “real and inevitable relationships and connections” (Williams 155). A connection meant the potential “to say things you couldn’t say… to go much deeper” (Woolf 171). Ephemeral qualities of the imaginative pastoral are highlighted by “ceaselessly floating up… taking away from the sense of the earth” (Woolf 57). With the War and industrialization over, characters in Mrs. Dalloway seek refuge in the imaginary pastoral.

Even though imaginative pastoral is prevalent, Mrs. Dalloway still has remnants of traditional pastoralism. Characteristics of this pastoral are implied as Clarissa sought refuge in “her garden and got peace from her flowers” (Woolf 193). “The details [of the pastoral] invoked comfort” within Clarissa; this comfort is emphasized when Richard claims her “health, would have [improved if she] lived in the country” (Williams 145, Woolf 179). Yet, throughout Mrs. Dalloway the simple pastoral functions “on the periphery, a source of remembered images” (Marx 304). The use of both imaginative and traditional suggest that “[the former]… is inseparably locked to its opposite” (Marx 318). This lock creates a circular formation of pastoralism throughout Mrs. Dalloway, wherein characters psychologically and physically retreat.

The complex and simple pastoral obscures economic relations by directing focus onto nature of the internal and physical, respectively. Within the internal, “invention of scenery” depicts a [non] rural landscape emptied of [any] laborers” (Williams 125). This landscape is “shown as a human landscape of the city” (Williams 158). Ironically, this human scenery “leaves no holes in its tightly drawn mesh, wherein most actual people are simply not seen” (Williams 166). The “tightly drawn mesh” of this scenery further reflects a “narrowing of people and situations” (Williams 166). Through the mesh, “the world of everyday life and ordinary work is inferior” because of the upper classes “sheer light-heartedness and contempt for poverty” (Williams 198, Woolf 19). The above “contempt for poverty” functions to exclude “a people, living a little less nearby, that can’t be visited” (Williams 166). With this exclusion, “the spirit of the community has been disposed” to make way for “a choice of human shape [in] the new social and physical environment” (Williams 131, Williams 161). Clarissa reveals her hierarchical “choice of human shape,” wherein “she could feel nothing for the Albanians” (Woolf 120). This “collective consciousness, absence of common feeling and excessive subjectivity” illustrates that, for Clarissa, “life had been drugged into a stiff corpse of discipline” (Williams 215, Woolf 51). She attempts to “escape this…[numbness]” but making her “inner world… more of interest” (Williams 130, Marx 29). Clarissa’s reaction mirrors a bigger reaction characterizing the imaginative pastoral, to “supplant obsolete forms in every possible sphere of human behavior” (Marx 231). By removing the pastoral into the imagination of one social class, Mrs. Dalloway obscures land relations, by not having a physical landscape or even acknowledging the people laboring upon that landscape.

In the end, the pastoral departs into the simple as “aesthetically and emotionally satisfying” and the complex as “analytically and practically effective” (Marx 324). Yet, neither pastoral attempts to “cope with harsh realities,” both are only able to “resolve contradictions [between the country and the city] in oblique, morally equivocal ways” (Marx 324, 352). These oblique ways are highlighted throughout Heart of Darkness, as the natives become obscured by their personification with the land and their function as the periphery. In Howard’s End, industrialization causes a transition from an intellectual to a business elite, wherein the lower classes are forgotten because the reemerging upper classes must first forge a “connection.” Mrs. Dalloway embodies a shift into the imaginative pastoral, with continuing remnants of the simple pastoral in her “country retreat” and personal garden. The imaginative pastoral in Mrs. Dalloway is traversed through the sounds of Big Ben and furthered by the sudden presence of an automobile, airplane and “spider threads” (Woolf 114). This pastoral reminds Woolf’s characters that “life escapes; and perhaps, without life, nothing is worth while” (Woolf 153). In British Literature, the pastoral functions by creating invisible laborers, for whom “nothing is worth while.”

Works Cited
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.
Forster, E.M. Howards End: A Norton Critical Edition. New York: W.W. Norton and
Company, 1998.
Fussell, Paul. “Arcadian Recourses.” The Great Was and Modern Memory. 1975.
Gifford, Terry. Pastoral: Three Kinds of Pastoral. 1-12.
Marx, Leo. The Machine in the Garden: Technological and the Pastoral Ideal in America.
New York: Oxford University Press, 1964.
Stevenson. Elephant and Sandcastle: The Edwardian Years. 8-28.
Williams, Raymond. The Country and the City. New York: Oxford University Press,
Woolf, Virginia. Modern Fiction. 150-158.
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Inc., 1925.