I think Gerald Graff’s article is, by far, my favorite article we have read so far. While reading this article I kept thinking, “wow, this guy really gets it!” I love literature, but I hate taking lit classes because the professor is typically very one-sided in beliefs and interpretations. I had a fantastic teacher in high school who told us that there is no one true meaning to most literature; everyone has their own interpretations, and the majority of them could be right.
I had to read Heart of Darkness for a class last semester, and my professor was very one-sided about the novella. We also read Achebe’s essay, but we were still only allowed to believe in our professor’s interpretation about both works. If we had a different interpretation of them and professed it on our test, then we would be downgraded. Unfortunately, I have learned to put aside my own interpretation of texts and write about my professor’s interpretations so I can receive a good grade. This is pathetic considering there is no one Truth to a text. No one person can know the exact meaning on these pieces of work considering its authors are dead. Its not like we can communicate through the grave, that is, unless you are psychic. Graff quotes Mr. Crews in saying, “Literature is a site of struggle whose primary conflicts, both intrapsychic and social, deserve to be brought to light rather than homogenized into notions of fixed authorial ‘values.’ ” This is exactly right. We cannot continue to only listen to our professor’s interpretations, we, as students, need to have our own meanings. I think the best way to teach a literature class is to examine several other interpretations of the text and let students decide which one they think is most valuable. We need to stop believing everything our teachers tell us, and learn to be our own person.
Graff primarily focused on racism when examining Heart of Darkness and how Conrad was racist towards the natives, but I think it goes beyond that. Conrad lived in a time of absolute racism. Teachers should not teach students that Conrad was a horrible person because, typically, most people though Blacks were disgusting creatures who were only meant only to be slaves. Teachers need to explain that this was how most people of that period thought, and it was accepted to do so. Educators need to let students think of how we have developed and changed our ways of thinking since that period, and make Heart of Darkness into a historical lesson as well as an interpretative exercise.