Google claims that there are 129,864,880 different books that grace this planet with their presence. Of these millions of books however, very few can truly call themselves a classic; a bastion of thought of its’ time and a work that will be read for centuries to come. However, which pieces of literature can be deemed classics is often up to interpretation and difficult to decide but luckily two of the three texts that were read in class this year can clearly be considered classics by most standards. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and Hamlet by William Shakespeare both prove themselves to be classic pieces of literature due to their ability to effectively convey complex human thoughts and feelings using only their words and by both standing the test of time and having a theme that can be related to throughout history and provide multitude of interpretation.
Human brains are said to average about 48.6 thoughts per minute, or about 70,000 thoughts per day according to the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging at the University of Southern California. Being able to efficiently choose which human thoughts and emotions are the most important and having the ability to carry the weight these ideas have onto paper is the hallmark of a great writer and a classic piece. William Shakespeare is able to wonderfully and realistically transcript the thoughts a vengeful prince, and really all humans, have when considering whether justice and revenge is worth the pain when he writes Hamlet as saying “Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles” (Shakespeare 3.1.65). Shakespeare is able to write Hamlet in a way so that even a pauper can relate to the struggles of a prince, because the ideas in the text are universal and relative. Any person can feel as though they are fighting against “a sea of troubles” and any person can rationalize and try to weigh the pros and cons of a situation, and this is what makes Shakespeare’s writing and Hamlet so awe-strikingly amazing; Shakespeare is able to truly capture what humans are and is able to get through all the other 69,999 thoughts and give the reader exactly what is the most important thought. Hundreds of years later, Joseph Conrad proved to the world that he could do the same. In Heart of Darkness Conrad faced what can be judged as almost a more difficult challenge than Shakespeare. Conrad not only had to dig through all the ideas a person can be having about imperialism, but he also had to try and fight through his own biases, and try to explain his thoughts in a way that would not be immediately rejected by his readers. Conrad artfully managed to disguise some of his anti-imperialism philosophies by first giving the reader a fan fare of European superiority, as if he was softening up the reader so they can be more accepting of the information. A clear example of this higher level writing and manipulation is seen when Conrad first describes a European ship as bombarding the African coast but he reassures the reader by quoting a ship member as saying the Africans were enemies. The reader then can think a familiar thought, us vs them, Europeans vs Africans and the Europeans are winning against the enemies! It is not until one of the following passages that Conrad then pulls back the curtain in front of the reader’s eyes and authoritatively states “these men could by no stretch of imagination be called enemies” (Conrad 17). Now Conrad has infiltrated the biased mind of the reader and shown that their initial opinion and thought on the matter was completely wrong, but only after he had prepared them for the idea. This is masterful writing that gains even more prestige when it is seen through the context of the time, where many Europeans turned a blind eye towards imperialism’s ugly underbelly. Conrad is exposing the underbelly and forcing the reader’s eyes open, and this type of writing and ability to quite strategically convey thoughts to the reader is wonderful proof of Heart of Darkness’ classic status.
More conventionally, a classic is a book that can stand the test of time and retain its intellectual value. Heart of Darkness’ ideas on what it means to be human and what differentiates man from anything else will forever hold its value as long as humans believe that our thinking is superior to any other thinking (the foundation of the vegan movement). In his book Conrad philosophizes as to what makes Marlow, the European, any different than the prehistoric men on the shore. He wrestles with this question, writing “This suspicion of their not being inhuman’..’Principles? Principles won’t do.’…’No; you want a deliberate belief.” (Conrad 41). Conrad poses the question to the reader and asks whether Europeans are any different from the prehistoric Africans, and the fact that he is entirely failing to effectively assure himself that there is any difference gives the sense that there may in fact be no difference, and this idea is an idea that will stay with humans for as long as we exist, and this in part helps elevate the book to earn a classic ranking. Shakespeare’s Hamlet, similarly to Heart of Darkness, is able to powerfully preach the theme of empathy, a human truth that will stay among us for all time though his inclusion of Fortinbras character and finale. Shakespeare continually references the crown prince of Norway, Fortinbras, throughout the book and draws a clear parallel between Hamlet and Fortinbras by showing both of their plights to gain justice for actions taken against their fathers. The theme of empathy between the two is then shown in the finale of the play where Hamlet’s tragic death is explained to Fortinbras, and although Fortinbras was sieging the castle and he and Hamlet would technically be enemies, Fortinbras sees how the two men are similar and he orders “four captains bear Hamlet like a solider to the stage” (Shakespeare 5.2.441). The inclusion of this theme of empathy, along with the obvious overarching theme of revenge in Shakespere’s Hamlet aids in giving it the uncontested status of a classic book.
Although Virgina Woolf’s To the Lighthouse also has themes that will reign true throughout time, and she does convey the thoughts a human might have, To the Lighthouse does not gain the title of classic piece of literature because it does not do either of these things effectively. Woolf is almost annoyingly cryptic and writes around the central ideas she seems to be trying to present, and ultimately does not do a great job at getting her point across. However, Joseph Conrad and William Shakespeare did not share this inability to convey ideas effectively with Woolf, and their works Heart of Darkness and Hamlet, both prove themselves to be classic pieces of literature because of their ability to express timeless themes and present the most important ideas a human might have about their subject in an effective manner.