CONCOURS GÉNÉRAL DES LYCÉES – SESSION DE 1980
(Classes de Première A, B, C, D et E)
DURÉE : 5 heures
N.B. L’usage de tout dictionnaire est interdit.
(The writer who in his childhood had dreamed of exploring unknown continents is now skirting the African coast in a French steamer. He will be dropped at the mouth of the Congo river from where he will proceed inland to the ivory country)
I left in a French steamer, and she called in every blamed port they have out there, for, as far as I could see, the sole purpose of landing soldiers and custom-house officers. I watched the coast. Watching a coast as it slips by the ship is like thinking about an enigma. There it is before you-smihng, frowning, inviting, grand, mean, insipid, or savage, and always mute with an air of whispering, Come and find out. This one was almost featureless, as if still in the making, with an aspect of monotonous grimness…
We pounded along, stopped, landed soldiers; went on, landed custom-house clerks to levy toll in what looked like a God-forsaken wilderness, with a tin shed and a flagpole lost in it; landed more soldiers-to take care of the custom-house clerks, presumably…
Every day the coast looked the same, as though we had not moved; but we passed various places-trading places-with names like Gran Bassam, Little Popo-names that seemed to belong to some sordid farce acted in front of a sinister backcloth. The idleness of a passenger, my isolation amongst all these men with whom I had no point of contact, the oily and languid sea the uniform somberness of the coast, seemed to keep me away from the truth of things, within the toil of a mournful and senseless delusion.
The voice of the surf heard now and then was a positive pleasure, like the speech of a brother. It was something natural, that had its reason, that had a meaning. Now and then a boat from the shore gave one a momentary contact with reality. It was paddled by black fellows. You could see from afar the white of their eyeballs glistening. They shouted, sang; their bodies streamed with perspiration; they had faces like grotesque masks—these chaps; but they had bone, muscle, a wild vitality, an intense energy of movement, that was as natural and true as the surf along their coast. They wanted no excuse for being there. They were a great comfort to look at. For a time I would feel I belonged still to a world of straightforward facts; but the feeling would not last long. Something would turn up to scare it away.
Once, I remember, we came upon a man-of-war anchored off the coast. There wasn’t even a shed there, and she was shelling the bush. It appears the French had one of their wars going on thereabouts. In the empty immensity of earth, sky, and water, there she was, incomprehensible, firing into a continent. There was a touch of insanity in the proceeding, a sense of lugubrious drollery in the sight; and it was not dissipated by somebody on board assuring me earnestly there was a camp of natives — he called them enemies — hidden out of sight somewhere.
We called at some more places with farcical names, where the merry dance of death and trade goes on in a still and earthy atmosphere as of an overheated catacomb; all along the formless coast bordered by dangerous surf, as if Nature herself had tried to ward off intruders. Nowhere did we stop long enough to get a particularized impression, but the general sense of vague and oppressive wonder grew upon me. It was like a weary pilgrimage amongst hints for nightmares.
J. CONRAD, Heart of Darkness, 1902.
1. What shows the writer is not enjoying his voyage? What does he feel about it?
2. What does Conrad mean by « watching a coast as it slips by the ship is like thinking about an enigma »?
3. What may have prompted so many men in the past to undertake expeditions or perilous voyages to far-away unknown countries?
What sort of men were they ?
What were they in quest of ?
Try to support your point with examples from history or literature.
4. What were the main consequences of such discoveries or conquests ?