My Brilliant Friend

by Elena Ferrante

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What has changed in this new world we have entered with Ferrante in My Brilliant Friend, compared to what we left with Conrad in Heart of Darkness? Do these characters act in unexpected ways? Does the story seem fundamentally different than our previous readings?

Elena and Lila's rivalries and violent jealousies in My Brilliant Friend reflect the rivalry, violence, and betrayal in Heart of Darkness.

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The worlds of Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness are very different, but they do share some themes, like rivalries and violence. Let's look briefly at both books and their characters to help you get started on these questions.

My Brilliant Friend is set in Italy and focuses on the relationship of two girls who have grown up together in their rather poor neighborhood. As Elena and Lila get older, they develop a rivalry of sorts. Elena is always jealous of Lila for the latter's intelligence, and Elena often tries to copy what her friend does. Rivalries also develop among Lila's suitors and the young people in their neighborhood, and sometimes these break out into violence. The novel ends with Lila's wedding day, which turns out to be something of a disaster when her former suitor shows up wearing a sign of betrayal by Lila's new husband.

We might be surprised sometimes by how the characters behave. Lila has a streak of violence in her, and she threatens to kill more than one person. Elena lacks confidence in herself. Lila exhibits a surprising jealousy of Elena's writing, too, especially after years of Elena envying Lila.

Now let's turn our attention to Conrad's novel. It focuses on Marlow's journey into Africa, where he encounters rivalries and violence on more than one level, especially in the mysterious character of Kurtz, who often behaves in unexpected ways for motives of his own. We find betrayal here as well and many unanswered questions.

While these two books are extremely different, their themes sometimes reflect each other as they explore the dark side of humanity.

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