19 March 2013
Colonialism and Irony in “An Outpost of Progress”
“An Outpost of Progress” is a story of irony and colonialism in Africa in the nineteenth century, written by Joseph Conrad. In this Story two European men, named Kayerts and Carlier, are deployed to a trading outpost in a remote part of the African jungle. They take part ivory trading in hopes of making themselves and the company they work for wealthier. Trading outposts in the late nineteenth century were a trademark for colonialist efforts in foreign lands. Colonialism is the establishment, exploitation, maintenance, acquisition and expansion of colonies in one territory by people from another territory (Wikipedia). During the nineteenth century Africa had to deal with a lot of pressure from European imperialists. These pressures included diplomatic pressures, military invasions, and eventual colonization. By the early twentieth century, the majority of Africa had been colonized by European powers.
Although heavily colonized already, Africa, the “vast and dark country” (Conrad Page 2) represented a large territory that had not been taken advantage of completely for its land and natural resources. England along with many other colonialist powers made many attempts at Africa in an attempt to continue their colonialist dominance. “It is inherent in a great colonial and commercial empire like ours that we go forward” (Lugard 585). An example of colonialist tactics that were implemented towards the end of the nineteenth century that Conrad incorporated in “An outpost of progress” was Kayerts and Carlier being assigned to the trading outpost in Africa. These two men were transferred from government posts at home and sent, like the previous station chief to the unknown country to “civilize” the natives and establish good local markets and to earn profits to send home. However, Kayerts and Carlier were in no way, shape, or form the men for the job and the Director of the company knew it: "Look at those two imbeciles. They must be mad at home to send me such specimens. I told those fellows to plant a vegetable garden, build new storehouses and fences, and construct a landing-stage. I bet nothing will be done! They won't know how to begin. I always thought the station on this river useless, and they just fit the station!" "They will form themselves there," said the old stager with a quiet smile. "At any rate, I am rid of them for six months," retorted the director. (Conrad Page 2) Their mission was to bring their way of life to "a savage people." Kayerts and Carlier and the Company represent what was going on culturally during the period of European expansion. The leaders of Europe saw it as their duty to conquer and rule countries containing different cultures and races of people. Cultural diversity was an unknown concept. People were placed on a scale of value, from highest to lowest. The people of Africa were seen as the lowest kind of people. European colonists believed they were at the high end of human development. They used every kind of coercion to subdue native people. From guns to religion, they thought it was their right, even their duty, to expand European beliefs, and values all over the world (Stanard). Like the station chief before them, however, their success was limited. Kayerts and Carlier were completely unprepared and unskilled to perform the work expected of them and that which would be necessary to build a successful “outpost of progress.” “They were two perfectly insignificant and incapable individuals, whose existence is only rendered possible through the high organization of civilized crowds” (Conrad Page 2). The two men had no clue of the opportunity for expansion that they had around them: They lived like blind men in a large room, aware only of what came in contact with them (and of that only imperfectly), but unable to see the general aspect of things. The river, the forest, all the great land throbbing with...
Cited: Conrad, Joseph, “An Outpost of Progress”, ERes
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