colonialism in heart of darkness

Topics: Africa, Colonialism, Imperialism Pages: 9 (2807 words) Published: February 18, 2014


Literary Articles
Picture of European Colonialism and Imperialism in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness ‘The violence of beast on beast is read
As natural law, but upright man
Seeks his divinity by inflicting pain.’

-A Far Cry from Africa by Derek Walcott

The novel Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad is not a critique of European colonialism and imperialism in the post-colonial term. Certainly when the novel was published the colonialism was an accepted matter all over the world. Nobody questioned the audacity of colonialism. As a novelist Conrad himself is much criticized by post-colonial thinker like Chinua Achebe for his anthropocentricism and Eurocentricism. In spite of all these the novel contains many elements that are definitely post-colonial in nature and can be interpreted as an attack on the ruthless colonial exploitation

Now let’s, like Marlow himself, make a journey into Heart of Darkness to see Conrad’s treatment of colonialism in Africa. Imperialism was not just the practice of the European acts of colonization of other lands and people; imperialism was a philosophy that assumed the superiority of European civilization and therefore the moral responsibility to bring their enlightened ways to the "uncivilized" people of the world. This attitude was taken especially towards nonwhite, non-Christian cultures in India, Asia, Australia, and Africa. This idealistic view of imperialism was represented by Marlow. But through the disillusionment of Marlow the novelist shows the false basis of this imperialistic philosophy.

Marlow as a device

In fact Marlow is a device through which the novelist shows the real picture of the colonialism. Marlow believes that European men truly represent the good of imperialism. But the truth is just the opposite. The reality of European imperialism in Africa is total greed and evil. Marlow begins outside of London then travels to Brussels, then to Africa, the Outer Station, the Central Station, and finally, the Inner Station (detailed below), where Marlow meets Kurtz and has his last remaining illusion shattered.

Picture of colonialism is same

The picture of colonialism is same all over the world. It knows no time and no boundaries. This picture of colonialism is given at the beginning of the book. ‘I was thinking of old times, when the Romans first came here, nineteen hundred years ago’. ‘ … may it at last as long as the old earth keeps rolling! But darkness was here yesterday’. Marlow describes the struggles of the Romans with the weather, disease, savage inhabitants, and death while conquering the British Isles. He also states that the Roman explorers were "men enough to face the darkness." This reference to the early Romans' hardships and conquest in England is parallel to the hardships of the British in Africa. Marlow compares these ancient explorers to the modern European explorers, whom he regards as lesser men. For Marlow the only thing that "redeems" the "robbery" of imperialism is that there is a pure idea behind it. So we see that this is same thing that happens to the African people. This so-called bringers of light were themselves agents of darkness.

Marlow sings a contact with company

After he signs a contact with the trading company Marlow visits his aunt who supports the business of the company enthusiastically as if it were purely altruistic. She regards Marlow as "something like an emissary of light" and she talks of the Christian missionary goal of "'weaning those ignorant millions of their horrid ways.'" Marlow believes that his aunt's ignorance about the profit motive of the company arises from women's inability to deal with the reality of the world. Feeling like an impostor, Marlow sets sail for Africa, what he calls the "center of the earth," (which is also appropriately known as the location of hell).

Marlow’s first impression at the outer station

Marlow’s first impression of colonialism is horrible. At first he arrives at...
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