Imperialism: Heart of Darkness
June 14, 2012
Imperialism Critique: Heart of Darkness
Table of Contents
Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was published in 1902 and was one of the first modern novels of that time. Heart of Darkness is a psychological journey to Africa on a ship named the Nellie. One of the characters, Marlow, an agent for a Belgian Ivory Trading firm, recounts his journey into Africa. This journey is shared with a grim account on imperialism.
Hunt Hawkins believes that Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was an anti-imperialism novel, as opposed to what some may believe while reading the novel; an example would be Chinua Achebe, who believes the novel to be racist and de-humanizing. Imperialism in Africa was evident in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and the affects of it was not only political, but also social, psychological, and spiritual. This essay will show a critical deconstruction on imperialism and Conrad’s work. Background
In order to understand the point of this essay, one would need to understand what deconstruction is as well as imperialism.
Deconstruction, according to Jacques Derrida, started in late 1960s France and “upends the Western metaphysical tradition. It represents a complex response to a variety of theoretical and philosophical movements of the 20th century. Barbara Johnson writes that “The term denotes a particular kind of practice in reading and, thereby, a method of criticism and mode of analytical inquiry…A deconstructive reading is a reading which analyses the specificity of a text’s critical difference from itself” .
Imperialism has many meanings, one is that it is a “imperial government, authority, or system” , but this is not the definition of imperialism that will be used in this essay. Imperialism can also mean a “policy, practice, or advocacy of extending the power and dominion of a nation especially by direct territorial acquisitions or by gaining indirect control over the political or economic life of other areas; boraodly: the extension or imposition of power, authority, or influence”. This meaning is what will be used in this essay. Imperialism: The Four Critics
There are four main critics that deconstructed Conrad’s work using an imperialistic viewpoint. Even though they all were using the same viewpoint they came up with very diverse interpretations of the three passages of Conrad’s work that they used.
The first of the four critics described Conrad’s work was that of the “knights-errant” “who sailed down the Thames bearing ‘a spark from the scared fire’ together with ‘the seed of commonwealths, the germs of the empire” . The other two passages were told by Marlow. As Marlow looks at a “map of Africa, Marlow remarks, ‘There was a vast amount of red—good to see at any time, because one knows that some real work is done in there” (p. 10). This statement is a compare and contrast on other colonies. Stating that other countries are more “colonized” than that of Africa, and Africa needs a lot of work to be up to par with the other colonies. Marlow also does this with modern British imperialism and the ancient Romans: “What saves us [the British] is efficiency---the devotion to efficiency. But these chaps [the Romans] were not much account, really. They were no colonists; their administration was merely a squeeze, and nothing more I suspect. They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force---nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got….The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have different complexion or slightly flatter noses that ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the...
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