What did Marlow Learn?
Marlow is the main character in Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness. The protagonist is also the narrator in the story about the experiences of an explorer in the foreign lands in the wake of Western imperialism in Africa. The protagonist, Marlow, is an eloquent storyteller whom the author uses to give an exposition of his own experiences in the Congo, albeit with a touch of fiction. The story line revolves around the experiences of Marlow as a riverboat captain for the Company, a Belgian organization that trades in the Congo. The focus is on the journey that Marlow makes up the perilous Congo River in order to meet the legendary Kurtz who runs an Inner Station of the Company in a remote setting along the Congo River (Conrad 12). The story covers Marlow’s journey, first from England to the Congo, then into the interior to meet the enigmatic Kurtz. The protagonist’s piloting of the boat along the dangerous Congo River symbolizes his tribulations. The title Heart of Darkness highlights the Eurocentric attitude towards Africa, about its lack of civilization and therefore the need to bring light to it through colonization (Moore 19). In the mission that Marlow undertakes, he learns about the West and their imperialistic mission, and finally, he is able to deconstruct some lifelong myths about the West.
Marlow features as an independent-minded individual who has his own ideologies about many things. He therefore comes out as critical of the imperialism of the West in the so-called “uncivilized world.” This manifests itself in the manner which he questions some establishments of the colonial process, and the real civilizations of the Europeans who have taken it upon themselves to civilize the “uncivilized” people in Africa through their colonization (McCarthy 16). Despite the sentiments that Marlow has about the colonization process, he is also a victim of the same Eurocentric attitudes that he attempts to deconstruct through his actions and philosophies (Parras, 23). Nevertheless, he comes to some important realizations about his own people, the Europeans, the process of imperialism, the conspiracies that come with the entire process, as well as the natives who experience the full force of the imperialism process (Hampson 18).
The first thing that Marlow learns in the story is the great similarity that exists between his own people, the English, and the uncivilized people of the colonial world. Marlow is highly introspective, and therefore does not share most of his thoughts with those in his company (Njeng 21). However, the readers are able to penetrate his mind and learn what his sentiments about colonization are through his habitual introspection. Marlow comes to the realization that it is inappropriate for Europeans to view colonized people as primitive and backward in the evolutionary scale (Njeng 11). According to him, the Europeans were, and some of them still are savages just like the Africans and the other races that they have set out to civilize through the colonization process.
The British were equally savage before the Romans took over them and civilized them through colonizing them. He makes a comparison between the river Thames and the Congo River and sees little difference between them, because when the Romans first arrived in London in their imperialistic mission, the river was just as treacherous as the Congo River was at the moment of authorship of the book. The state of Congo at the time of Belgium’s occupation of the country was therefore just a reminder of the far the Europeans had come and therefore could not be used as a basis to justify the brutality of the colonial masters towards the colonized people (Moore 12).
Secondly, Marlow learns that the civilization hat that the Europeans and those they enlist in the process of “civilizing” the natives put on is indeed an illusion. The Europeans have put up colonial structures in order to civilize the natives, and make them...
Cited: Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York: Dover, 1902. Print.
Conrad, Joseph, and Ross C. Murfin. Heart of Darkness: A Case Study in Contemporary Criticism. New York: St. Martin 's Press, 2009 Print.
Hampson, Robert (2011) Joseph Conrad: postcolonialism and imperialism. EurAmerica, 41 (1).
McCarthy, Jeffrey Mathes. (2009) “A Choice of Nightmares’: The Ecology of Heart of Darkness.” MFS: Modern Fiction Studies 55, 3 pp 620-48.
Moore, Gene M. (2010) Joseph Conrad 's Heart of Darkness: A Casebook. Oxford [England: Oxford University Press..
Njeng, Eric Sipyinyu "Achebe, (2006) Conrad, and the Postcolonial Strain." CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture 10.1
Parras, John. Poetic Prose and Imperialism: The Ideology of Form in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. New York: Cambridge Universirty. 2006.Print.
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