Morality in heart of darkness

884 words (4 pages) Essay

1st Jan 1970 English Literature Reference this

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The novella, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad has a strong theme of morality. Conrad’s goal using morality is moral confusion. The main character Charlie Marlow sets out on a journey with the European Ivory Trade to Africa. During this journey he discovers a dark dilemma of moral ethics. Being over taken by greed and imperialism, Marlow discovers just how easy it is to become inhuman without a structured society of civilization.

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Greed is an important part of the abandonment of morals in this novella. Ivory in this story is a symbol for greed and evil. The white European men come to Africa lustful for ivory, but also with a greed for power. One character in the novella named Kurtz harvested more ivory than the other stations. His power and greed turned him into a thief and a murderer. All the greed had taken over him in a sense where he believed “my intended, my ivory, my station, my river, my:” everything belonged to him. (Conrad 79). Ivory rules the characters in the book’s actions; “You would think they were praying to it” (Conrad 53). Greed destroys the colonists’ moral values and their only thought becomes making a profit without acknowledging the harm they are doing to the natives. They have selfishly put themselves and their own wealth before the wellness and humanity of the people they desire to profit from. Conrad believes that “behavior is effectively structured and censored by the policing mechanisms of civilization.” (Brown). Their strict European values and morals have been completely wiped out by greed.

The moral purpose of the Europeans coming into Africa was to civilize the natives, but instead they ended up colonizing their land and corrupting them. The Congo became victim to imperialism. They were “establishing epistemological superiority” which allows those in control of the “intellectual means of production to ontologize themselves as God’s chosen people and to ontologize the non-chosen other as sub-human.” (Lackey). However, imperialism in Heart of Darkness is more centered on what it does to the Europeans rather than the people being colonized “thus perverting the West’s image of itself as bearer of light and civilization.” (Brown). Imperialism degrades Europeans by removing them from civilization and detaching them from their morals by tempting them into violent irrational behavior because of the disorder of the environment. There are many dangers of an exploratory life like “cold, fog, tempests, disease, exile, and death – death skulking in the air, in the water, in the bush” (Conrad 11).

The main moral dilemma in this novella is of the lack of a stable moral system with a center to hold moral decisions. Once the white colonists leave Europe with it’s stable society, they leave their morals behind and once the restraints on behavior set by a society are removed, people tend to become savages to gain power and profits. “If the darkness overtakes the colonialist” as in the case

of Kurtz, “it is as a quality otherwise latent, lodged deep within him, but which irrupts due to intimate contact with the lawless wilderness.” (Brown). Kurtz has been cut off from civilization for so long that he loses his identity and allows himself to be worshiped as a god. With this, he is unable to be fully human again and is constantly being dehumanized by nature. He has become “impressively bald” by the evil wilderness which has “consumed his flesh” and “sealed his soul”. (Conrad 80). He has lost both physical and spiritual facets of a human being from being cut off from the rest of humaneness leaving him “hollow at the core.” (Conrad 95)

When the Europeans left society they became subject to imperialism, greed, and the dark side of man. This all lead to an abandonment of morals. I think that was what Conrad intended to do with Heart of Darkness. He wanted to show how morals are only an imaginary set of rules made by a society and once someone is taken from that “safe zone”, they become savages and lose almost all moral sense. About a year before Conrad completed the novella, Conrad says: “There is no morality, no knowledge and no hope; there is only the consciousness of ourselves which drives us about a world that whether seen in a convex or a concave mirror is always but a vain and fleeting appearance” (Lackey).

Bibliography

  • BROWN, TONY C. “CULTURAL PSYCHOSIS ON THE FRONTIER: THE WORK OF THE

    DARKNESS IN JOSEPH CONRAD’S HEART OF DARKNESS.” Studies in the Novel

    32.1 (2000): 14. Literary Criticism. Web. 23 Nov. 2009.

    <http://find.galegroup.com/gtx/start.do?prodId=SPJ.SP04&userGroupName=ncowl>.

  • Lackey, Michael. “The moral conditions for genocide in Joseph Conrad’s

    Heart of Darkness (1).” College Literature 32.1 (2005): 20+. Literary

    Criticism. Web. 23 Nov. 2009.

    The novella, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad has a strong theme of morality. Conrad’s goal using morality is moral confusion. The main character Charlie Marlow sets out on a journey with the European Ivory Trade to Africa. During this journey he discovers a dark dilemma of moral ethics. Being over taken by greed and imperialism, Marlow discovers just how easy it is to become inhuman without a structured society of civilization.

    Greed is an important part of the abandonment of morals in this novella. Ivory in this story is a symbol for greed and evil. The white European men come to Africa lustful for ivory, but also with a greed for power. One character in the novella named Kurtz harvested more ivory than the other stations. His power and greed turned him into a thief and a murderer. All the greed had taken over him in a sense where he believed “my intended, my ivory, my station, my river, my:” everything belonged to him. (Conrad 79). Ivory rules the characters in the book’s actions; “You would think they were praying to it” (Conrad 53). Greed destroys the colonists’ moral values and their only thought becomes making a profit without acknowledging the harm they are doing to the natives. They have selfishly put themselves and their own wealth before the wellness and humanity of the people they desire to profit from. Conrad believes that “behavior is effectively structured and censored by the policing mechanisms of civilization.” (Brown). Their strict European values and morals have been completely wiped out by greed.

    The moral purpose of the Europeans coming into Africa was to civilize the natives, but instead they ended up colonizing their land and corrupting them. The Congo became victim to imperialism. They were “establishing epistemological superiority” which allows those in control of the “intellectual means of production to ontologize themselves as God’s chosen people and to ontologize the non-chosen other as sub-human.” (Lackey). However, imperialism in Heart of Darkness is more centered on what it does to the Europeans rather than the people being colonized “thus perverting the West’s image of itself as bearer of light and civilization.” (Brown). Imperialism degrades Europeans by removing them from civilization and detaching them from their morals by tempting them into violent irrational behavior because of the disorder of the environment. There are many dangers of an exploratory life like “cold, fog, tempests, disease, exile, and death – death skulking in the air, in the water, in the bush” (Conrad 11).

    The main moral dilemma in this novella is of the lack of a stable moral system with a center to hold moral decisions. Once the white colonists leave Europe with it’s stable society, they leave their morals behind and once the restraints on behavior set by a society are removed, people tend to become savages to gain power and profits. “If the darkness overtakes the colonialist” as in the case

    of Kurtz, “it is as a quality otherwise latent, lodged deep within him, but which irrupts due to intimate contact with the lawless wilderness.” (Brown). Kurtz has been cut off from civilization for so long that he loses his identity and allows himself to be worshiped as a god. With this, he is unable to be fully human again and is constantly being dehumanized by nature. He has become “impressively bald” by the evil wilderness which has “consumed his flesh” and “sealed his soul”. (Conrad 80). He has lost both physical and spiritual facets of a human being from being cut off from the rest of humaneness leaving him “hollow at the core.” (Conrad 95)

    When the Europeans left society they became subject to imperialism, greed, and the dark side of man. This all lead to an abandonment of morals. I think that was what Conrad intended to do with Heart of Darkness. He wanted to show how morals are only an imaginary set of rules made by a society and once someone is taken from that “safe zone”, they become savages and lose almost all moral sense. About a year before Conrad completed the novella, Conrad says: “There is no morality, no knowledge and no hope; there is only the consciousness of ourselves which drives us about a world that whether seen in a convex or a concave mirror is always but a vain and fleeting appearance” (Lackey).

    Bibliography

    • BROWN, TONY C. “CULTURAL PSYCHOSIS ON THE FRONTIER: THE WORK OF THE

      DARKNESS IN JOSEPH CONRAD’S HEART OF DARKNESS.” Studies in the Novel

      32.1 (2000): 14. Literary Criticism. Web. 23 Nov. 2009.

      <http://find.galegroup.com/gtx/start.do?prodId=SPJ.SP04&userGroupName=ncowl>.

    • Lackey, Michael. “The moral conditions for genocide in Joseph Conrad’s

      Heart of Darkness (1).” College Literature 32.1 (2005): 20+. Literary

      Criticism. Web. 23 Nov. 2009.

      <http://find.galegroup.com/gtx/start.do?prodId=SPJ.SP04&userGroupName=ncowl>.

    • Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York: Penguin, 1999.

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