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Colonialism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 876 words Published: 21st Sep 2021

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Joseph Conrad explores the nature of colonialism in his work “Heart of Darkness”. He sarcastically shows the terror of colonialism. In order to accomplish this he uses numerous emblematic characters. The main one is Kurtz, indistinguishable and indefinable person, who is being described by Conrad as representative of all Europe (Conrad 127). The author shows us that the nature of colonialism hasn’t changed much since the Roman times, except the tools and weapons had became more developed, but the purpose and results remained the same. Conrad reveals the harms of colonialism, and the capitalistic approach of the Europeans through Marlow’s journey in Congo.

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One of the purposes of the colonialism is a control of native’s way of life and beliefs. Conrad focuses on what the Company clearly tells the public – that they are going into the Congo to civilize the natives. The Europeans, on first sight, seek to convert the people of the Congo region way of live to a European one. Marlow’s aunt believes he will take part in giving up those rude millions from their unpleasant ways (Conrad 77). She understands the traditional ways of life of the natives as “horrid.” She believes the European system is the only one which should be followed. The Europeans join in help of the natives to obtain ivory, and the natives leave their villages, seeing a better paid opportunity, and in the process they change their way of life. Marlow himself states that he “passed through several abandoned villages” (Conrad 87) and his foreman was a “boiler-maker by trade” (Conrad 99), which shows the Natives have given up their earlier way of life with hope to pursue a better life with the Europeans. While Marlow journeys up the river he hears the cries of the natives coming from behind a wall of solid plants, he had a “suspicion” that they are “inhuman” (Conrad 108). Kurtz also believes the natives need to be humanized, enhanced, and taught in the European way of life. The Europeans think the natives are ‘lower’ than them, and they need to be cultured. Despite the ambition of civilizing the natives, there is the true face of colonialism, after those people abandoned everything to live like Europeans. Conrad describes colonialism as brutal and savage process. The natives are calmed by a false sense of safety and then slaved by the European colonialists. The natives are important, if supply with ivory and other goods the Europeans. The working conditions and health of the natives are not important for the Europeans. Marlow makes a colorful observation of the cruelty the natives are exposed to, after they no longer can work. They are left to die slowly, starving, and unable to find food to eat. The people are beaten and hanged so they could be an object lesson for others. If a fire is going into the storehouse someone is beaten because “They said he caused the fire in some way” (Conrad 92). The manager’s explanation is that when you punish the native, even if he did nothing for the fire, was “the only way” to “prevent all conflagrations for the future” (Conrad 95). The Europeans who went to civilize the people of Africa were extremely cruel with the population. As a result of colonialism’s cruelty the natives felt a superior fear from the colonialists, so the Europeans used that in order to get what they wanted. “What can you expect? He came at them with thunder and lightning” – states the time when Kurtz showed up with weapons and scared them so bad that they gave him as much ivory as he wanted (Conrad 135).

Conrad finds the true purpose of colonialism – gaining control over all the natural wealth of the country for personal earnings. Civilizing the natives is not of that big importance for the Europeans as ivory is. In need to collect all the treasures they destroy the land – “To tear treasure out of the bowels of the land was their desire, with no more moral purpose at the back of it than there is in burglars breaking into a safe” (Conrad 107). According to Marlow, colonialism began because of the ivory, which the Europeans were ‘hungry’ for. Kurtz, the Europe’s personification, says: “my ivory, my station, my river, my” (Conrad 127). The real reason colonialism happened are ivory and other materials, which are of a big importance for the Europeans.

In conclusion, Conrad wants to inform the youthful and sightless society about the true character of colonialism, throughout his book “Heart of Darkness”. Joseph Conrad tells that colonialism is a cruel and savage process that seeks to remove all radical beliefs, conquer people, and has lots of contrasting countries and individuals fighting for more control, reputation and capitals. He reveals that colonialism is just a brutal fight for domination and power in a foreign territory where getting the top is the only thing that matters despite of the numeral bodies, which have to be forsaken by the ‘curb’. All the way through Marlow’s journey up the Congo and into the heart of darkness, the true purpose of colonialism and the European capitalist approach is uncovered.

Work Cited

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Edited by Robert Hampson and Owen Knowles, Penguin Classics, 2007.


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