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The Effects of Imperialism in The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Info: 1069 words (4 pages) Essay
Published: 12th May 2021 in Literature

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Book- The Heart of Darkness; By: Joseph Conrad



 The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad is a book about a seaman, Marlow, from Europe. He is sent on a boat journey up the Congo River to meet Kurtz, the most successful trader in ivory working for the Belgian government. Marlow knows and admires Kurtz through his reputation and his writings regarding the civilizing of the African continent and sets out on a journey excited and full of hope into meeting him. However, Marlow’s experience leads up to the disgust on the dehumanizing effects of colonialism/ imperialism and leads people up to having hope. Even though there are many effects of imperialism, have hope even if people can be cruel.

1st Body Paragraph

 To start, Marlow is one to understand the effects of imperialism. In order for Marlow to meet Kurtz, he first travels to a city described as a “whited sepulcher”. Whited sepulcher refers to the “unchecked abuse” found within Europe’s colonies. Marlow then boards the steamer that will then take him to the mouth of the Congo. The ship reaches the Outer Station and he meets the Chief Accountant. He mentions to Marlow that he might meet Kurtz, who sends in as much ivory as all the others put together. Ivory represents greed and power. Ivory and Kurtz go hand-in-hand because the more ivory he brings in, the power and money he receives. “The word ivory rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it. A taint of imbecile rapacity blew through it all, like a whiff from some corpse. By Jove! I’ve never seen anything so unreal in my life. And outside, the silent wilderness surrounding this cleared speck on the earth struck me as something great and invincible, like evil or truth, waiting patiently for the passing away of fantastic invasion.” From this quote, we find out that ivory is no longer just an elephant tusk, but it is symbolic because it represents greed and power. The people who work for the company want to advance in their positions and want to obtain a lot of money. Ivory is almost considered to be an object of worship. Afterwards, Marlow stumbles upon the Grove of Death where weak and dying native laborers are living out their last moments. For Marlow, this was a very unsettling picture of what the Europeans are doing there. Marlow is faced with the harsh reality of imperialism and the effects it has on the native people.

2nd Body Paragraph

 In addition, Marlow’s Aunt (name not given) reveals the way the general public views European imperialism in Africa. They are told “half-truths” in order to hide what is being done there, and by doing this they justify it to themselves. When they see it, they provoke themselves into believing the lies they’ve already been told. Marlow’s aunt secures Marlow a position with the Company. She does firmly believe in imperialism as a charitable activity that brings civilization and religion to suffering, simple savages. She is too an example for Marlow of the illusions of women. Marlow believes that women live in a world of illusions and untruth of the real world. Women symbolize civilization’s ability to hide its hypocrisy and darkness behind pretty ideas. In this case, the pretty ideas are “civilizing” the savages. “And this also”, said Marlow suddenly, “has been one of the dark places of the earth”.

3rd Body Paragraph

 Afterward, Marlow has a relationship with the natives and can connect and understands them. “It was unearthly, and the men were-No, they were not inhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst of it-the suspicion of their not being inhuman. It would come slowly to one. They howled and leaped, and spun, and made horrid faces; but what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity-like yours- the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. Ugly. Yes, it was ugly enough; but if you were man enough you would admit to yourself that there was in you just the faintest trace of a response to the terrible frankness of that noise, a dim suspicion of there being a meaning in it which you-you so remote from the night of first ages-could comprehend. And why not?’. This quote is important because it represents Marlow’s relationship with the natives. He describes the savage’s actions as “ugly”, yet they thrill him because he knows that he is like them. He explains that all men have a certain darkness in them. 


 In conclusion, even though imperialism can affect you, having hope can give you courage and strength to fight through it. “Hope never disappoints. Optimism disappoints, but hopes does not. We have such need in these times which appear dark. We need it and we feel disoriented and even rather discouraged, because we are powerless and it seems like this darkness will never end. But we must not let hope abandon us. This world seems so lost at times. Hope is powerful, but hopelessness is also powerful. But these two things are not powerful in and of themselves. What I mean to say is, hope is not merely optimism or wishful thinking. Those with hope are willing to act and those without hope are content to wish. If you desire to be a person of hope, a person who has the will that what is good might be reality, you must be a person of two things: meaning and action.” (Pages 9-20) Beautiful Hope.

  • Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Canon Press, 1902.
  • Day, J. P. “Hope.” American Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 6, no. 2, 1969, pp. 89–102. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20009295. Accessed 13 Feb. 2020.
  • Durham, John M. “Mark Twain and Imperalism.” Revista De Letras, vol. 6, 1965, pp. 67–  80. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27665935. Accessed 13 Feb. 2020.
  • Kelly, Matthew. Beautiful Hope. Beacon Publishing, 2017.
  • TODOROV, TZVETAN, and Mary Maxwell. “Racism.” Salmagundi, no. 88/89, 1990, pp. 47–53. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40548461. Accessed 13 Feb. 2020.


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