The heart of darkness

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Joseph Conrad and "The Heart of Darkness"

Joseph Conrad wrote the novella The Heart of Darkness. Conrad attempts to illustrate how Europeans exploited and traded natives for their own gain through nationalism, exploitation, ethnicity, and gender. The story follows Marlow, a European, on his trip through the African jungle in search of Kurtz, a European who used to exploit natives.

Marlow's Journey and Exploitation

Marlow begins his story by telling the three men he was with on the steamboat how he wanted to explore Africa and pilot a steamboat on the Congo River. He was hired to pilot a steamboat for a big Outer Station Company that trades Ivory in Congo. Marlow so, chaos exploitation and brutality towards natives while at the company. He later traveled from the Outer Station Company to the Company’s Central Station. He learned after reaching the Central station that he had to wait until his boat which he was to pilot up the Congo was repaired. The boat was wrecked at the bottom of river.

The Central Station and Meeting the Manager

In the Central Station, Marlow meets the Manager of the company. The Manager told Marlow about Kurtz. The manager seems to feign great concern over the health of Kurtz. Marlow suspected later that his steamboat was wrecked by the manager on purpose to prevent Kurtz from getting supplies. When the boat of Marlow finally gets repaired, the manager, a crew cannibal and some agents accompanied Marlow to bring relieve to Kurtz from the Central station. As they were about Fifty miles below inner station of Kurtz, a shower of arrows attacks Marlow’s steamboat. As Marlow tries to navigate the boat, the whites fired rifles into the jungle. One native helmsman was killed by a large spear and thrown overboard. Marlow got disappointed has he assumed that the natives attacked the inner station first before attacking them, and that he was not going to get the chance to communicate with Kurtz.

Kurtz's Situation and Death

Marlow learns later that the steamboat was attacked by the natives to protect Kurtz from being taken away. Marlow got to the Inner Station and found Kurtz sick, frail and bald. That same night, a raid happened for Kurtz to be taken away. Marlow was awoken by a bid drum sound at midnight of the same night and found found Kurtz crawling on his four to escape. Together with his crew they carried Kurtz from the inner station the following day though his condition was continuing to deteriorate. Kurtz gave Marlow a packet of photograph and letters before he died fearing that the manager could take them.

Marlow's Return and Criticisms

Marlow runs to Europe where Company officials approached him asking for the packet of papers that Kurtz had untrusted him with. Marlow refused, but gave them a copy of a report Kurtz had written to the society about Suppression of Savage. Marlow then went to deliver Kurtz letters to his fiancée.

Critics' Perspective on "Heart of Darkness"

Heart of Darkness has received many critics for its attack on gender, race, imperialism, and racism. Below are some of the ways the author of Heart of Darkness criticized the Europeans used imperialism, racism, and colonialism to destroy binary oppositions of colonialism.

The Metaphor of Darkness

Conrad used a metaphor in the beginning, “When the sun rose there was a white fog, very warm and clammy, and more blinding than the night” (HOD 49) to show the darkness impending Europe and not Africa because Europeans get rest due to African torture. Kurtz refers to that darkness as 'Horror' in his final words. Marlow also refers to darkness as he reflects the final words of Kurtz.

Imperialism and Greediness

Imperialism was used by Europeans to natives to gain more. This is seen in Kurtz's cruelty and greediness, which lead to his death. Marlow says, “I had to deal with a being to which I could not appeal in the name of anything high or low. I had, even like the niggers, to invoke him- his own exalted and incredible degradation. There was nothing either above or below him, and I knew it. He had kicked himself loose of the earth. Confound the man!” (85). Kurtz also forgot his civilized life and preferred to spend his time in the jungle in order to earn more from ivory trade. He was doing whatever he needed to do has there was nothing to restrict him. He even lost his connection with Europe for his desire to reform and mimics the African culture. The turning of Kurtz to a savage is one of the African people's criticisms.

Criticism of European Colonialism

The cruel treatment of the African by the Europeans is criticized by Conrad through Kurtz's horrible death. Kurtz regrets what he did after treating the natives violently. Conrad chose the words, “Horror! Horror!” (HOD 90) in Kurtz's cry has he died to criticize colonialism. Those final words show how civilized people like the Europeans, when no restrictions set, can change to savagery. A subversion of European colonialism is seen in Kurtz's image of a greedy and savage colonizer while the harm of colonialism to both the colonized and colonizer is proven by his death.

Challenging Perceptions and Beliefs

The common belief that the Europeans are civilized, more enlightened, and more intelligent than the Africans is disrupted by Conrad by claiming that there is no distance between Africa and Europe. This is seen when he represents Africans at the end of the novel as the dark side of Europe. Conrad also criticizes the perception that natives are inferior when compared to Europeans throughout the novel. He narrates his own experience in Africa which contradicts totally with England colonialism.

January 25, 2023



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