Joseph Conrad the heart of darkness

The Heart of Darkness

The heart of darkness, one of Joseph Conrad's most renowned and widely read novels, is more than just a work of fiction describing a nobleman's voyage to Africa and his emotions and thoughts about it. This is a description of the Black continent's life and habits, when British arrived to gain rich but ruined its natural purity. Heart of Darkness is a critique of European imperialism from the standpoint of imperialism criticism. Through the eyes and narration of the major character Conrad shows his negative attitude to imperialism and disappointment by the actions of the white noble people towards the pristine and untouched lands of the African continent.

Imperialism and its criticism through the prism of thoughts of the major character Marlow

The beginning of the novel prompts nothing about the theme of imperialism and colonialism of Europeans in the Black continent. In front of readers Conrad depicts his narrator, Charlie Marlow and the story of his journey into the depths of equatorial Africa, to the trading station of the European company on order to pick up the merchandise of ivory and take out the sick agent of the company, Mr. Kurtz (Al-Khaiat 45). The novel can be read as a story about the adventures of Marlowe in the heart of Africa, but it is distinguished by such complexity of the organization that the narrative is perceived simultaneously as a philosophical story, giving the opportunity for directly opposite, mutually exclusive thoughts. One of the ideas, shared by Marlow is: "The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much" (Conrad 4). In this way he asserts that the use of African lands by the white colonists was nothing more that the conquest of the weakest by the strongest. In the figurative meaning, this is the very nature of imperialism, which Conrad tried to underline (Raskin 114).

Consequences of imperialism in the eyes of Marlow

While reading the novel, Conrad does not make direct claims about the negative sides and poor consequences of imperialism. He hides them in the words and thoughts of Marlow, who are frustrated by the way, in which white people behave in the lands that used to be friendly to them: "They were conquerors, and for that you were only brute, force-nothing to boast of, when you have it, since you strength it, just an accident, arising from the weakness of others. They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind-as a very proper for those who tackle a darkness" (Conrad 69). This phrase is taken out of the notes of Marlow, done in the process of his journey to the heart of darkness. The readers can see that the picture that stood before Marlow in Africa was completely different from one he imagined before landing this gloomy, but at the same time beautiful territory. The attitude of Conrad to imperialism and colonialism of Europeans as well as his criticism (although he himself denied it) is delivered by Marlow (Said 23). Conrad underlined that imperialism was more than practice of the Europeans and their colonization of African lands, but philosophy, by which Europeans highlighted their superiority. Conrad depicts imperialism as something that is impossible to overcome, but accept, although it is too frustrating, however, nothing is possible to return: "In and out of rivers, streams of death in life, whose banks were rotting into mud, whose waters, thickened with slime, invaded the contorted mangroves, that seemed to writhe at us in the extremity of an impotent despair. Nowhere did we stop long enough to get a particularized impression, but the general sense of vague and oppressive wonder grew upon me. It was like a weary pilgrimage amongst hints for nightmares." (Conrad 11). The idea about the devastating nature of imperialism and invasion of man is embodied in the thoughts of Marlow, with which he shares in the course of the journey.

Relevance of criticism of imperialism in contemporary society

Unfortunately, devastative effects of human invasion in nature and wild lands are not in the past, as people are still conquering new territories for their benefits. Conrad tried to persuade and warn Europeans about the necessity to bear moral responsibility for taming the "uncivilized" parts of the world. Marlow represented Conrad’s idealistic view of imperialism and the message to the future generations about the devastating effects that human activity and greed can cause to nature and people.

The message of the novel

Unfortunately, the nature of imperialism has not dramatically changed from the times, depicted in the novel. The Europeans, however, started using new technologies and sophisticated weapons to conquer African people and other uninhabited and ecologically pristine areas. The novel Heart of darkness is the message to new generations about the necessity to honor and respect the lives and rights of others.

Works Cited

Al-Khaiat, Abdullatif. “Joseph Conrad: Defender or Condemner of Imperialism?” Jordan Journal of Modern Languages and Literature Vol. 2 No.1, (2010), pp. 43-61

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of darkness. Ed. Paul. B. Armstrong. 4th ed. New York: Norton. 2006.

Raskin, Jonah. “Imperialism: Conrad's Heart of Darkness”. Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 2, No. 2 (1967), pp. 113-131

Said, Edward, “Two Visions in Heart of Darkness”. Culture and Imperialism, (1993) pp. 22-31

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