Heart of Darkness

The story “Heart of Darkness” was written and published in England in 1898-1899. The author of this story Joseph Conrad was inspired by his journey through the Congo in 1890 and the experience that he had. He was born Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski on December 3, 1857, in Ukraine he however later changed his name to Joseph Conrad which he used as a signature for his literally works. The story “Heart of Darkness” is based on a man called Marlow who is an introspective sailor, and his journey along the Congo River to meet Kurtz.

My essay will examine the story “Heart of Darkness” and the negative effects of imperialism and the first-hand experience that Marlow had along the journey up the Congo River. Furthermore, I will give a detailed account of the widespread inefficiency and brutality described by Marlow in the “Heart of Darkness” in addition to individuals being poorly treated and ordered to do meaningless work. In summation, my essay will give a brief recap of the main points that would have been mention in the essay and I will also include citations from several sources as well as my own analysis. The paper will, however, begin by looking at the main characters in the story and their role in bringing out the main themes.


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There are several characters in the story “Heart of Darkness”; however most of them are just supporting characters since the story revolves around three main characters; Marlow, Kurtz and the natives who are used to bring out the main theme in the story. Marlow is the main character. In the story, he has been portrayed as being intelligent and an open-minded character. Because of his experience that he has gained by sailing to different parts of the world, he possesses great geographical knowledge about different regions and the cultural practices of the people. During the pre-colonial period, most of the blacks especially in Africa were turned into slaves for the whites. Most of them became slaves in their own countries and they were forced to work in the mining fields and farms that had been illegally acquired by the wealthy white. It is for this reason that the author of the story “Heart of Darkness” came up with the theme of the hypocrisy of imperialism as the main theme in the story (Conrad, b). According to Scholastic imperialism is one of the phenomena that shaped the world and it helped in the process of modernization as well as civilization; this, however, is not the case that was brought out by the author of the story “Heart of Darkness”

Negative Effects of Imperialism: Hypocrisy of Imperialism

As indicated in the opening section of this paper, one of the main themes that the story revolves around is that hypocrisy of imperialism. The question that someone may ask is “why hypocrisy of imperialism?” The story “Heart of Darkness” tells a story of people who are subjected to slavery and life if misery all in the name of imperialism. It is for this reason that the theme of the hypocrisy of imperialism is witnessed in almost all chapters of the book. according to the author, Kurtz and other administrators of the company believe that what they are doing in Africa is something noble that will help in the civilization process of this third world nation that has an excessive amount of minerals and natural resources. They call this “trade”. This is not true.

The author has indicated that “A slight clinking behind me made me turn my head. Six black men advanced in a file, toiling up the path. They walked erect and slow, balancing small baskets full of earth on their heads, and the clink kept time with their footsteps. Black rags were wound round their loins, and the short ends behind waggled to and fro like tails. I could see every rib, the joints of their limbs were like knots in a rope; each had an iron collar on his neck, and all were connected together with a chain whose bights swung between them, rhythmically clinking (28). The above description of the way the natives (Africans) were being treated by their employers was not professional but inhumane. According to Murfin (a), these same sentiments were echoed by Kurtz who claimed that he does not genuinely trade with the natives but rather suppresses them through violence and intimidation until they give into his or their demands. This was just the first experience that Marlow had. More was still to come.

The natives were not given any fair treatment, they were denied access to the basic needs of life; food, shelter, clothing and healthcare yet they were required to work around the clock to ensure that “civilization” was witnessed in this part of the world. The end results of this cruelty were devastating, according to Conrad “Black shapes crouched, lay, sat between the trees leaning against the trunks, clinging to the earth, half coming out, half effaced within the dim light, in all the attitudes of pain, abandonment, and despair. Another mine on the cliff went off, followed by a slight shudder of the soil under my feet. The work was going on. The work! And this was the place where some of the helpers had withdrawn to die. “They were dying slowly – it was very clear. They were not enemies, they were not criminals, and they were nothing earthly now – nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation, lying confusedly in the greenish gloom (31). This was another indication of how the whites in the story had used imperialism as a stepping stone to the oppression of the natives in order for them to gain wealth and power.

It has been observed that too much power makes leader drunk. This is the same case can be witnessed in the story “Heart of Darkness” where the main characters had total control over the natives and this made them “mad”. For instance, in the story, Kurtz did not any superior above him and therefore no one had the moral to question any of the decisions that he made. This greatly contributed to his downfall since he ignored the “hypocritical rules” that were being used by most of the European nations to govern the poor Africans (Murfin, b).

The story “Heart of Darkness” is one that is not only captivating and entertaining but it is also educative since it gives the reader, especially African readers an insight of the torture and tribulations that they were subjected to by their colonial masters. There are many ugly scenes of the negative effects of imperialism that are mentioned in the story. This essay paper has extensively focused on the ugly events that took place during the colonial era; however, the same ugly events are being witnessed in the modern world through neo-colonialism. In the modern world, racial discrimination and one’s social status has been used as a tool where the minority is exploited by the majority. For instance, in European nations where a high percentage of the population are whites, the minority blacks are forced to work as “slaves” for the rich whites in order to earn a living.

The case is, however, different in African which is predominately made up of blacks. In this continent, the higher one is on the social, economic and political ladder determines how much respect they command in the society. This means that those who are up the ladder have more command than other citizens. In summation, even thou imperialism helped in bringing change to most nations in Africa and the world in general, its negative effects will be remembered for many centuries to come.

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