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it, since your strength is 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 is very proper for those who tackle a darkness. 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.” (Condrad, 69)
The Horror! : Colonialism in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness In Heart of Darkness, the author, Joseph Conrad explores the nature of colonialism. He reveals the horrors of colonialism and is cynical of the entire process. He uses several symbolic characters to accomplish this. The main one being the shadowy and elusive Kurtz, who represents all of Europe: “All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz” (Conrad 127). Joseph Conrad shows that the very nature of colonialism has not changed much from Roman times to his day, except that the tools and weapons used have become more sophisticated. The main purpose and the results have stayed the same. Conrad illuminates the secret evils of colonialism and the Europeans capitalist approach through Marlow’s journey up the Congo. Joseph Conrad shows that one of the purposes of colonialism is the suppression of the Native’s beliefs and traditional way of life. Conrad begins with a focus on what the Company overtly tells the public: They are going into the Congo to civilize the Natives. The Europeans, on face level, seek to convert the inhabitants of the Congo region to the European way of life. Marlow’s aunt believes as much when she states that he will participate in, “weaning those ignorant millions from their horrid ways” (Conrad 77). Marlow’s aunt sees the traditional ways of life of the Natives as “horrid.” She believes that the European system is the only system that should be followed. The Europeans enlist the help of the Natives in procuring ivory, and the Natives seeing a more lucrative opportunity, abandon their villages to go to work for the Europeans and in the process, change their way of life. Specifically, Marlow states that he “passed through several abandoned villages” (Conrad 87) and that his foreman was a “boiler-maker by trade” (Conrad 99) showing that the Natives have given up on their former way of life to pursue a life that they assume will be better with the Europeans. As Marlow journeys up the river and hears the cries of the Natives coming from behind a wall of thick foliage, he was a “suspicion” that they are “inhuman” (Conrad 108). Kurtz also believes that the Natives are in need of being humanized, improved, and instructed in the European way of life. The Europeans believe that the Natives are beneath them and in need of being cultured. Despite the high and noble aspiration of civilizing the Natives, Conrad reveals that after the Natives have abandoned everything to follow the Europeans, the true face of colonialism is revealed. Joseph Conrad explains that colonialism is brutal and savage process. The Natives are lulled into a false sense of security and then become slaves of the European colonizers. To the Europeans, the Natives are valuable, if they are productive and supplying ivory and other goods to the Europeans. “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. . . . 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… black shadows of disease and starvation, lying confusedly in the greenish gloom. Brought from all the recesses of the coast
in all the legality of time contracts, lost in uncongenial surroundings, fed on unfamiliar food, they sickened, became inefficient, and were then allowed to crawl away and rest” (Conrad 83). The Europeans do not care about the health and working conditions of the Natives as long as they are productive. This vivid observation by Marlow as he enters the grove of death illustrates just how cruel the colonizers are with respect to what happens when the Natives are no longer able to work. They are left to fend for themselves and slowly waste away, starving, unable to find food to eat. The populace is beaten and hanged simply to serve as an object lesson to others around them. When a fire burns down a storehouse full of goods a Native is beaten because “They said he caused the fire in some way” (Conrad 92). Later, the Manager remarks that by punishing the Native, regardless of if he had anything to do with the fire was “the only way” to “prevent all conflagrations for the future” (Conrad 95). The Europeans who have traveled to Africa to humanize the Natives treat the natives severely and inhumanly. Not only do the Europeans show cruelty and brutality towards the Natives, but it is also shown in the form of greed towards each other. The Europeans are only interested in advancing within the company, making the most money and shipping the most ivory for their own profit. Marlow states, “They beguiled the time by backbiting and intriguing against each other in a foolish kind of way. There was an air of plotting about that station… The only real feeling was a desire to get appointed to a trading-post where ivory was to be had, so that they could earn percentages. They intrigued and slandered and hated each other only on that account” (Conrad 93). Through this passage, one can see that all that mattered to the Europeans was self-promotion and the making of money; the fat man saying that he had come to Africa “to make money” (Conrad 87). The manager often talks of having someone hanged (on page 104 referring to Kurtz and later on page 144-145 with the Russian) so that he will have no competition and able to advance his career. All that is important to him is the acquisition of money and power. To the Europeans it is imperative that they attain wealth, power and prestige. They simply care about what works for them and the betterment of their positions. Consequently, the brutality and savagery of colonialism and the Europeans causes the Natives to fear the colonizers, and the Europeans use this fear to their advantage to get what they want. Through the actions of the Europeans, the Natives are made fearful and in order to protect their lives and the lives of their families they submit to the will of the foreigners. “What can you expect? …He came at them with thunder and lightning, you know—and they had never seen anything like it—and very terrible” (Conrad 135). Here Kurtz had gone to the Natives with weapons and frightened them so much so that they worshipped him as a deity and brought him as much ivory as he desired. Another example involves Kurtz and the Russian: “He declared that he would shoot me unless I gave him the ivory and then cleared out of the country, because he could do so, and had a fancy for it, and there was nothing preventing him form killing whom he jolly well pleased. And it was true too. I gave him the ivory” (Conrad 136). Out of fear for his own life, the Russian acquiesced to Kurtz’s demands for the ivory and gave him what the wanted. The pilgrims and other Europeans Marlow encounters always have their rifles in hand and at the ready and do not hesitate to pull the trigger if they believe that it will frighten the Natives. Even as Marlow enters Africa he observes that a French warship was firing into the dense jungle for no obvious reason except for frightening the natives and that the steamer upon which he is a passenger stops at every port for “the sole purpose of landing soldiers” (Conrad 78). Conrad shows that colonialism operates primarily on a shock and awe mentality to get what they need. Finally, Conrad explores the true purpose of colonialism. Colonialism is really about obtaining all of the natural resources of the land for profit and in the process, lay waste to the country. The Europeans are far more interested in ivory that in civilizing the Natives. They would rather obtain the most ivory through
whatever means necessary for their advancement within the company. The Europeans destroy the land so they can obtain every valuable object out of the ground. “Their talk, however, was the talk of sordid buccaneers: it was reckless without hardihood, greedy without audacity, and cruel without courage; there was not an atom of foresight or of serious intention in the whole batch of them, and they did not seem aware these things are wanted for the work of the world. 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). Marlow observes that the procurement of ivory, the greed of the Europeans, is the purpose of colonialism. Kurtz, the embodiment of Europe, states: “My ivory. . . .My Intended, my ivory, my station, my river, my—’ everything belonged to him” (Conrad 127) and “Save me! —Save the ivory, you mean. Don’t tell me. Save ME!” (Conrad 143). One can perceive that colonialism is really about the acquisition of land and resources for the European cause. Ivory and other raw material and the procurement of more land are the real reasons for colonialism and to the Europeans nothing else is of importance. In Heart of Darkness, the author, Joseph Conrad, is disdainful of colonialism and seeks to educate a naïve and blinded society to the true nature and horrors of colonialism. Conrad reveals that colonialism is a brutal and savage process that seeks to eliminate all dissenting beliefs, subjugate a people and has many opposing countries and individuals all vying for more power, prestige and wealth. Conrad reveals that colonialism is simply a brutal competition for dominance and control in a foreign land where the only thing that matters is getting to the top regardless of how many bodies have to be dumped by the wayside. Through Marlow’s journey up the Congo and into the heart of darkness, the horrifying tools of colonialism are laid bare and the true purpose of colonialism and the European capitalist approach is exposed.
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