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CONRAD AND IMPERIALISM

 Heart of Darkness: since publication has excited antithetical positions


regarding imperialism .
 Between 1960-1990, the political aspects of his work have been a central
focus of Conrad studies.

For some readers, then, Conrad's works re-present his time's dominant
congratulatory imperial discourse; for others they subvert it. While many
have agreed that in any case, the psychology of the colonialist most
engages Conrad's attention, others contend that that very backgrounding
of native peoples and landscapes is objectionable.
 these diverse and conflicting readings - and our own - necessarily reflect the
events and currents of thought from the 1960s to the 1990s. We enter
Conrad's texts, inevitably, as marked subjects.

 By the time Conrad arrived in the Congo (1890), his early dreams of
adventure had become what Martin Green calls 'deeds of empire'. That
'blank' space on the map of Africa had already been darkened by European
imperialism.
 When Conrad began working in the British Merchant Service in 1878,
European imperial rule over the non-European world extended to nearly
two-thirds of the Earth's land surface, and Britain's empire accounted for
much of those holdings. From possessions in Oceania, New Zealand, and
Australia, to the Straits Settlements and the Federated Malay States, to
India, Canada, Africa, the Caribbean, China, and a more informal empire of
trade in South America, the British empire Conrad served was extensive. By
the end of the century, it would comprise nearly a quarter of the land surface
and more than a quarter of the world's population.
 He had recently become a British subject, For Conrad, 'home' by this time
was the 'hospitable shores of Great Britain' (Letters, I, p. 12), and the empire
he served was doing, as far as he could see, good work. His sympathies
were clearly conservative.
 In 1890, then, when Conrad first steamed up the Congo, he carried these
attitudes with him, along with the 'Africa' already currently available, an
'imaginative geography', in Edward Said's words (Orientalism, p. 49), that
equipped the European traveller to Africa as inevitably as map, mosquito
boots, or solar topi. As Said has characterized the mythical production of
'Orientalism', so 'Africa' too already existed in the minds of first-time
travellers to it. The adventurous accounts Conrad had read by such
explorers as Mungo Park and David Livingstone had already powerfully
created 'Africa' for him. By the time he found himself aboard a Congo
steamer, he was at least partially a victim of 'the Victorian myth of the Dark
Continent' (Brantlinger, Rule of Darkness, p. 173).

 And yet, the fictional accounts of this trip, written in 1898 and 1899, would
reveal, as well as the fictions that preceded and followed, a more hostile
attitude towards imperialistic Europe's 'civilizing mission'.
 What is true of Marlow is also true of Conrad: while he went to Africa
expecting to find the darkness there, and in Africans, he had to admit, in
spite of himself, that the darkness is in 'us'
 Shift in Conrad’s view: he saw his own family as victims of Russian
imperialism. As szlachta or Polish landed gentry, both the paternal
Korzeniowskis and the maternal Bobrowskis were patriots who opposed
autocracy. In the year of the 'ill-omened rising of 1863' (PR, p. 24), one
uncle was killed and another exiled to Siberia where he died ten years later.
Conrad's father had been deported in 1862 for his patriotic efforts to achieve
Polish independence, and the five-year-old Conrad accompanied his
parents into an exile that was so harsh that his mother died a few years later
while his father suffered poor health for a few years and died in 1869.
 The inheritance was both a sensitivity to oppressive autocracy and a
profound scepticism about the idealism of social, and particularly
nationalistic, movements. One critic goes so far as to claim that 'every
aspect' of Conrad's youth and later development was affected by Russian
rule and by Russia's occupation of Poland (Szczypien, 'Conrad's A Personal
Record\ p. 12). Certainly his own selfwilled exile at age seventeen was in
great part a desire to escape the consequences of being a Russian subject
in Poland, particularly military service.
 Another answer lies in the shifting nature of European imperialism itself
between 1880 and 1914, a period during which colonial conquests
accelerated greatly and worldwide. This 'new imperialism', a complex
response to the industrialized countries' growing needs and desires for food,
raw materials, markets, and investment opportunities, was pursued by such
newcomers as Germany, Belgium, Italy, the United States, and Japan, while
Britain - which had been accumulating colonies for over two hundred years -
and France redoubled their efforts. This multiplication of colonial powers
seeking claims on ever-dwindling space, especially in the tropics, intensified
rivalry. In Africa alone, European holdings climbed from eleven percent in
1875 to ninety percent by 1902. This jump was made possible, in large part,
by the Berlin-Congo Conference of 1884-5 which effectively partitioned
Africa among England and thirteen other Western nations and created King
Leopold's infamous and improperly designated 'Congo Free State'. By 1914
all of Africa except for Ethiopia, Liberia, and parts of Morocco had been
carved out and claimed by Western Powers, and the Pacific totally
distributed. During this period, then, access to and control of the tropics,
particularly, became a compelling issue of public discussion and European
rivalry.
 European nations found that their technology - the very technological
superiority that enabled conquest and annexation – increasingly depended
on such tropical products as rubber and that their 'civilization' also required
tropical foodstuffs including cocoa, tea, coffee, cane sugar, and vegetable
oils. And while global free trade had been the rule until the Great
Depression of the 1880s, protectionism characterized much of the
international economic scene. The scramble for colonial possessions was
not only a political and economic rivalry but also led to an intensification of
military might to extend imperial holdings and defend existing empires.
 To contemporary analyses of what was soon called imperialism –
Hobsbawm argues that the word was not in general currency until the 1890s
- this almost total partition of the world into territories under the formal rule
or informal political domination of a few countries seemed a new phase in
the general pattern of national and international development, 'notably
different from the free-trading and freely competing liberal world of the mid-
century' (Hobsbawm, The Age of Empire, p. 59). Perhaps it was the old
empire Conrad regretted going off the edge in 1885, a fact to be regretted in
the face of its successor. Ian Watt understands Marlow's admission that
'real work was being done in the red' as Conrad's nod to his late-Victorian
audience, but perhaps Conrad also thought there had been such a time
before the devastation of the new imperialism's ruinous consequences to
both the colonized and the colonizer had become evident.
 By 1900 the major powers had claimed most of the world and competition
between them was keen; metropolitan centres, especially London, had
become powerful hubs of world finance while the merchant navy Conrad
served had become one of the leading carriers of raw materials and finished
products. By 1886, when the twenty-nine-year-old szlacbta son of a Polish
patriot became a British subject and a master in the British Merchant
Service, he had been about the empire's business for eight years, in ships
carrying cargoes of wool to Australia, coal to Bangkok, manufactured goods
from Singapore to the Bornean interior and returning with gutta percha,
rattan, pearl shells, and beeswax from up-river Dyaks.
 By the time he started writing, however, Conrad too has begun to doubt the
'natural' straightforwardness of 'trade'. While it might have been more
difficult for empire's agents to understand the totality, cloaked as it was in
ideology, it was possible for someone in Conrad's unique position to see
beyond the burgeoning rhetoric of the empire's civilizing mission that
accompanied and legitimated the endeavour and to notice, as he soon did,
the disparity between that discourse and the actuality of grabbing 'for the
sake of what could be got' (HD, p. 140).
 This period chronicles an external shift in the nature of imperialism itself and
marks crucial developments in Conrad's experience and outlook. He started
to see colonialism closer up. Engaged in trade between the various colonial
outposts, he had always been the privileged European ship's mate or
captain. No lover of the 'primitive', like Marlow he was in no danger of 'going
native' or even 'ashore for a howl and a dance' in the exotic lands he
travelled to. He even kept his distance from other ship's officers in the
various ports his voyages took him to. But in the Vidar - where he spent his
thirtieth birthday - steaming up and down the coasts of the Malay
Archipelago, Conrad was afforded another glimpse behind the apparently
smooth workings of imperial trade. As the Vidar churned up-river in Borneo,
penetrating its jungles and leaving behind the facades of the colonized
world, the institutions, port buildings, and all-white hotels that had comprised
his actual experience of a far-flung empire, to the flimsy trading stations of
European encampments, he saw the actual conditions of colonized and
colonizer. They struck him as neither grand nor progressive but as absurd.
The image of 'the white man in the tropics', described in official
pronouncements and in the day's abundant travel writing and adventure
fiction was not to be found. Instead of the efficient, benevolent bearers of
civilization's torch, he saw men cut off from and nostalgic for Europe, and
drunk on power, their presumed racial superiority, and alcohol). The
disjunction between the routine business of imperial trade - of benefit,
purportedly, to all concerned- and its actual conditions engaged him
profoundly.
 Out of this experience, he would begin writing, two years later, his first
novel, Almayer's Folly, a work that seriously questions the imperial subject
as constructed by the dominant discourse of the day.
 After signing off the Vidar in 1888, Conrad steamed up the Congo. His
seven months there transformed him, forcing on him an even Conrad and
imperialism more reflective view, critical of European imperial endeavours.
This understanding profoundly shaped all the fiction to come, including
Almayer's Folly, the beginnings of which he took to Africa.
 A great reader of newspapers by then, he must have been well informed
about the various arguments on the subject of continued imperial expansion.
Most participants in the discussion distinguished between India - an imperial
fact more or less - 'white settler' colonies, and tropical possessions. Whether
the 'white settler' colonies should be part of an Imperial Federation or not
was a separate but not unrelated aspect of the discussion. But arguments
for and against continued expansion in the tropics, particularly Africa, were
thornier and more agitated. Even though the Berlin Conference had
effectively carved up Africa, arguments continued in England as to methods
of control and the status of new territories: Should Uganda be made a
protectorate? Should the Sudan be annexed? In 1881, John Seeley,
professor of Modern History at Cambridge, saw the debate over empire
divided into two camps, the 'bombastic', which argued for continued
expansion and annexation, and the 'pessimistic', which viewed empire as
useless and burdensome and favoured abandoning it at the earliest possible
opportunity. While 'bombastic' spokesmen argued that Englishmen would be
shirking their duty in abandoning the empire, others countered that further
expansion would lead to bankruptcy. But these 'pessimists' or 'Little
Englanders' were generally shouted down and condemned as unpatriotic
roadblocks to progress. The new imperialism was forcefully and often
expressed by Robert Cecil, Marquess of Salisbury, Prime Minister in 1885,
1886 to 1892, and again from 1895 to 1902, and by his Colonial Secretary,
Joseph Chamberlain. Salisbury argued for continued expansion and
annexation as the Government's 'moral duty' to 'make smooth the paths for
British commerce, British enterprise, the application of British capital'
(Bennett, The Concept of Empire, p. 312). They both collapsed the
economic into the moral with rhetorical effectiveness.
 Europeans generally based their claims to rule 'primitive' people on the
basis of their own superiority, both technological and moral, and the English
were no exception. 'The white man must rule', Lord Milner told the Municipal
Congress in Johannesburg in 1903 'because he is elevated by many, many
steps above the black man' (Ibid., p. 343). This view is a major tenet of
evolutionary thought intrinsic to the understanding of late nineteenth-
century Europeans. The model Darwin suggested and anthropologists and
sociologists such as Edward Tylor, Herbert Spencer, and Benjamin Kidd
had greatly elaborated - the central model then available – was evolutionary:
humanity developed from 'barbarism' to 'civilization', and progress was
inevitable and universal. Civilizations progress much as children develop
into adults, more or less homogeneously, from lower childlike stages
marked by impulsiveness, concrete thinking, and a belief in magic to higher
stages characterized by adult-like qualities such as reflectiveness, abstract
thinking, and a receptiveness to 'true' religion. In fact, Kidd's Control of the
Tropics (1898) advised against European colonization in order to protect the
more highly evolved races from contamination. It was clear, Kidd argued,
'going bush', 'fantee', or 'troppo' would be the unfortunate result of such an
experiment. While the 'lower' races should be allowed to evolve more or less
naturally, he argued, their 'low efficiency' would dangerously influence
resident white populations. Firm administrative control was necessary -
natives could not be expected to develop their resources themselves - but
establishing permanent colonies was not to be considered. Kidd was so
intent on warning against the disastrous consequences of white settlement
in the tropics that he noticed no possible contradiction between this
retrogressive potential and the evolutionary model's claim for the survival of
the fittest. Rather, he saw the highly evolved European's need to stay
connected to the forces that had civilized him, 'the moral, ethical, political,
and physical conditions' that had produced him (Control of the Tropics, p.
50), as somehow a credit to his complexity and further justification for his
continued authority. That native peoples were at a less evolved stage of
human development was rarely contested, and that it was the 'duty' of a
more developed people to help their 'younger' brothers and sisters along
was also generally agreed upon and conveniently served arguments for
expansion.
 Conrad's fictions, on the other hand, show the European intrusion as
'fantastic'. The 'mythological proportions' of the civilizing mission and 'the
blinding brightness of its light' served to eclipse these other, less palatable
stories of an East-West encounter (, ones that Conrad's fictions exposed.
 The increasingly organized, controlled, and administered global
connectedness of the new imperialism was the great historical fact at the
end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries. The
economy that generated this new imperialism was, of necessity, global and
'became steadily more so during the nineteenth century as it extended its
operations to ever more remote parts of the planet, and transformed all
areas ever more profoundly' (Hobsbawm, The Age of Empire, p. 41).

 In his fiction he depicts this 'new' imperial world of expanding total


administration with some nostalgia for a time when there still were some
'empty' spaces.

 Because the first fifteen years of Conrad's writing life spanned this turn-of-
the-century preoccupation with the new global imperialism, his major
writings of this period reflect this concern.

The African Fiction

 'An Outpost' as well as 'Heart of Darkness' also refute then current attitudes
about race that naturalized native inferiority and justified European
domination.

 the 'progress' that was to justify their intrusion is utterly absent in 'Heart of
Darkness': there are only the aborted railroad, native chain gangs, and the
grove of death.

 it is the unnaturalness of 'the fantastic invasion' that both African stories


dramatize, particularly the displacement of native people. The ten station
men in 'An Outpost' come from a distant tribe, and though engaged only for
six months, somehow 'had been serving the cause of progress for upwards
of two years' (HD, p. 17). They are described as generally miserable and
unhealthy, far from friends, family, familiar food, and comforting beliefs.

 In 'Heart of Darkness', Marlow tries to dramatize this aspect of colonial


brutality, that his listeners in the Nellie might not have thought about, by
suggesting an analogy meant to disturb. Describing to them his overland
tramp to the company's Central Station on the Congo, Marlow reports 'a
solitude, nobody, not a hut': The population had cleared out a long time ago.
Well, if a lot of mysterious niggers armed with all kinds of fearful weapons
suddenly took to travelling on the road between Deal and Gravesend,
catching the yokels right and left to carry heavy loads for them, I fancy every
farm and cottage thereabouts would get empty very soon. (HD, p. 160)

 Although Marlow uses the racist language of his day, he is more alive than
his listeners - or readers, presumably — to such an invasion's absurd
outrageousness, one 'naturalized' by the engravings in daily illustrated
newspapers of the inevitable string of black carriers accompanying white
'civilizers' through swamps and along jungle paths in 'darkest Africa'.
 In both African stories we see another part of the unblurring that Edward
Garnett originally noticed, an aspect of imperialism not yet exposed in the
period's colonial discourse - the necessity for 'pretty fictions' to conceal
imperialism's actual business. As Jeremy Hawthorn observes, Makola
anticipates the Accountant of 'Heart of Darkness': both put their neat
handwriting and accurate record-keeping at the service of the bureaucratic
obfuscation necessary to legitimizing burglary.

 No doubt the current press reports of atrocities in the Congo made Conrad's
words more resonant to his English audience. But if 'An Outpost' seemed to
some a critique of specifically Belgian imperialism, then 'Heart of Darkness'
clearly aimed its scepticism at a much wider, more international target: no
imperial power escapes blame. Marlow, the English sea-captain, comes to
Africa in a French steamer and once there encounters a French man-of-war
anchored off the West African coast, firing upon 'enemies' in the bush. He is
taken aboard an up-river steamer whose captain is Swedish and will meet,
at the company's stations, many Belgians and a Russian. Kurtz himself had
been educated partly in England and his parents were of mixed English and
French ancestry: 'All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz' (p. 207).

 Marlow, aboard the Nellie in the Thames - another of 'the dark places of the
earth' - tells his story to an Accountant, a Lawyer, and a Company Director,
English stockholders all, the investors that made empire possible. Whether
or not he had read Hobson's Evolution of Modern Capitalism (1894) or The
War in South Africa (1900), his fiction evinces agreement with Hobson's
basic tenet, more fully developed in Imperialism: A Study (1902), that
imperialism benefitted the few at the expense of the many.5

CONCLUSION

 As an early modern, he sensed the current of a world-wide disruption of


peoples and ideas, of exiles and rootlessness, but while his writing
acknowledges and even participates in the dencentring of monolithic unities
and traditional hierarchies, it also expresses his sense of loss and anxiety in
response to the perceived disorder. Although his fiction was certainly more
complex than the responses of most of his contemporaries, little of Cesaire's
acceptance of heterogeneity and hybridity can be discerned in it. On the
other hand, this 'unsettling anxiety' distinguishes Conrad's fiction from the
'optimism, affirmation, and serene confidence' of contemporary novels,
based as they were 'on the exhilaration and interest of adventure in the
colonial world [which] far from casting doubt on the imperial undertaking,
serves to confirm and celebrate its success' (Said, Culture and Imperialism,
p. 187). More than anyone else Conrad's response is complex; he alone
'tackled the subtle cultural reinforcements and manifestations of empire'
(Ibid.). And Conrad's fiction destabilized the authority of that exclusive
European telling of the world's story, even before it was challenged by the
independence movements of the 1950s and 1960s, before the colonized
themselves started 'writing back'. Conrad, at the turn of the century, knew
little of the 'independent histories and cultures' of native people. Nor could
he have known the extent of the destruction wrought by European
expansionism in Asia, Africa, and SouthAmerica or of the devastating and
still resounding after-effects of neocolonialism.