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Examples Of Imperialism In Heart Of Darkness

In Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness, Conrad epitomizes his very own experiences through an intense and slightly exaggerated story. Conrad creates the character Charles Marlow and has Marlow recount his expedition of the Congo River in Africa. The story follows the disturbing journey Marlow took by working for a Belgian company and quest to find a mysterious man named Kurtz, who has become power-driven and insane. Along the way, Marlow discovers the awful truth about the company he is employed by and how barbaric they treat the natives.

Marlow learns how destructive and mentally corrupting the Congo River and the ivory trade can be. Throughout the novella, the river represents something more immense than it truly is. The Congo River allows the white men like Marlow to always remain separate or “outside;” they do not have to physically travel into Africa if they only travel down the Congo River. The river also seems to be against the white men exploring it as it has a deadly jungle surrounding it and terrifying attributes, transforming it into something human-like that threatens the white men, making the river the antagonist of the novella.

Traveling on the Congo River was not easy by any means. Marlow even describes it as “like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world” (105). It was frightening and time consuming. The river had the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention” (106). The struggles Marlow undergoes as he is traveling down the river to find Kurtz reflect upon the inner struggle Marlow is facing as he is not sure how to understand the situation he is in. He feels uneasy about the entire expedition, but does not quit and continues on. The Congo River is Marlow’s “choice of nightmares” (154).

In addition to the symbolic meaning of the Congo River, ivory severed as an important symbol in the story. Ivory is the root of the insanity and cruelty done by the white men in the novella, specifically Kurtz. It gave white men who had ivory power, wealth, and significance. Kurtz was driven mad by his power and wanted nothing but more of it. He felt threatened by his colleagues and anyone who attempted to trade with him. Without his ivory, Kurtz would most likely feel incomplete as it became a part of him and his personality. However, ivory is also white, which is ironically the symbol of purity.

Ultimately, the symbol of irony is ironic as it symbolizes wealth and success while simultaneously symbolizing moral corruption and madness. While ivory built one empire, it also destroyed the land, culture and lives of the natives. Conrad mentions restraint numerous times throughout the novella. He scrutinizes how difficult it is to maintain restraint while in the jungles of the Congo River. Through Marlow, Conrad shows how resilient Marlow must be in order to prevent himself from going mad as he is watching almost everyone around him fall ill or become deranged.

Several characters show this quality of restraint in the novella and Marlow finds it odd. He sees the cannibales show restraint by not eating the other men on board the steamer even though they are starving. He sees the savages showing restraint by not attacking the vessel, yet they would most likely be the ones to lack any restraint at all. Marlow discovers that it takes a lot of power and will to restrain from doing something; he notices that restraint is what is keeping the order and structure of the stations and crew he works alongside.

It also makes Marlow question who is actually civilized and what is civilization. As a reader, you begin to contemplate the true purpose of restraint just as Marlow does. Furthermore, Conrad also explores the idea of imperialism and how society is afraid of dissimilarities. Society wants everyone to be the same as everyone else and wishes to make everyone conform to its ways. Conrad discusses the tragic flaw of society and its desire to force conformation on a group of people who are seen as “different” or “uncivilized” just as the white men viewed the natives.

The white men oppress the natives and coerce them to follow their orders and comply to their way of civilization and humanity. Imperialism and the idea that everyone must be similar to one another occurs everywhere in society just as it did in the novella. The novella was written as a frame-story. It is framed by the narration of another character that is on board the Nellie who is introduced in the beginning of the story. The narrator, Marlow and the other members he is accompanied by.

Here, Marlow is the captain of the Neille and he and his men are sitting idle in the Thames River of London. Conrad immediately begins uses the symbolic usage of light and darkness as the narrator is setting the scene and describing England and Marlow. The story soon switches over to Marlow’s perspective as he begins telling his story and experience on the Congo River. Here Conrad is using what is called an impressionist method and allows the reader to experience Marlow’s feelings and sensations as he gives detail after detail from his memory.

This ultimately allows the reader to take part in the process of discovering the meaning of Marlow’s story as Marlow is working out the meaning of his story as he tells it himself. Marlow interrupts and repeats himself and sometimes hesitates as he is telling his tale. He is also very wordy and digresses from the order of the events and simply tells them as he remembers them, mostly in pieces or parts. This truly gives the reader the feel of being inside Marlow’s mind and allows the reader to connection with the text.

Conrad was an avid anti-imperialist. His novella was simply parallels to actual historical conflicts and his own firsthand experiences with the disturbing reality of imperialism and society’s forceful power of oppression. He wrote to expose the horror and chaos European invention had on Africa and tell the world the infamous quality human nature holds. Under the power and order of King Leopold II, the Congo River and it’s natives were dominated and disregarded due to the lust of power and resources society has.

King Leopold II was brutal and destroyed the Congo without any interference from other European nations and had full authority over the ivory trade in Africa. Many viewed his control as humanitarian and aiding, yet the land was abused and the natives were stripped of freedom. Conrad wrote his novella to challenge the idea of imperialism and its true intentions. His novella serves a historical and societal lesson as he opens the eyes of society and its tendency to hide an eye to the bloodshed of imperialism.

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