Example Of Essay On Heart Of Darkness
Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” is a complex and tragic story about Charles Maslow and his work as an ivory transporter on the Congo River. Though only a short story, it tackles many concepts dealing with illegal and illicit activities. “Heart of Darkness” also attempts to expose the underworld that is living in the dangerous Central African Congo during this time. While the many multifaceted concepts in the short story are relevant, one theme that cries louder than the others is imperialism, its hypocrisy, and the lunacy that it contrives. Essentially, “Heart of Darkness” has a heart in its own right, and it is imperialism in its many forms.
Conrad explores imperialism in the South African Congo, as well as the issues surrounding it, in intricate ways. Imperialism, according to Peter Mayo, is a policy by which a country seeks to extend its influence or power through political negotiation, or military force . Fundamentally, imperialism seeks to make a country more powerful through peace or violence. “Heart of Darkness” is about a country who seeks power through the latter. The story follows Marlow as he travels from several different trade stations, facing cruel scenes of torture and even human slavery. The hypocrisy behind imperialism throughout the book appears to be that Marlow is simply on an adventure. He and the other men working in the ivory business describe their work as a “trade” several times throughout the story, giving no indication that they are aware of how unjust their actions are . Furthermore, they justify the human slavery in their “trade” as part of an attempt to civilize the native Africans . Though they are clearly aware that their actions are unjust, they push forward, acting more inhumane than initially conceivable in an effort to make a more powerful industry. Kurtz, Maslow’s opposite in the novel, establishes this by being open about taking ivory through force. Kurtz also admits his industry is, in fact, an industry, bent on exterminating the local population in their quest for ivory. However, his honesty is Kurtz’s downfall, allowing us to examine again how hypocritical imperialism can be.
Why was Kurtz’s honesty his downfall while Maslow’s silence allowed him to continue operating successfully? Imperialism is based openly on the use of peacekeeping or violent force in an effort to establish power; therefore, Kurtz’s honesty about his violent efforts to intimidate should have been seen as a power move. “Politics of Indignation: Imperialism, Postcolonial Disruptions and Social Change,” states that while force is typically an essential part of power, as well as politics, the honest expression of it is often a setback . In short, Kurtz’s admission that he is their to intimidate, exterminate, and take ivory by force lead to his dismissal because he was ultimately seen as bad for Europe’s image in Africa . Europe wanted to use force, and imperialist methods, in order to secure a more powerful edge in Africca, but were unwilling to be public about such methods. This is one of the many things that continues to make imperialism a savage hypocrisy perpetrated upon countries across the globe, then and now.
The theme of imperialism is continued throughout the book to create a sense of madness or, rather, to show what results from the hypocrisy of such a system. “Heart of Darkness” makes Africa responsible for many physical and mental illnesses, a metaphor that is linked to the results of imperialism. To illustrate this madness, Marlow begins his work after being told that Kurtz is insane; imperialism has supposedly already taken a hold of his mind and body . As the story continues, the reader begins to understand that Kurtz’s madness is difficult to relate to the insanity of the ivory trade industry. The insanity and physical discomfort the characters experience are used to invoke the reader’s compassion, and despite Kurtz’s insanity being in relations to the entire industry, the reader begins to sympathize with him while despising the company. The metaphorical madness of imperialism also establishes obligatory social lies. Through “Heart of Darkness”, many individuals are exposed. Some people are shams, while other examples are shown to be completely evil, but they are used to show how lies balance social protocol in the face of imperialism. Therefore, insanity represents being removed from one’s comfort zone, being placed in charge of one’s own morals, and allowing imperialism to reign. In a sense, the characters have free will, but are also stripped of it because imperialism demands the worst of them while also demanding they lie about it.
In sum, while there are many themes and motifs involved throughout “Heart of Darkness” one of the most profound is the hypocrisy of imperialism and the madness that results from it. Imperialism is the use of peace or force to extend power. The novel shows the use of force to do so. Marlow and Kurtz are two examples of men under pressure, using force in the ivory trade. While Marlow decides to hide in the shadows, Kurtz remains honest about his industry, which eventually results in his downfall, simultaneously exposing the hypocrisy of imperialism: violent force is beneficial for politics, but only if nobody tells the truth about it. Lying eventually leads to the resulting madness that usually accompanies imperialism. Individuals are put in positions they are unfamiliar with. Still acting of their own volition, they are free to follow their own moral compass. However, imperialism demands they use violent force to push their employer’s agenda. Furthermore, imperialism demands they lie, forcing a social balance based on falsities. “Heart of Darkness” exemplifies imperialism in all of the ways it does not work.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Boston: Open Road Media, 2014. Book.
Mayo, Peter. Politics of Indignation: Imperialism, Postcolonial Disruptions and Social Change. Chicago: John Hunt Publishing, 2012. Book.