Colonialism Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness Essay
An important theme that is portrayed in the Heart of Darkness is the idea of hypocrisy. As the European countries began to colonize parts of Africa, one of the main ways to support the ventures would be through the ivory trade – something that is a staple in the business practices of the Europeans abroad.
Marlow’s journey from the edge of the African lands, through the good and bad, and into the ‘heart’ of the continent shows an increasingly honest approach to the ivory trade. The traders working under the European ‘company’ understate the magnitude of the ivory trade simply as a form of trade. Contrastingly, Kurtz is much more direct with his explanation of his trade, explaining how he acquires this ivory and materials through force and the killing of other clans that oppose him.
Interestingly enough, the more ‘civilized’ Europeans trading in Africa also utilize this strategy to find ivory for their trade, the strategy of fear and violence upon tribes. Although the more ‘civilized’ traders see themselves as distinguished from the blunt and cutthroat Kurtz, the line between both become increasingly blurred as readers continue into the story. Although Kurtz implements violent methods and embraced this identity of a trader, other traders implemented strikingly similar methods to gather their ivory as well. For example, in the very beginning of the novel, Freselven starts beating an old native man with disregard for the outcomes of his actions. We also perceive the conditions of the company’s station, with the African slaves in chains and the French Man-o-war shelling a coast. These serve to provide a glimpse into the actions of the Europeans as colonizers in the novel.
Joseph Conrad highlights this idea of hypocrisy further by exploring the mind of Marlow himself. Whereas the company traders show racist traits and Kurtz complete madness towards the African tribes, Marlow is desensitized by all of this. Although Marlow does not understand Kurtz fully and criticizes European traders, calling them “flabby devils”, the underlying hypocrisy of Marlow is how he does not acknowledge the Africans at all. The helmsman is simply ‘a piece of machinery’.
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