The Effects Of Imperialism In Colonial Regions Portrayed In The Heart Of Darkness By Joseph Conrad
‘It is impossible. We live, as we dream – alone…”. Joseph Conrad, born in the Russian town of Berdychiv, was a Polish-English who authored books throughout the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. In this time he wrote the novel Heart of Darkness, which is considered by many to be a modernist classic. The novel depicts a vivid scenario about a steamboat captain traveling up the mysterious Congo River. We are introduced to the narrator and main character, Charles Marlow as he sets out to travel to the Congo to work for a strange effort called “The Company”. Marlow begins his descent into the dense jungle and learns about what being in this so called “Heart of Darkness” really does to a man and the psychological changes that happen as he progresses deeper and deeper into this jungle. Dark shades of nineteenth century colonial and imperial policy are reflected in Heart of Darkness.
We are first greeted with the narrator, Marlow as he is relaxing with his friends on a boat at the mouth of the port of London. He begins to reminisce about the time he worked for The Company and his travels throughout the Congo. Marlow’s Aunt is a wealthy aristocrat with connections high in The Company, which helps Marlow land the job. Charles travels to Belgium to The Company headquarters to sign his contract and board a steamer heading to the mouth of the river. There is a map on the wall of The Company headquarters, a colonial map showing the different imperial regions divided up in Africa. Right in the middle of the Congo is an uncolored region, no one has explored and mapped this area out yet. Marlow has been fascinated by blank sports on maps sense he was a kid and seeing this fueled his excitement to travel to this unknown land. The Companies top ivory exporter, a man only known as “Kurtz” is set up in the inner station of the Congo. Marlow’s objective is to make contact with Kurtz. Marlow arrives at the Central Station, run by the general manager, an unwholesome, uneasy character. He finds that his steamship has been sunk and spends several months waiting for parts to repair it. His interest in Kurtz grows during this period. Kurtz is rumored to be ill, making the delays in repairing the ship all the more costly. Marlow eventually gets the parts he needs to repair his ship, and he and the manager set out with a few agents and a crew of cannibals on a long, difficult voyage up the river. Per and farther into the jungle he begins to document the madness that seems to be seeking them out. Marlow and his crew come across a small hurt with firewood surrounding it, there is a sign telling them to take the supplies. The crew loads the supplies onboard and is then ambushed by natives who are firing arrows from the trees hidden behind dense fog. Marlow and his crew finally arrive at the long-awaited inner station. They greet a Russian trader who seems to have gone slightly mad. The Russian tells the crew about how Kurtz has expanded his mind and is on a higher moral level than everyone else. Kurtz has portrayed himself as a god to the natives and everyone else at his station. Employing brutal methods of ivory collection on the natives, Kurtz had become most profitable trader in The Company. The crew sets off with a sickly Kurtz and travels deeper into the river. On their voyage Kurtz entrust Marlow with a satchel full of personal documents. In these papers are “guides” and pamphlets on how to “civilize” the native savages of this region. One of The Company’s goals was to “civilize” the native people of the land they are colonizing. This includes teaching them western customs and most of the time, enslaving them for production of goods and trade. Their steamer breaks down again and Kurtz begins to lay on his deathbed. Holding Marlow by his shirt Kurtz mutters his last words; “The horror! The horror!”. A shaken Marlow falls ill soon after this and barely escapes with his life back to Europe. He visits Kurtz fiance to pay respects. She is still in mourning, even though it has been over a year since Kurtz’s death, and she praises him on his achievement. She asks what his last words were, but Marlow cannot bring himself to shatter her dreams with the truth. Instead, he tells her that Kurtz’s last word was her name.
Conrad was born in what was then The Russian Empire, but now is modern day Ukraine. He was the only child of Apollo Korzeniowski and Ewa Bobrowska. His father was a writer, activist and future revolutionary. Conrad’s childhood had a major impact on his decisions and life and his unique, modernist writing style. The Korzeniowski family had played a significant role in Polish attempts to regain independence. In 1861 his family up and moved to Warsaw to join the resistance against the tyrannical rule of The Russian Empire. On 9 May 1862 Apollo and his family were exiled to Vologda, which is around 300 miles north of Moscow. The sentence was shortened and the family was sent to Chernihiv in northeast Ukraine, where conditions were much better. His mother Ewa died of tuberculosis shortly after in 1865. In 1874 Conrad left Poland for Marseille, France, to start a merchant-marine career on French merchant ships. After roughly four years in France and on French ships, Conrad joined the British merchant marine and for the next fifteen years served under the British Empire. This was the kickstarter to Conrad’s career as a merchant marine. During the 19 years from the time that Conrad had left Poland in October 1874 until he left the Adowa in January 1894, he had worked in ships, including long periods in ports, for 10 years and almost 8 months. He had spent just over 8 years at sea. This served as a massive inspiration for Conrad, almost all his novels having something to do with sea born affairs. Most of Conrad’s stories and novels, and many of their characters, were drawn from his merchant marine career and people whom he had met or heard about. Conrad’s three year tenure with the Belgion Trading Company provided inspiration for Heart of Darkness. Part of his service included him captaining a steamer on the Congo River. When Conrad was 36, he decided to retire from sea travel. His poor health, mental and physical, played a large part in this. He wrote over 8 novels from this period on until his death in 1924.
When Heart of Darkness was published, Imperial rule over Africa was at an all time high. In 1870 only ten percent of Africa was under colonial rule. That quickly changed as European powers realized what great natural resources lay untouched in the continent. By 1914 over ninety percent of the continent has been put into European rule. The Berlin Conference of 1884, which regulated European colonisation and trade in Africa, is usually referred to as the ultimate point of colonial partition of Africa.
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