“The Heart of Darkness” a Novel by Joseph Conrad Essay
The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad is one of the greatest literary works of the early 20th century. It discovers many subjects that were important for people of the society of that time. However, in the heart of this novel is theme of imperialism. There were many literary debates around this theme. According to some literary critics, it described only negative sides of imperialism, according to others, it depicted imperialistic positive influence on the society.
At any rate, the story truly descries political and economic situation of that time, as well as its moral and ethical principles. The main character of the novel is a young sailor Marlowe who was fascinated by imperialism and was sure in its “perfect nature”. However, when he arrives to Congo, he observes that Congo people are oppressed by European imperialism. Thus, on the one hand, the exploration of Africa gives to a young man a possibility to improve his life, on the other hand, he begins understanding the paradoxes of imperialism while observing how its intrusion affects lives and souls of native people, as well as colonialists.
European Imperialism reached its highest point in the 19th century. The empires of Europe, that extended their influence around the world, were France, Italy, Portugal, Russia, the Netherlands, the UK, Belgium and some other countries. In the 19th century, the European empires controlled South America, Asian countries and Africa. As its mission, the European imperialism had the “civilization” of the world and expansion of the Christianity over the conquered nations through the forced introduction of the European administrative powers and its culture. However, the main purposes of the European imperialism were the boasting of the Industrial Revolution, desire of the ruling nations to extend their territorial boarders, improve economical strength and, of course, political prestige in the world arena.
Imperialism, its negative influence and its racist character were one of the major themes of the world literature in the early 20th century. Such writers as Milton and his Paradise Lost, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Orwell’s Burmese Days and many other writers criticized cultural context of imperialism, its racism and anti-social character. However, some historians assume that it has not only negative influence, but some positive effect for the development of conquered countries.
Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is one of the most criticized literary works of the first part of the 20th century. It provoked much debates on the essence of imperialism, racism and European colonization of the world. Some critiques find this novel to propaganda imperialism and others see the text of The Heart of Darkness as extremely anti-imperialistic work. Thus, we can come to a conclusion that The Heart of Darkness is a media between pro-imperialism position of the author and a sharp criticism of the process and its methods. Analyzing the characters of the novel, in particular its main character Marlowe, we can come to a conclusion that Conrad did not criticized the imperialism itself, but he expressed his accusation of the way in which the expansion of imperialism was performed.
The Europeans arrived to Congo with one aim to introduce their way of live to the natives. However, during his trip, Marlowe saw and described a terrible situation on which native people had to live, he described the inequality, unfaithful treatment, exploitation, terrible medical support for natives who worked for ruling class. The main character of the novel questions himself why those cannibals did not attack the conquerors as such treatment could only “sharpen the situation” and develop great hate towards the Europeans, “Why in the name of all gnawing devils of hunger they didn’t go for us – they were thirty to five – and have a good tuck in for once, amazes me now when I think of it” (Conrad 112). However, having analyzed the situation, Marlowe suggest the reason why the natives did not rebel, “I saw that something restraining, one of those human secrets that baffle probability, had come into play here” (Conrad 112). Thus, the act of subdue is the evidence of the situation that Marlowe saw in Africa.
The ideal core of imperialism was to introduce the economical and cultural improvement to the country. However, the Belgian imperialism, as it described in the novel, had not even a project for the improvement of people’s lives or the country. The only aim was to exploit the natives and reap the benefits from it. When Marlowe sees the situation, he calls South Africa “one of the dark places on earth” (Conrad 8) as for natives as for European people. A quest of an easy profit is the only thing that governs the hearts of those who came to Africa with the aim to “civilize” cannibals and improve their lives. Thus, the narrator discusses the benefits and drawbacks of the empire building and human’s nature that constantly seeking to conquer the world and gain profits regardless possible negative consequences for other people.
Thus, The Heart of Darkness is a great novel that depicted the realities of the Imperialistic times. It shows how the process of Imperialism affected societies of both conquered nation and imperialists. However, we cannot say that imperialism had an entirely negative influence on both societies, there were some positives sides of it. But, regardless of all “benefits of imperialism”, the author focused his attention on drawbacks that accompanied the process of imperialism.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Plain Label Books, 1975.
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