“The Heart of Darkness” By J.Conrad Book Review

The Heart of Darkness by J. Conrad reveals the colonial policy conducted by Europeans in Africa. However, the author does not simply depict colonial policies and relationships between the whites and Africans, but also reveals the imperialist nature of European policies. J. Conrad attempts to show that Europeans conducted unfair, imperialist policies in regard to the native population of Africa. The Heart of Darkness reveals the full extent of European oppression and the treatment of the native population of Africa as the under-developed, savage population that they pretended to civilize but, in actuality, they simply exploited human and natural resources of Africa. Therefore, imperialism is one of the main themes of The Heart of Darkness and as such researchers as Priotti (2) argue, Conrad stands for severe criticism of European imperialism because he opens the colonized perspective for readers and uncovers the hypocrisy of European imperialism throughout the entire novella.

Conrad shows many manifestations of European imperialism throughout The Heart of the Darkness, but it is worth mentioning the fact that certain degree of hypocrisy is almost always present in those manifestations (Priotti 4). The Company is the personification of European imperialism that exploits the native population of Africa. African people are forced to work for the Company in unbearable conditions. They overwork but get next to nothing from the Company. The Company and Europeans hold full control of Africa that leads to “Conrad’s realization is that if, like narrative, imperialism has monopolized the entice system of representation-which in the case of Heart of Darkness allowed it to speak for Africans as well as for Kurtz and the Other adventurers, including Marlow and his audience-your self-consciousness” (Said 24). J. Conrad shows the trade, which, in its essence, was the brutal exploitation of the natives, who were treated as mere commodities rather than human beings, who Europeans attempted to civilize.

The local population of Africa cannot resist to the Company and the whites, who use their settlements and Company’s stations as forts, which they can launch their expansion from. In this respect, Conrad reveals the hypocrisy of European imperialism through allusions used throughout the novella, when Europeans presented the brutal exploitation of the native population of Africa and local natural resources as trade. Kurtz and other Europeans exploited the natives savagely and so they did in regard to natural resources of Africa. Europeans were ready to exterminate herds of elephants out of sheer benefit from ivory they had got to sell in Europe. Hence, Kurtz’s conclusion sounds quite reasonable in imperialist terms: “Exterminate all the brutes” and such conclusion “can be regarded as capitalist exploitation aiming at world hegemony” (Hassan 9).     Kurtz reveals his main point and his attitude to the native population of Africa in his poem, which uncovers the vision of European imperialism. Marlow uncovers the poem in Kurtz’s papers and the poem sounds life the manifesto of European imperialism, where the author proclaims the natives to be brutes and claims to “exterminate them all”. This idea is another manifestation of what Priotti (8) defines as European colonial hypocrisy because Kurtz uses the natives to meet his goals and he would have never achieved anything without them. But at the same time, he insists on their extermination as inferior and apparently uncivilized people.

Conrad uncovers the intrinsic fear of the whites, who penetrate further in the wild land of the Congo basin. As Marlow and ‘pilgrim’ travel further into the wild, they feel frightened of any rush sound, drum or any other sound that resemble the presence of the native population of Africa. Moreover, “the white men were very much frightened by the power of the black people” (Priotti 4). Their fear is the manifestation of the fear of imperialist, who expect the just revenge from the part of those whom they oppress severely. In this regard, the attack on Marlow’s ship is a symbol of anti-imperialist rebellion.

Furthermore, Kurtz is the ultimate personification of European imperialism because he virtually takes himself for being a god among the native population of Africa. His attitude to the natives is the “ultimate manifestation of European imperialism in regard to the population of Africa” (Stark 541). Kurtz heads the natives to show his superiority and pretends that he attempted to make them better, more civilized and closer to European values. However, in actuality, he treats them as brutes, who worth nothing and who exist to serve him and to meet his needs. He exploits them to obtain ivory and develop trade that benefits him but not the natives.

J. Priotti (43) places emphasis on the fact that white imperialists, who attempted to ‘civilize’ the natives turned into savages themselves: “In the name of “civilizing” they [Belgian Company] were “enslaving”, they were torturing them [Africans] violently and doing manual labor work by them” (Priotti 3). The civilization of the natives occurred through the change of their traditional lifestyle and forcing them to live in the way Europeans are accustomed to. Europeans viewed the different way of life of the local population as barbarism or savageness of the native population of Africa. This is why Kurtz treats Africans as “mere commodities rather than people” (Stark 548). Such attitude reveals his superiority and firm belief into the supremacy of Europeans over the savage population of Africa.  Conrad shows that Kurtz is not an outcast with some radical ideas, but other characters, including Marlow basically share his worldview in regard to the native population of Africa. The main characters of the book view people living in Africa as savages. They use the term savage over and over again and they just take it for granted because Europeans disregard human dignity and different traditions and lifestyle of African people. Europeans firmly believe in the righteousness of their way of life and they do not admit any other way of life. Even Kurtz, who attempts to stay with savages, does it for the only purpose to grow richer and to rule his small kingdom, where he is treated by savages as almost a god or deity, whom they worship, admire, and obey.

Priotti (3) reveals the fact that Conrad attempts to present colonial policies conducted by the whites from the position of colonized. At any rate, Conrad apparently wants readers “to interpret the lessons of the Roman Empire and apply them to his society, and his analogy between the Roman and modern empires is designed to make the reader see colonialism from the perspective of the colonized, not the colonizing” (Priotti 3). In such a way, Conrad opens a new perspective on European policies and uncovers their hypocrisy, while the fate of the main characters and their ideas just make the audience absolutely certain in the hypocrisy of the whites.

This is the greatest hypocrisy of the entire novella, when the whites, who want to ‘civilize’ the natives, suggest exterminating them instead. In such a way, J. Conrad shows what Priotti (12) defines as the hypocrisy of imperialism, when Europeans, like Kurtz, suggested that the civilization of the natives is the only way to make them a bit closer to the whites, but, on the other hand, that “the act of civilizing has turned into the physical extermination of the civilized” (Raskin 34). For example, Kurtz uses the native population of Africa to take ivory to sell in Europe and thus to earn profits. The Company also exploited natural resources of Africa but paid no attention to the life of the local population. The Company described by Conrad focused on the exploitation of Africa only. The native population changed their lifestyle and the impact of the Company on the life of the local population was destructive. In such a way, Conrad reveals the predatory nature of European capitalism, which transformed into imperialism oriented on the mere exploitation of natural resources and native population of Africa. The maintenance of the supremacy of Europeans is clearly seen throughout the book that proves imperialist aspirations of Europeans as is the case of Kurtz and other Europeans working for the company.

Therefore, as Priotti (3) reasonably argues, The Heart of Darkness is full of imperialist hypocrisy of the whites, when they pretend to make good for the people of Africa, but, instead, they exploit the local population and local natural resources severely and view them as mere source of their personal enrichment. All the attempts of Europeans to develop ‘trade’ with the natives results in their oppression, unbearable conditions of work, overwork and just brutal exploitation to bring ivory and other products to the whites, who benefit fabulously from the exploitation of people and natural resources of Africa. In this regard, Conrad offers “the most heart-touching description of six skinny native men carrying heavy baskets on their heads, iron collar and chained in their neck”  (Priotti 3). Moreover, the noble goal of European imperialists ‘to civilize’ the natives turn into the manslaughter and physical extermination of the local population of Africa.

Thus, The Heart of Darkness by J. Conrad shows imperialist policies of Europeans in Africa and their unfair policies in regard to the native population of Africa. Europeans treated Africans as mere commodities, which they used to take natural resources of Africa. The writer creates the image of European imperialism, which Europeans presented as the attempt of civilizing the native population of Africa.

Works Cited:

Conrad, Joseph.  Heart of Darkness. Dhaka: Friend’s Book Corner, 2008.Print.

Hansson, Karin. “Entering  Heart of Darkness from Postcolonial perspective-Teaching notes”.1993.Web 1 April 2016 http://www.bth.se/fou/forskinfo.nsf /0/0d15402f4f2c9684c12568a3002cab06/$file/Entering%20Heart%20of%20Darkness%20from%20a%20Postcolonial%20perspective.pdf.  

Priotti, Ishrat Jahan. Hypocrisy of Imperialism in Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”, ENH Community Journal, 1(2). Web, 1 April 2016. http://www.academia.edu/9941564/HYPOCRISY_OF_IMPERIALISM_IN_JOSEPH_CONRAD_S_HEART_OF_DARKNESS_

Raskin, Jonah. “Heart of Darkness: The Manuscript Revisions”, The Review of English Studies 18.69(1967): 30-39. Print.

 Said, Edward. Two visions in “Heart of Darkness”, Culture and Imperialism. 1993, 22-31. Web. 1 April 2016. http://projects.ecfs.org/eastwest/Readings/SaidConrad.pdf.

 Stark, Bruce R. “Kurtz’s Intended: The Heart of Heart of Darkness”, Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 12(3), 1974, 535-555.Print

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