Heart of DarknessHeart of DarknessIn Joseph Conrad’s book Heart of Darknessthe Europeans are cut off from civilization, overtaken by greed, exploitation,and material interests from his own kind.
Conrad develops themes of personalpower, individual responsibility, and social justice. His book has allthe trappings of the conventional adventure tale – mystery, exotic setting,escape, suspense, unexpected attack. The book is a record of things seenand done by Conrad while in the Belgian Congo. Conrad uses Marlow, themain character in the book, as a narrator so he himself can enter the storyand tell it out of his own philosophical mind. Conrad’s voyages to theAtlantic and Pacific, and the coasts of Seas of the East brought contrastsof novelty and exotic discovery.
By the time Conrad took his harrowingjourney into the Congo in 1890, reality had become unconditional. The Africanventure figured as his descent into hell. He returned ravaged by the illnessand mental disruption which undermined his health for the remaining yearsof his life. Marlow’s journey into the Congo, like Conrad’s journey, wasalso meaningful. Marlow experienced the violent threat of nature, the insensibilityof reality, and the moral darkness.
We have noticed that important motivesin Heart of Darkness connect the white men with the Africans. Conrad knewthat the white men who come to Africa professing to bring progress andlight to “darkest Africa” have themselves been deprived of the sanctionsof their European social orders; they also have been alienated from theold tribal ways. “Thrown upon their own inner spiritualresources they may be utterly damned by their greed, their sloth, and theirhypocrisy into moral insignificance, as were the pilgrims, or they maybe so corrupt by their absolute power over the Africans that some Marlowwill need to lay their memory among the ‘dead Cats of Civilization. ‘” (Conrad105. )The supposed purpose of the Europeans travelinginto Africa was to civilize the natives.
Instead they colonized on thenative’s land and corrupted the natives. “Africans bound with thongs that contractedin the rain and cut to the bone, had their swollen hands beaten with riflebutts until they fell off. Chained slaves were forced to drink the whiteman’s defecation, hands and feet were chopped off for their rings, menwere lined up behind each other and shot with one cartridge , wounded prisonerswere eaten by maggots till they die and were then thrown to starving dogsor devoured by cannibal tribes. ” (Meyers 100.
)Conrad’s “Diary” substantiated the accuracyof the conditions described in Heart of Darkness: the chain gangs, thegrove of death, the payment in brass rods, the cannibalism and the humanskulls on the fence posts. Conrad did not exaggerate or invent the horrorsthat provided the political and humanitarian basis for his attack on colonialism. The Europeans took the natives’ land away from them by force. They burnedtheir towns, stole their property, and enslaved them. George WashingtonWilliams stated in his diary,”Mr.
Stanley was supposed to have madetreaties with more than four hundred native Kings and Chiefs, by whichthey surrendered their rights to the soil. And yet many of these peopledeclare that they never made a treaty with Stanley, or any other whiteman; their lands have been taken away from them by force, and they sufferthe greatest wrongs at the hands of the Belgians. ” (Conrad 87. )Conrad saw intense greed in the Congo. The Europeans back home saw otherwise; they perceived that the tons ofivory and rubber being brought back home was a sign of orderly conductin the Congo. Conrad’s Heart of Darkness mentioned nothing about the tradingof rubber.
Conrad and Marlow did not care for ivory; they cared about theexploration into the “darkest Africa. ” A painting of a blindfolded womancarrying a lighted torch was discussed in the book. The background wasdark, and the effect of the torch light on her face was sinister. The oilpainting represents the blind and stupid ivory company, fraudulently lettingpeople believe that besides the ivory they were taking out of the jungle,they were, at the same time, bringing light and progress to the jungle. Conrad mentioned in his diary that missions were set up to Christianizethe natives.
He did not include the missions into his book because theland was forcibly taken away from the natives, thus bringing in a churchdoes not help if the natives have no will. Supplies brought in the countrywere left outdoors and abandoned, and a brick maker who made no bricks,lights up the fact that the Europeans do not care to help the natives progress. When Marlow reached the first station, he saw what used to be tools andsupplies, that were to help progress the land, laid in waste upon the ground. “I came upon a boiler wallowing in thegrass, then found a path leading up the hill. It turned aside for the bouldersand also for an undersized railway truck lying there on its back with itswheels in the air.
. . . I came upon more pieces of decaying machinery, astack of rust rails. .
. . No change appeared on the face of the rock. Theywere building a railway. The cliff was not in the way of anything, butthis objectless blasting was all the work going on.
” (Conrad 19. )George Washington Williams wrote in hisdiary that three and a half years passed by, but not one mile of road bedor train tracks was made. “One’s cruelty is one’s power; and when one partswith one’s cruelty, one parts with one’s power,” says William Congreve,author of The Way of the World. (Tripp 206.
) The Europeans forcibly tookaway the natives’ land and then enslaved them. All the examples given arepart of one enormous idea of cruelty – cruelty that the European whitemen believe because its victims are helpless. These are mystical revelationsof man’s dark self. BibliographyConrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness: Backgroundsand Criticisms. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1960.
Meyers, Jeffrey. Joseph Conrad. New York:Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1991. Conrad, Joseph.
Heart of Darkness 3rd ed. Ed. Robert Kimbrough. New York: Norton Critical, 1988. Williams, George Washington.
Heart of Darkness. By Joseph Conrad 3rded. Ed. Robert Kimbrough.
New York: Norton Critical 1988. 87. Tripp, Rhoda Thomas. Thesaurus of Quotations. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1970.