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    Portrayal of colonisers and the colonised in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness Essay

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    Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness was published 1902, after first being a three-part series in magazines. This book is one of the most influential books in world literature, it has made a huge impact on other authors and some of them have even written a whole book about this book. For example the Swedish author Olof Lagercrantz has written a whole book “F�rd med M�rkrets Hj�rta” (eng: “Walk with Heart of Darkness”), where he analyses Conrad’s work. The book has also been made in to a movie (Heart of Darkness), and inspired a making of another film, Apocalypse Now. The book is about colonisation and can be refer to any colonisation at any time. During the entire book Marlowe, the main character, is retelling the story. In short, the book is about how far the human can go for money and power and also how easily a human being can forget what is right and what is wrong when he is put in unfamiliar environment.

    In the beginning of the book a story is being told about a Danish man who got killed by the natives after he had attacked them. The reason was because of a misunderstanding about some hence. The Danish man is, or rather was, described as ” the gentlest, quietest creature that ever walked on two legs”. This statement makes it even more clear how much the coloniser was marked by being in a colony and how many of them went from being absolutely normal to become crazy.

    Another example of this can be exemplified by the doctor who examines Marlowe when he is going out to work in the colony. He says that most of the men he examines never return, that they disappears out there. He even asks Marlowe if he has any madness in his family. There you can see the doctor’s point of the whole colonisation that you have to be insane to go out there. Before Marlowe leaves, the doctor tells Marlowe “Du calme, du calme. Adieu”. Here the doctor is warning Marlowe about the dangerous life out there and if he is going to have any chance of survival he better keep calm.

    Another interesting thing to notice is the native’s reactions when they had killed the Danish man. Even though the natives killed him in self-defence they felt so bad about their action that the whole population escaped. They were also so frightened over their action. They could not stand to live there after what they had done.. Something to have in mind here is ” did they coloniser feel the same after killing one man?” Well obviously not, because otherwise they would not keep doing it.

    Already here, in the beginning of the book you feel that there is a huge gulf between the coloniser and the colonised. At one point Marlowe describes the colonised as lively people, they shouted and sang and they wanted no excuse for being there. Because it was their country, of course you don’t need an excuse for being in your own country. It were their country that they had grown up in and then suddenly some white people came and took all their rights away from them. The colonisers treated them like animals, described them as “dusty niggers”, “enemies” and “criminals”. The following two quotes point at a very distinct different between the two groups. The black man is being described as ” I could see every rib, the joints of their limbs were like knots in a rope; each had an iron collar on his neck, and all were connected together with a chain whose bights swung between them, rhythmically clinking”. Meanwhile the white man is being described like this ” I took him for a sort of vision. I saw a high starched collar, white cuffs, I light alpaca jacket, snowy trousers, a clear necktie, and varnished boots. No hat. Hair parted, brushed, oiled, under a green-lined parasol held in a big white hand. He was amazing, and had a penholder behind his ear.” There is a big difference in the description of the two men, the white man is being portrayed as “amazing”. While the black man is being portrayed as far away from amazing as possible. He his being described as if he has done something terrible and that he is pretty much worthless. Marlowe also describes the colonised man as if he could see every rib in his body, compared to the white man as which he describes as having a big white hand. My point is that Marlowe didn’t have to mention that his hand was big, he could have said “…parasol held in a white hand”. But I think “big” has a purpose in this context, that he really wants to mark the big difference between the colonised and the coloniser. Not just that the white people had more power, but also that they look so different and that they lived a wealthy life in the colony with good food and drinks. Meanwhile the colonised, whose ribs you could even see, almost were starving to death.

    One strong scene in the book is when the coloniser blamed a black man for starting a fire, as punishment they beat him so hard that he almost died and then they left him alone in a corner. Later the white man discussed the incident with Marlowe and the white man says “Serve him right…That’s the only way. This will prevent all conflagrations for the future” According to the white man this was the only right thing to do. They didn’t try to find out what happen and who or what started the fire, and they didn’t even considered to solve it without violence. This scene says pretty much everything about the coloniser’s ruthlessness against the colonised.

    At the same time Marlow later on makes a point about the colonised not being enemies, he shows sympathy towards black people. As if he knows that everything that goes on there are wrong, but he and nobody else dares to say something about it. They are afraid to stand out, maybe they will loose their jobs if they would, which means that they don’t have the money to bring home to their family. But the more we read the book it gets clearer and clearer that the white people only are there for the money. For example Mr Kurtz is being described as a great person. Why? Because he “sends in as much ivory as all the other”. The more money you get and the crueller you are, the greater you are. I have also noticed that in the part when a man asks Marlowe to tell Mr Kurtz “everything here is very satisfactory.” he finishes with that he doesn’t like to send messages because you never know who will get hold of your letter. The point here is that they didn’t trust anyone else but themselves. They didn’t even trust their own people. Almost like the white see the whole colonisation as one big competition and they don’t want to share their success with others.

    An interesting change in the book is when Marlowe, after a twenty-mile walk, finally meat the manager at the station. Now Marlowe is the one who is being treated like he was less worthy. The manager is being extremely nonchalant and cold to him. After a walk of twenty mile the least you expect is to being offered to sit down, which the man didn’t do to Marlowe. Marlowe also talks about the manager as if he had neither learning nor intelligence. Which makes you wonder “why is he there? How did he come there without learning or intelligence?” According to my reflection he came to the colony because he is ice cold. A quote that really proves his heartlessness is this one “Men who come out here should have no entrails”. I interpret this as the colonisers don’t really care about who comes and work for them in the colony, as long as he is willing to do all the missions he is given.

    While the story is told Marlow is sailing on the Thames, which is located in a part of London that once were colonised by the Romans. Thames is the only real place that we know for sure is being described in the book. But we do know that the story Marlow is telling is about an unnamed European colony in Africa. Marlowe describes the Thames as is has been one of the darkest places on the earth. In the book we also being located somewhere that really sounds as the Congo River in Africa. Then we can relate Thames as the Congo River, but we can also make parallels between London and Congo. The point is that the white people treat the black people just as bad as the Romans treated them. Which is a bit of a paradox.

    So what is Conrad trying to say about the title “Heart of Darkness”? Is he trying to make a point how horrible the colonisation really where for everyone, not just the natives. Or is he trying to show how the dark people literally were pushed down by the white people, wanting to make it even clearer that they hadn’t done anything wrong and showing how helpless they were? Maybe his point is to show us the darkness in the white peoples heart? Conrad is perhaps talking about the geographical darkness? That the jungle is one of the darkest place, for instance that the river is one of the darkest places in the book. Because the river is the reason why the black people are there, without the river they wouldn’t have anything to do- no river-no trading.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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    Portrayal of colonisers and the colonised in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness Essay. (2017, Dec 03). Retrieved from

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