Introduction to Heart of Darkness
Published as a novella in Blackwood's Magazine in the 19th century, Heart of Darkness found its place as the third work in Conrad's compilation in 1942. This introspective tale delves into the depths of human corruption and psychological dysfunction within the African continent, shedding light on themes of exile, bewilderment, and profound doubt. At its core, Heart of Darkness also explores the concept of imperialism through the journeys of Marlow and Kurtz.
Imperialism is the practice of extending dominion and power over distant territories, acquiring political and economic control through direct acquisition or colonization. It manifests in two forms: colonialism and land conquest. Marlow distinguishes between the two, yet condemns both for their destructive consequences. Regardless of their justifications, conquerors and colonizers bring ruin upon the land, its indigenous inhabitants, and even their own people.
Major Themes Explored in Heart of Darkness
Heart of Darkness encompasses various themes, including the impact of imperialism on whites and non-whites, the journey to self-discovery, the dichotomy of order and disorder, the facade of colonial pretenses, the absence of truth, and the inherent meaninglessness of evil.
The Central Theme: Imperialism
At the heart of Heart of Darkness lies the theme of imperialism. Conrad introduces the concept through Marlow's narrative, referencing the ancient Roman conquests to establish the existence of colonialism since the earliest days of human civilization.
Imperialism Explored in Heart of Darkness
The novel vividly portrays European imperialism, characterized by the colonization of Asian and African territories to extract raw materials and exploit cheap labor. Yet, this imperialistic agenda is often veiled under the guise of spreading civilization to "uncivilized" peoples. Marlow embarks on his journey to the Congo with a deep skepticism toward the European imperialistic mindset, challenging the notion that the colonization of Africa would benefit the black population. Conrad's portrayal of colonization aligns it with conquest, as mentioned earlier in the story, with the only difference lying in its presentation to the so-called civilized European public. Colonization becomes a strategy to assert control over indigenous peoples and their lands.
Perceptions of Race and Eurocentrism
Parallel to the theme of imperialism, Conrad exposes the prevailing white supremacist views held by Europeans toward people of other races. Marlow, speaking through Conrad's prose, remarks that conquering the earth essentially means taking it away from those of a different complexion. This statement alludes to the belief in European superiority over other races. Europeans ravage and exploit the lands of indigenous people through colonization, perpetuating a cycle of resource theft and destruction.
Condemning Imperialism and Its Consequences
Heart of Darkness stands as a staunch critique of imperialism in all its forms. Even the novel's title, "Heart of Darkness," alludes to the moral corruption within the hearts of the colonizers. As the narrative unveils the inner corruption of men, particularly Kurtz stationed at the heart of the African continent, Conrad unequivocally condemns the act of taking away African lands, denouncing it as robbery, violence, and aggravated murder. Marlow bears witness to the devastating effects of imperialism, including enslavement, moral decay, and insatiable greed for wealth. The Europeans claim to bring civilization to the uncivilized black population, yet their actions reveal only a chaotic pursuit of personal gain through any means necessary.
Marlow, in his expedition to the heart of Africa, ironically acknowledges his own complicity in imperialism, stating that he, too, is a part of this supposed noble cause. However, as he reaches the inner station, he finds nothing but chaos. Kurtz, the epitome of imperialistic corruption, feigns civilizing the indigenous people while engaging in the ruthless ivory trade. The acceptable veneer of the trade is shattered when Marlow witnesses Kurtz's involvement in horrific rituals, sacrificing human lives to appease the natives and further his own trade objectives. Through Marlow's harrowing journey, Conrad exposes the havoc wreaked by imperialism in the pursuit of power and wealth.