Colonialism in Heart of Darkness

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Heart of Darkness centers around a man named Marlow, an inward – looking sailor, and his journey up the Congo River to meet a man named Kurtz. Marlow takes a job as a riverboat captain for an ivory trading company in the Congo. As Marlow travels through the Congo he sees a lot of carelessness and disorganization in the company’s stations. Marlow sees how the native inhabitants have become slaves for the company. According to Marlow, colonialism began because of the ivory which the Europeans were very hungry for. All the way through his journey up the Congo and into the Heart of Darkness, the true purpose of colonialism and the European capitalist approach is uncovered.

Before we can talk about colonialism in the book we must first understand what it is. Colonialism is the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically. Now let’s talk about how Conrad colonializes Africa in the book. Conrad uses Marlow to tell his story of how everything took place. The story starts with Marlow on ship on the Thames River. The first time the theme of colonialism is brought up is on page 2 when Marlow talks about the old river, he says “the old river in its broad reach rested unruffled at the decline of day, after ages of good service done to the race that peopled its banks, spread out in the tranquil dignity of a waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth...” The rivers are very important and complicated symbols throughout Heart of Darkness, and Marlow presents the Thames as “unruffled” and possessing a “tranquil dignity.” The waters that he is describing here is responsible for the violent colonial events treated later in the text.

There were many purposes for colonialism according to Marlow. One of the main reasons for the colonialism of Africa is the ivory business. Another reason according to Kurtz is for the suppression of the Natives beliefs and traditional way of life. Another purpose for colonialism is to gain control over the natural wealth of the country. The need for ivory was more important than civilizing the natives of the land especially for the Europeans, but also for Kurtz. His need for ivory drove him to sickness and insanity and madness. The Russian told Marlow that Kurtz was about to shoot him over a small stash of ivory. “he declared he would shoot me unless I gave him the ivory and then cleared out of the country, because he could do so, and had a fancy for it, and there was nothing on earth to prevent him killing whom he jolly well pleased.” Kurtz need for ivory got so bad that he was willing to kill for it.

The colonization of Africa had some major impacts and affects. Conrad attacks these affects’ on the native population and the colonizers of the land. He directly attacks this by Marlow’s description of the natives. “It was unearthly, and the men were—No, they were not inhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst of it—the suspicion of their not being inhuman. It would come slowly to one. They howled and leaped, and spun, and made horrid faces; but what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity—like yours—the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. Ugly. Yes, it was ugly enough; but if you were man enough you would admit to yourself that there was in you just the faintest trace of a response to the terrible frankness of that noise, a dim suspicion of there being a meaning in it which you—you so remote from the night of first ages—could comprehend.” There were some impacts to colonization as well. One of the major impacts would be the increased tension and violence between natives and the colonizers. Another impact would be the racial oppression of the natives. Colonizers forced the natives to be their slaves so they didn’t have to do all of the hard work. In the movie it showed how the natives were operating the boats and collecting and loading ivory onto the boats while the white colonizers watched and told them what to do.

Unlike most novels that focus on the evils of colonialism, Heart of Darkness focus on the attention to damage that colonization does to souls of the colonizers. Kurtz would be a perfect example of this situation because he went insane over ivory. In the end of the book Kurtz screams out “the horror, the horror”. I have explored the meanings and the purposes, and the impacts of colonization of Africa. I have discussed how colonization of Africa drove one man to death and impacted the lives of others. Throughout his book “Heart of Darkness”, Joseph Conrad tells that colonialism is a cruel and savage process that seeks to remove all radical beliefs. He divulges that colonialism is just a brutal fight for domination and power in a foreign territory where getting the top is the only thing that matters. All the way through Marlow’s journey up the Congo and into the heart of darkness, the true purpose of colonialism and the European capitalist approach has been uncovered.

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Colonialism in Heart of Darkness. (2019, Jun 10). Retrieved February 29, 2024 , from

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