– Representation In Conrad And Kipling Essay, Research Paper

Imperialism sprung from an altruistic and unselfish aim to ?take up the white man?s burden? and ?wean [the] ignorant millions from their horrid ways.? These two citations are, of course, from Kipling?s ?White Man?s Burden? and Conrad?s Heart of Darkness, respectively, and they splendidly encompass what British and European imperialism was about ? at least seen from the late-nineteenth century point of view. This essay seeks to explore the comparisons and contrasts between Conrad?s and Kipling?s view of imperialism in, respectively, Heart of Darkness and ?White Man?s Burden? and ?Recessional.?

In a historical context, the two texts differ greatly: Heart of Darkness is Conrad?s autobiographical description of his trip up the river of Congo and his encounter with the atrocities of European rule in Africa. Conversely, Kipling?s ?White Man?s Burden? was written to welcome the United States of America to the club of imperialistic nations. The event that prompted Kipling to write this poem was the United States? intervention in the Philippines. Under the Treaty of Paris in 1898, the Philippine sovereignty was transferred from Spain to the United States and thus the United States emerged as an imperialistic nation dedicated to progress. This is the core of the matter ? progress. Kipling speaks of ?a Law? in his poem ?Recessional.? The code of behaviour and the enlightenment that Kipling wished to be aggrandised to all ?primitive? nations. In other words: Progress in the means of railroads across continents, telegraph lines over deep seas, commerce beyond boundaries and steam boat lines criss-crossing the earth.

Imperialism was at its height in this period. In 1897, the year before the Spanish-American War, Queen Victoria had reigned half the world for sixty years. This was the occasion for which ?Recessional? had been written, and it celebrated a vast empire that had ?dominion over palm and pine,? and a ?far-flung battle-line.? The poem speaks of ?lesser breeds without the Law,? and it is this law that ?if, drunk with sight of power,? must not be forgotten. It is a prayer for the eternal altruistic mission that the white man had been destined for, as well as a hopeful prayer that England should not decline:

Far-called, our navies melt away?

On dune and headland sinks the fire?

Lo, all our pomp of yesterday

Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!

Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,

Lest we forget?lest we forget!

The call to extend ?the Law? continues in Kipling?s poem ?The White Man?s Burden.? However, such an extension calls for a definition of a ?white man.? By this term, Kipling refers not only to those with white skin colour. Charles Carrington points out in his biography that in the late 19th century ?white people? included all men with the moral standards of the civilised world. Carrington convincingly cites Kipling?s own poem ?Gunga Din? about an Indian water-carrier, in which Gunga Din is ?the finest man I knew?. I have elaborated upon Carrington?s example:

[When] a?servin of ?Er Majesty the Queen,

Of all them black-faced I knew?

[though] for all ?is dirty ?ide,

[Gunga Din] was white, clear white inside

The mission for the ?white man? was to raise ?those ignorant millions from their horrid ways,? and, as it is phrased in the second stanza of ?White Man?s Burden,? his purpose was altruistic, and merely ?to seek another’s profit, /and work another’s gain.? As the whole, and especially the fifth stanza, of the poem suggests, the only satisfaction for the white man would be that the deed was worth doing. It was definitely not for material goods:

Take up the White Man?s Burden?

And reap his old reward:

The blame of those ye better,

The hate of those ye guard?

The cry of hosts ye humour

(Ah Slowly!) toward the light? ?

This stanza gathers perfectly the essence of what Kipling saw as the white man?s mission. It can hardly be said that it is a reward to be blamed, hated and cried at for improving, guarding and leading someone toward the light.

It is a mission of this type on which Kurtz is sent on in Heart of Darkness. Through Marlow?s dialogues with Kurtz?s cousin, his Intended and a journalist in the last part of the story, we learn that Kurtz was not only a skilful orator but also a musician and a potential political leader ? ?a universal genius.? In other words, ?the best ye breed has been sent forth.? We are also told that Kurtz has been sent out not only to trade and gather ivory, but also to write a report for the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs. Although this report ends with the extremist exclamation ?exterminate all the brutes!,? Marlow implies that this last part must have been written in a feverish condition for ?the curious part was that [Kurtz] had apparently forgotten all about that valuable postscriptum,? and believed it might further his future career.

But above all, the report was a ?moving appeal to every altruistic sentiment,? and Kurtz almost copies Kipling when, in his report, he writes that ?by the simple exercise of our will we can exert a power for good practically unbounded.? This is an echo of Kipling?s ?Law.? Marlow also expounds on his views on imperialism. Just before he starts his narrative, he says:

The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea? something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to?.

This passage is very important as it contains Conrad?s brilliant ability of conveying two different

perspectives in one and the same statement. On one hand, he regards imperialism as a scrupulous conquest of the world. On the other hand, he makes allowances for having the high ideal of doing something for the common good; Kurtz and Marlow are, in other words, ?the gang of virtue,? so to speak. This is common to Kipling?s ?Law.? However, Marlow?s experiences on the Congo suggest something else which is definitely NOT idealism: Patrick Brantlinger explains this is his excellent essay ??Heart of Darkness?: Anti-imperialism, Racism or Impressionism??

The true nature of European philanthropy in the Congo is revealed to Marlow by the chain gang and the and the ?black shadows of disease and starvation,? left to die in the ?greenish gloom? ? from the moment he sets foot in Congo, Marlow is clear about the meaning of ?the merry dance of death and trade?

This explicitly suggests that Heart of Darkness deals with anti-imperialism. Through Marlow?s eyes we get other indications. The Eldorado Exploring Expedition is the perfect analogy of what colonialism was really about: ?To tear treasure out of the bowels of the land was their desire, with no more moral purpose at the back of it than there is in burglars breaking into a safe.? Marlow furthermore hints that the backbone of the expedition is the company in Brussels: ??the uncle of [the] manager was leader of that lot.?

I believe this will suffice in explaining the contrasts between Kipling?s poems and Heart of Darkness. I have pointed out some similarities between the two writers, especially between Kipling?s ?Law? and the prevailing attitude of the late 19th century of the higher aim of imperialism as sometimes expressed in Heart of Darkness. However, the sharpest contrast is Conrad?s ambiguity, irony and ability to prevent us from seeing the contrasts without also seeing the similarities. It is easy to classify Kipling as ?Imperialistic Poet?, but Conrad?s narrative unfolds slowly and leaves it to the reader to navigate its waters; for like a river it flows deeper and deeper, and the moment one believes one has reached the source, it turns out that it goes even deeper; into the earth itself; ?into the heart of an immense darkness.?

BibliographyBrantlinger, Patrick. ??Heart of Darkness?: Anti-Imperialism, Racism or Impressionism?? in Joseph Conrad; Critical Assessments, Keith Carabine, ed., Volume II: ?The Critical Response: Almayer?s Folly to The Mirror of the Sea? (Mountfield: Helm Information Ltd., 1992)

Carrington, Charles. Rudyard Kipling: His Life and Work (London: MacMillan London Ltd., 1955,1978)

Conrad, Joseph. ?Heart of Darkness? in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, M.H. Abrams, general editor. (London: W.W. Norton, 1962, 2000)

Islam, Shamsul. Kipling?s Law: A Study of His Philosophy of Life (London: The MacMillan Press Ltd., 1975)

McClure, John A. ?The Rhetoric of Restraint in Heart of Darkness? in Nineteenth Century Fiction, Volume 32, Issue 3 (Dec. 1977), pp. 310-26 ? available through

Raskin, Jonah. The Mythology of Imperialism (New York: Random House, 1971)

Rudyard Kipling?s Verse, ?Definitive Edition? (London: Hudder & Stoughton, 1940)

Watts, Cedric. ??A Bloody Racist?: About Achebe?s View of Conrad? in Joseph Conrad; Critical Assessments, Keith Carabine, ed., Volume II: ?The Critical Response: Almayer?s Folly to The Mirror of the Sea? (Mountfield: Helm Information Ltd., 1992)


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