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Heart Of Darkness Essay Research Paper Heart 2

Heart Of Darkness- Essay, Research Paper

Heart of Darkness-

In Joseph Conrad’s book Heart of Darkness the Europeans are

cut off from civilization, overtaken by greed, exploitation, and

material interests from his own kind. Conrad develops themes of

personal power, individual responsibility, and social justice. His

book has all the trappings of the conventional adventure tale –

mystery, exotic setting, escape, suspense, unexpected attack. The

book is a record of things seen and done by Conrad while in the

Belgian Congo. Conrad uses Marlow, the main character in the book, as

a narrator so he himself can enter the story and tell it out of his

own philosophical mind. Conrad’s voyages to the Atlantic and Pacific,

and the coasts of Seas of the East brought contrasts of novelty and

exotic discovery. By the time Conrad took his harrowing journey into

the Congo in 1890, reality had become unconditional. The African

venture figured as his descent into hell. He returned ravaged by the

illness and mental disruption which undermined his health for the

remaining years of his life. Marlow’s journey into the Congo, like

Conrad’s journey, was also meaningful. Marlow experienced the violent

threat of nature, the insensibility of reality, and the moral


We have noticed that important motives in Heart of Darkness

connect the white men with the Africans. Conrad knew that the white

men who come to Africa professing to bring progress and light to

“darkest Africa” have themselves been deprived of the sanctions of

their European social orders; they also have been alienated from the

old tribal ways.

“Thrown upon their own inner spiritual resources they may be

utterly damned by their greed, their sloth, and their hypocrisy into

moral insignificance, as were the pilgrims, or they may be so corrupt

by their absolute power over the Africans that some Marlow will need

to lay their memory among the ‘dead Cats of Civilization.’” (Conrad

105.) The supposed purpose of the Europeans traveling into Africa was

to civilize the natives. Instead they colonized on the native’s land

and corrupted the natives.

“Africans bound with thongs that contracted in the rain and

cut to the bone, had their swollen hands beaten with rifle butts until

they fell off. Chained slaves were forced to drink the white man’s

defecation, hands and feet were chopped off for their rings, men were

lined up behind each other and shot with one cartridge , wounded

prisoners were eaten by maggots till they die and were then thrown to

starving dogs or devoured by cannibal tribes.” (Meyers 100.)

Conrad’s “Diary” substantiated the accuracy of the conditions

described in Heart of Darkness: the chain gangs, the grove of death,

the payment in brass rods, the cannibalism and the human skulls

on the fence posts. Conrad did not exaggerate or invent the horrors

that provided the political and humanitarian basis for his attack on

colonialism. The Europeans took the natives’ land away from

them by force. They burned their towns, stole their property, and

enslaved them. George Washington Williams stated in his diary,

“Mr. Stanley was supposed to have made treaties with more than

four hundred native Kings and Chiefs, by which they surrendered their

rights to the soil. And yet many of these people declare that they

never made a treaty with Stanley, or any other white man; their lands

have been taken away from them by force, and they suffer the 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 of ivory and rubber being brought back home

was a sign of orderly conduct in the Congo. Conrad’s Heart of

Darkness mentioned nothing about the trading of rubber. Conrad

and Marlow did not care for ivory; they cared about the exploration

into the “darkest Africa.” A painting of a blindfolded woman carrying

a lighted torch was discussed in the book. The background was dark,

and the effect of the torch light on her face was sinister. The oil

painting represents the blind and stupid ivory company, fraudulently

letting people 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 Christianize the natives. He did not include the missions into

his book because the land was forcibly taken away from the natives,

thus bringing in a church does not help if the natives have no will.

Supplies brought in the country were 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 and supplies,

that were to help progress the land, laid in waste upon the ground.

“I came upon a boiler wallowing in the grass, then found a

path leading up the hill. It turned aside for the boulders and also

for an undersized railway truck lying there on its back with its

wheels in the air…. I came upon more pieces of decaying machinery,

a stack of rust rails…. No change appeared on the face of the rock.

They were building a railway. The cliff was not in the way of

anything, but this objectless blasting was all the work going on.”

(Conrad 19.)

George Washington Williams wrote in his diary that three and a half

years passed by, but not one mile of road bed or train tracks was

made. “One’s cruelty is one’s power; and when one parts with one’s

cruelty, one parts with one’s power,” says William Congreve, author of

The Way of the World. (Tripp 206.) The Europeans forcibly took away

the natives’ land and then enslaved them. All the examples given are

part of one enormous idea of cruelty – cruelty that the European white

men believe because its victims are helpless. These are mystical

revelations of man’s dark self.


1. Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness: Backgrounds and Criticisms.

New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1960.

2. Meyers, Jeffrey. Joseph Conrad. New York: Charles Scribner’s

Sons, 1991.

3. Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness 3rd ed. Ed. Robert Kimbrough.

New York: Norton Critical, 1988.

4. Williams, George Washington. [A Report upon the Congo - State and

Country to the President of the Republic of the United States of

America.] Heart of Darkness. By Joseph Conrad 3rd ed. Ed. Robert

Kimbrough. New York: Norton Critical 1988. 87.

5. Tripp, Rhoda Thomas. Thesaurus of Quotations. New York: Thomas

Y. Crowell, 1970.