Heart Of Darkness And Modest Proposal Essay

, Research Paper Colonization in the Theme of "A Modest Proposal" and "Heart of Darkness" Starting at the beginning of the seventeenth century, European

, Research Paper

Colonization in the Theme of "A Modest Proposal" and "Heart of

Darkness" Starting at the beginning of the seventeenth century, European

countries began exploring and colonizing many different areas of the world. The

last half of the nineteenth century saw the height of European colonial power

around the globe. France, Belgium, Germany, and especially Great Britain,

controlled over half the world. Along with this achievement came a notable sense

of pride and confident belief that European civilization was the best on earth

and that the natives of the lands Europeans controlled would only benefit from

colonial influence. However, not everybody saw colonization as positive for all

those involved. Some of the most notable writers of the time produced works

criticizing the process of colonization. Two of the most significant works in

this area are Joseph Conrad?s "Heart of Darkness" and Jonathan

Swift?s "A Modest Proposal." Although these pieces of literature

both criticize colonization, they have different themes. The theme of "A

Modest Proposal" could be described as the negative effects of colonization

on the colonized, while the central idea in "Heart of Darkness" is the

negative effects of colonization on both the colonized and the colonizers. The

differences in these themes are significant to the strategies used by the

authors to explore the adverse effects of colonization. Swift makes great use of

irony and imagery, to accentuate the plight of the Irish. Conrad comments on the

frightening changes that people involved with colonization can go through by

exploring character development and detailing a narrative of oppression. Swift

uses irony in "A Modest Proposal" because it allows him to highlight

the emotional detachment felt by the colonizing British towards the Irish. It is

this emotional detached feeling that lead to the atrocities committed against

the Irish citizens. The irony in "A Modest Proposal" is evident right

in the title. There is certainly nothing "modest" about the

"proposal" of eating the infants of impoverished Irish citizens. The

irony accentuates how cruel and uncompassionate the powerful British

Imperialists were, towards the destitute Irish population. The reader must

realize that "Swift is operating independently of the narrator in a covert

manner" (Phiddian 607). He develops the persona of the proposer to say

exactly the opposite of what he feels. While the proposer suggests eating poor

Irish children is particularly proper at "merry meetings, particularly

weddings and christenings," this could not be further from the opinion of

Swift. Nor does Swift actually believe that this plan will "increase the

care and tenderness of mothers toward their children." (NA 1052) Moreover,

the whole topic of cannibalism, is discussed with tongue in cheek and is meant

to suggest that the British were devouring the Irish. Images of cruelty and evil

put, forward by the narrator, weigh heavily in the theme of "A Modest

Proposal." Throughout the pamphlet, the reader is bombarded with disturbing

imagery of Irish people and their children being treated like livestock raised

for consumption. The narrator refers to the parents of the children as

"savages" (NA 1050) and "breeders" (NA 1051) and

"dams" (NA 1048). Then he compares the children to "roasting

pigs" (NA 1050) and continues as if he were writing a cook book. He speaks

of how delicious he thinks these infants would be "whether stewed, roasted,

baked or boiled" (NA 1049) or served in a "fricassee or a ragout"

(NA 1049). He describes how the "carcasses" (NA 1050) of these babies

could be nicely seasoned with "a little pepper or salt" (NA 1050) and

"will be in season throughout the year" (NA 1050). Flaying the carcass

and using the skin of these babies to make "admirable gloves for ladies,

and summer boots for fine gentlemen" (NA 1050) is another suggestion he

puts forward. He expands beyond just slaughtering the infants for food and

leather products by suggesting the possibility of hunting the adolescents for

sport. He dismisses this idea because he imagines the flesh of the adolescents

would be too tough for eating and because hunting them would reduce the breeding

stock. He also has concerns that "some scrupulous people might be apt to

censure such a practice (although indeed very unjustly) as a little bordering on

cruelty" (NA 1051). All of the gruesome imagery used in "A Modest

Proposal" has earned it the reputation of being one of Swift?s most

potent attacks in his "war on a class of civilized people who often behave

like animals" (McMinn 149). Joseph Conrad details a narrative of oppression

emphasizing the horrible treatment of African natives during the colonization of

the Congo. The Europeans claimed that they were trying to civilize the natives,

and that each colonized station should be for "humanizing, improving and

instructing," (NA 2228) as if colonization was to the advantage of the

natives. In the same voice, it was said that the natives were "brutes"

(NA 2242) and "savages" (NA 2218) and that they should all be

"exterminated" (NA 2242). "Heart of Darkness" described

African blacks as being "criminals" (NA 2216) and "enemies"

(NA 2214) and they were treated as such. The natives were forced to do intense

heavy labor for the colonizers. They dug holes, tunneled through mountains,

moved soil from one place to another in baskets balanced on their heads. When

there was no meaningful work needed to be done, the blacks were forced to do

heavy labor just for the sake of doing heavy labor. They did "objectless

blasting" (NA 2215) and other pointless work in the whites

"philanthropic desire of giving the criminals something to do" (NA

2216). They were treated like working animals. They were forced to carry 60lb

loads 200 miles in scorching heat with inadequate nourishment. A number of them

died on that trip. In the stations they worked in chain gangs where, "each

had an iron collar on his neck, and all were connected with a chain" (NA

2215). They were supervised by other gun wielding natives who had apparently

joined the colonizers in the oppression of their people. When the overworked

natives could work no more they would simply crawl under a tree in the shade and

die. If the blacks stopped working, made a mistake, or were suspected of making

a mistake, they were beaten savagely. Beatings are very common in "Heart of

Darkness." The European pilgrims are constantly in the possession of

staves, just in case they should have to discipline a native. A black man was

beaten nearly to death as the result of a dispute over two hens. Then later in

the story, a black man was beaten so badly that after a few days he just

wandered off into the forest and died. It becomes increasingly clear as the plot

develops that the colonizing Europeans treated the land and the people they were

colonizing with no respect at all. Through the presentation of characters and

their development through the story, Conrad examines the negative effects

colonization can have on the colonizers. "It makes them lazy; it reveals

their weaknesses; it puffs them up with empty vanity of being white; and it

fortifies the intolerable hypocrisy with which Europeans in general conceal

their selfish aims" (Watt 37). It causes them to hate and brings out the

evil from within them. The first white man that Marlow comes across in the Congo

is the companies accountant. His vanity is evident, from the way he keeps

himself impeccably groomed, while other human beings around him are living

squalid, unbearable lives and dying horrifying deaths. He wore "a high

starched collar, white cuffs, a light alpaca jacket, snowy trousers, a clear

necktie and varnished boots" (NA 2217). Meanwhile, "everything else in

the station was a muddle" (NA 2217) and there were people breathing their

last breaths just outside his door. The development of his hatred while in

Africa is clear when he tells Marlow that "one comes to hate those savages

- hate them to death" (NA 2218). His evilness is accentuated by the flies

that "buzzed fiendishly" (NA 2217) around him, conjuring up images of

Beelzebub, "Lord of the Flies." Though his character is a minor one,

the accountant gives the readers their first taste of the Congo?s detrimental

effects on the colonizers. Kurtz and Marlow are sort of mirror images of one

another. Marlow is what Kurtz once was and Kurtz is what Marlow could have been.

Both are affected adversely by their experience in the Congo. The change in

Marlow is very evident by the end of the story. Near the beginning of the story,

he states that he is appalled by lies, that there is a "taint of

death" (NA 2224) and a "flavour of mortality" (NA 2224) in them.

He says lies are "exactly what I hate and detest in the world – what I want

to forget" (NA 2224). Then in the end of the story, he must make a decision

whether to tell Kurtz?s wife a truth that will devastate her or a lie that

will put her at ease. He lies to her. It may be good intentions that caused him

to lie, but he lied all the same. A part of Marlow died in the Congo and he

became what he hates, a liar. Kurtz on the other hand went into the Congo as a

highly respected person for whom superiors had high hopes and big plans. By the

end of the story Kurtz has gone insane. While Marlow "peeped over the

edge," (NA 2257) and "drew back [his] hesitating foot," (NA 2258)

Kurtz had "made that last stride, he had stepped over the edge" (NA

2258). Kurtz was so damaged by his Congo colonization experience that it killed

him before he made it back to civilization. It is these changes in the main

characters of the story that are most influential in developing, in the reader,

a sense of how colonization effects the colonizer. Colonization is a part of the

theme in both Joseph Conrad?s "Heart of Darkness" and Jonathan

Swift?s "A Modest Proposal." While Swift?s work deals mainly with

the negative effects of colonization on those being colonized, Conrad?s story

explores the negative experiences of both the colonized and the colonizers. The

differences in these themes are significant to the strategies used by the

authors to explore the negative effects of colonization. As in much of his

literary work, Swift uses a great deal of irony and imagery to drive his point

home. Conrad on the other hand, details a narrative of oppression and delves

into character development to describe his thoughts and experiences with

colonization in Africa. These works can be viewed as criticisms of events of the

past, but they should also be viewed as warnings for the future. People should

learn from the past and not make the same mistakes twice. Unfortunately it seems

as if history repeats itself and human beings make the same error over and over


McMinn, Joseph. Jonathan Swift: a literary life. New York: St. Martin?s

Press. 1991. Phiddian, Robert. "Have you eaten yet? The Reader in A Modest

Proposal." SEL: Studies in English Literature (Summer 1996) : 603-621.

Watt, Ian. "Ideological Perspectives: Kurtz and the Fate of Victorian

Progress." Joseph Conrad. Ed. Elaine Jordan. London: Macmillan Press. 1996.