Theme of Colonialism and Imperialism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness

On the surface, the story is similar to a mystery, but if you explore it on a much deeper level, you will find it more akin to a journey into the subconscious of man. It is regarded as his best work, and revered for its exploration of the terrifying depths of human corruption, and social and psychological disdain under the guide of a metaphor of a journey to the heart of Africa. Similar to Victorian novels, the book relies heavily on heroism and the challenges of a changing world.

Writing Assignment #4: Heart of Darkness Literary Analysis

Interestingly, much of the story focuses on alienation, confusion, and extreme doubt in the face of imperialism. These things causes panic amongst the white men living and running massive empires. Society, as it was known, was very obviously falling apart. Heart of Darkness suggests that this is the natural outcome whenever man is permitted to operate outside of a social system of balance. Power, inevitably, always leads to corruption. The novella, at an abstract level, can be considered to be a narrative about the challenges of understanding the world outside of itself, and, about the ability of man to place judgment on others.

Marlow, on the other hand, symbolizes a thirst for knowledge, and a spirit of adventure. By clicking "Log In", you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy. He is physically and mentally damaged by his experiences during the trip though he barely survives to tell the tale on his return to Belgium. Marlow takes a job as a river captain with a Belgian trading company and is sent up the Congo to intercept another company employee, Kurtz. Kurtz is an intelligent and able yet deeply disturbing individual who during his time looking for ivory in the remote jungle has become an unrestrained and amoral megalomaniac.

Marlow has a difficult passage up the Congo into the interior of Africa and one feels as though the river and the jungle are trying to repel this additional European incursion. This view is reinforced by the relative ease of his return from the inner station later:. During the trip up the Congo Marlow encounters the inefficiency of the Company's operations and brutal treatment of the natives and begins to question the morality of the system out of which Kurtz has emerged.

He also starts to question the traditional European perception of the African natives as inferior though falls short of viewing them as equals.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad - FULL AudioBook

Marlow eventually arrives at the central station but gets stuck because his ship requires repairs and he hears that Kurtz is reportedly ill. There he meets the unsavoury manager and his colleague, the bricklayer, who are suspicious of Marlow. Eventually Marlow is able to carry on with the journey and takes the manager, some cannibals and some agents along with him.

The tension builds along the quiet and foreboding river and jungle. At one point they find stacked firewood on the river shore with a note saying it is for them but to be cautious. After going back to their boat the ship is surrounded by fog and they are attacked by natives.


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The African helmsman is killed but they continue on towards Kurtz. Finally they reach the Inner Station where they first meet a crazy Russian trader who tells them that he had left the wood and that Kurtz is alive.

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The Russian trader says that Kurtz has enlarged his mind, freed himself of moral restraint and achieved god-like status with the natives. Part of this transformation has resulted in the use of brutal and violent methods in his search for ivory and the evidence of severed heads on posts at the inner station attests to this. Kurtz is brought out on a stretcher by the agents from the boat. A large group of natives appear but Kurtz sends them away and they disappear into the forest.

Kurtz is taken on board the ship and is joined by the Russian trader. A native woman with whom Kurtz has been involved appears on the shore and the Russian trader indicates that she has had a troublesome influence on Kurtz during his time at the Inner Station. The trader tells Marlow secretly that Kurtz ordered the attack on the ship to try to deter them from coming to find him and to give them the impression he was dead.

The trader then flees the boat concerned that the manager of the central station might find this out. The ailing Kurtz also tries to escape separately that night but is found back on the shore by Marlow who returns him to the boat.

Heart of Darkness Essay

Kurtz's health worsens on the return trip but he confides in Marlow and hands him his personal documents including one on how he thinks the savage natives should be civilised, concluding with the shocking statement:. The boat is again delayed for repairs on the return trip and Kurtz dies in Marlow's presence uttering the famous yet ambiguous line:.


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  • She is still in mourning and, totally unaware of the reality of events in the Congo, thinks of him as virtuous and successful. So as not to dispel this myth, Marlow tells her the last words he spoke were her name. This work straddles the end of the Victorian era and the beginning of the modern era in a fascinating way. With regard to the former era it deals with the then common theme of imperialism and this underpins the work. Conrad describes the Victorian reality of European men adventuring far from home whilst European women were quietly tucked away in the domestic background, morally supportive but naive and oblivious to the outer reality, though materially benefiting from it.

    The result is intriguing and shocking. Conrad's view is that to prevent such an existentialist crisis, the individual must exercise self-restraint to avoid giving into basic impulses and going mad. By the time Heart of Darkness was written the European powers had established colonies across most of the globe, though in the run up to the First World War they were already losing their political and administrative grip.

    Aspects of light and darkness in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness

    The excesses, abuses and hypocrisy of the imperial system and the individuals within the imperial system are thoroughly explored. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, particularly when this is power over the fate of other human beings without the checks and balances of organised society. We are left wondering how to apportion blame towards the system i.