An Enlightenment of Morals

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In the fight between good and evil, the evil never shows restraint. That is where the good classically takes the moral high ground. It is traditionally the role of the “good guy” to show his enemy mercy and restraint, while the “bad guy” has no such regard. That is often the true difference between good and evil, between civilization and savagery, between a righteous fighter and a cold-blooded killer. Their ability to control their instincts and urges. In his novel, Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad plays with the roles of good and evil through his use of the concept of restraint. Restraint is traditionally the habit of the “civilized” man. However, Conrad decides not to follow that pattern. The first time he uses the word, “restraint,” Conrad refers to a group of cannibals working on Marlow’s steamship. They have been employed on the riverboat for some time, and it was expected by they employers that they would procure their own food as the need arose. However, the steamship had made very few stops on its voyage, allowing the cannibals no opportunity to capture or obtain food of any sort. Their only source of sustenance was “some rotten hippo-meat”(37) that they had brought with them on the voyage. However, Marlow had specifically called these particular natives “cannibals.” Why would the cannibals starve? More specifically, why would they choose to starve when there was an ample food source on board the boat with them? Why not simply eat their white employers, as they their lifestyle supposedly dictated? After all, Marlow noted, the cannibals outnumbered the white men on the boat “thirty to five” (38). So why didn’t they appease their hunger? Why did they show restraint? Marlow commented on that curious fact, speculating as to ... ... middle of paper ... ... by hunger, pain, loss, or fear, but when faced with greed. The cannibals were able to rein in the urges of the pained stomachs, when faced with a matter of life and death, while the civilized white man was unable to show restraint when faced with a decision between riches, and more riches. It is ironic that the supposedly uncivilized natives were able to face impending death stoically, without surrendering to their desires, while the civilized white man could not even face power without crumbling, and reverting out of his “civilized” ways. It appears that Conrad was attempting to make a point with this juxtaposition and reversal of roles. It would seem that he was making the point that the whites who claimed to go down and “civilize” the African nations were often no more ⎯ and oftentimes less ⎯ cultured than the people they had gone to enlighten with their morals.
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