Comparing Colonialism and Imperialism in Heart of Darkness and Kipling's Poetry
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Imperialism in Heart of Darkness and Kipling's Poetry
Imperialism sprung from an altruistic and unselfish aim to "take up the white man's burden"1 and “wean [the] ignorant millions from their horrid ways.”2 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.3 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...
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* 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 www.jstor.org
* 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)