Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness and the European’s Claim to Superiority

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Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness and the European’s Claim to Superiority

Incomplete Works Cited

Just beyond the “biggest and greatest town on earth”, four men sit patiently on

their boat, waiting for the serene waters of the Thames to ebb (65). One of the men, a

Buddha, breaks the silence, saying, “and this also…has been one of the dark places of the

earth” (67). This pensive and peaceful idol, Marlow, explains to his apathetic listeners

how a great civilization is blindly made out of a darkness, remarking, “The conquest of

the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different

complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look

into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only” (70). The irony with which Marlow

looks upon colonization suggests that this redeeming feature, “…Europe’s claim to be

civilized, and therefore superior, needs earnest reexamination” (Sarvan). As Sarvan

suggests, Heart of Darkness contrasts the appearance of African “savagery” with

European “civility” to demonstrate the inhumanity of the Europeans, rather than that of

the Africans.

Conrad’s dehumanizing descriptions of the Africans serve to show the inhuman

effects of colonialism, rather than to demean the African people. For example, Sarvan

notes that when an African is “reclaimed” by serving the Europeans, “…it is grim irony

because he has been reclaimed to a worse state of barbarism.” When Marlow reaches the

first station, he notices one of the “reclaimed” in a uniform jacket missing a button and

notes, “…[He] seemed to take me into partnership in his exalted trust…I also was a part

of the great cause of these high and just proceedings” (82). By ironically referrin...

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...rlow’s

“ironic voyage of discovery” could have happened anywhere. Indeed, the appearance of

a fiendish black figure with his “long black legs, waving long black arms” is a mere

illusion created by the fire behind him (148). The possibility that this wild and

mysterious being in the midst of a great darkne ss could represent any man in any place

lends a great sense of significance to Marlow’s “inconclusive experiences” (70). The

irony of this dark portrayal of human nature is that humanity must hide from its own

abomination in order to survive. Just as Marlow tells a detestable lie to hide the horrors

of one man’s corrupted soul, it is ironic that the “taint of death, a flavor of morality”

should protect idealism (96).

Works Cited

Conrad, Joseph. “Heart of Darkness.” An Introduction to Literature. Terry, Joseph. New York, NY: Longman, 2001. 1614-1672.

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