Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Powerful Essays
Heart of Darkness follows protagonist Charlie Marlow, a riverboat captain, as he relays the story of his time in the Congo to a group of men sitting around a camp fire. Marlow’s story revolves around his journey down the Congo River during the 1890s, and everything he experienced while there. The New Historicism lens lends itself particularly well to this text because of the various elements visible in it that were impacted by historical events. The economic, political, and social conditions of the Belgian Congo in the 1890s influenced the themes, characters, and narrative of the text, Heart of Darkness. Through these aspects of the time period reflected in the text, Conrad criticizes European Colonialism.
The New Historicism Lens aims to connect a text to the time period it was created in and analyze how the events of that time period affected the elements of the work. It avoids stereotyping or generalizing anything, instead focusing on actual events in historical context. The goal of the new historicism lens is to retell the history itself through the text, and to tie literary works together with events of the period. In regards to the text Heart of Darkness, the New Historicism Lens can be applied to the influence of the economic, political, and social conditions of the Congo in the 1890s. From 1885-1908 the Belgian Congo was under the control of King Leopold II of Belgium, and was known as the Congo Free State. Leopold used diplomacy and deceptive tactics in order to obtain an extensive amount of land in Africa. He claimed to have a humanitarian and civilizing plan for the Congo, which also helped him gain control of the country. In reality, Leopold was only using the Congo for his own advantage. Slave and forced labor, bru...

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...tion vs. primitive” as well as in the depiction of the Congolese people. Furthermore, the political impact is shown in the narrative and the character of Mr. Kurtz, and the social significance of the time is highlighted by the theme of racism and the portrayal of two prominent European characters in the text. The incorporation of these historical circumstances in Heart of Darkness indicates how much of an effect the outside world can have on a text. It also illustrates the importance of knowing what some of those circumstances are before making assumptions or conclusions about the text and its meaning. At first glance, Conrad and his book could be seen as purely racist and degrading to the Congolese people, but in reality, within these historically influenced elements of the text, Conrad is able to criticize Colonialism, and what was truly taking place in the Congo.
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