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The Evil of Colonialism and Imperialism in Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Exploring the Evil of Colonialism in Heart of Darkness

A masterpiece of twentieth-century writing, Heart of Darkness exposes the tenuous fabric that holds "civilization" together and the brutal horror at the center of European colonialism. Joseph Conrad's novella, Heart of Darkness, describes a life-altering journey that the protagonist, Marlow, experiences in the African Congo. The story explores the historical period of colonialism in Africa to exemplify Marlow's struggles. Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness is most often read as an attack upon colonialism. Marlow, like other Europeans of his time, is brought up to believe certain things about colonialism, but his views change as he experiences the effects of colonialism first hand. This essay will look at Marlow's negative view of colonialism, which is shaped through his experiences and from his relation to Kurtz. Marlow's understanding of Kurtz's experiences show him the effects colonialism can have on a man's soul.

Most of Marlow's comments about colonization in general seem to defend or even praise the idea. He says "the conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than us is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much," but he says that such action is redeemed by the idea behind it. "Not a sentimental pretence but an idea, and an unselfish belief in the idea- something you can set up and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to" justifies colonization. The idea is civilization, and Marlow's speech indicates that civilizing the rest of the world is worth the sacrifice of the freedom of the uncivilized peoples of the earth. Marlow further describes colonization in gl...

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... to a man's soul. Marlow's journey was not only into the heart of Africa, but also into the heart of Kurtz where he realizes the truth of colonialism and the potential evil it entails.

Works Cited and Consulted:

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness 3rd Ed. Ed. Robert Kimbrough. New York: Norton Critical, 1988.

Edward W. Said, The World, the Text, and the Critic. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1983) 13.

Hillman, James. "Notes on White Supremacy: Essaying an Archetypal Account of Historical Events," Spring (1986): 29-57.

McLynn, Frank. Hearts of Darkness: The European Exploration of Africa. New York: Carol & Gey, 1992.

Meyers, Jeffrey. Joseph Conrad. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1991.

Patrick Brantlinger, "Heart of Darkness: Anti-Imperialism, Racism, or Impressionism?" Criticism (Fall, 1985) 364.
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