Essay Theme of Colonialism and Imperialism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness

Essay Theme of Colonialism and Imperialism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness

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The Theme of Imperialism in Heart of Darkness

  Of the themes in Conrad's Heart of Darkness, imperialism and colonialism are probably the most important. While Heart of Darkness is actually set on the Thames River, the events Marlow describes are set on the Congo River. "The Congo is the river that brought about the partition of Africa that occurred from 1880 to 1890" (McLynn 13). This event marked the beginning of the colonization of Africa. In 1884, European nations held a conference and decided that every European country should have free access to the interior of Africa. "Thus began the colonization of Africa, without any consideration that the land was already inhabited" (McLynn 18). King Leopold of Belgium already had, from a previous investment, control of a large part of Africa surrounding the Congo. King Leopold had, in 1878, hired Henry Stanley to establish trading stations along the Congo River. It was in this setting that the events Marlow described in Heart of Darkness took place.


To the Europeans, the colonizing meant bringing civilization, religion, and order into a world devoid of these elements. What Marlow saw, however, was the inefficiency and the horror that resulted from the colonization and imperialism. The portrait of Kurtz's Intended represents this ironic situation. The portrait is of "a woman draped and blindfolded, carrying a lighted torch" (Conrad 92). The girl represents the Europeans and the light is the civilization they hope to bring to savage countries but that they themselves are not enlightened by. The abandoned equipment, the "flabby... devil of a rapacious and pitiless folly" (p. 81), the pail with a hole in it used to put out fires, and the abandoned helpers left to die, all...

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...of Darkness."   A Lawrence University Freshman Studies Lecture, 24 Jan. 1996.  Rpt. James Banks, Willamette Univ.; & Free Speech Television: (Accessed: Apr. 2001)

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness, New York: Dover, 1990.

Dintenfass, Mark. "Heart of Darkness: A Lawrence University Freshman Studies Lecture." 14 Mar. 1996. ** (2 Feb. 2000).

Hayes, Dorsha. "Heart of Darkness: An Aspect of the Shadow," Spring (1956): 43-47..

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.

Mellard, James. "Myth and Archetype in Heart of Darkness," Tennessee Studies in Literature 13 (1968): 1-15.

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