Colonialism, Imperialism, and Greed in Conrad's Heart of Darkness

Colonialism, Imperialism, and Greed in Conrad's Heart of Darkness

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Colonization and Greed in Heart of Darkness




The book Heart of Darkness written by Joseph Conrad is a masterpiece in literature. Conrad obtained many of his perspectives for his work from `hands on experience' and also from his harsh background and childhood. When Conrad was still a child his father was exiled to Siberia because of suspicions on plotting against the Russian government. After his mother died, Conrad's father sent him to his mother's brother in Krakow for education purposes. This was the last time Conrad ever saw his father. After Conrad had turned seventeen, he traveled to Marseilles and spent the next twenty years on an English ship, (eight years later he became a British subject). Conrad began writing his first novel Almayer's Folly in 1889, and began to actively search for a way to fulfill his dream of traveling to the Congo. In 1890 Conrad took command of a steamship in the Belgian Congo. Conrad's experiences in the Congo paved the way and the outline for his brilliant novel Heart of Darkness. During his time in the Congo, Conrad's health took a devastating blow so he returned to England to recover. Returning to sea twice before finishing Almayer's Folly in 1894 Conrad wrote several other books including one about Marlow which was called Youth (a narrative before beginning Heart of Darkness in 1898). Conrad wrote most of his other major works Lord Jim (which features Marlow), Nostramo and The Secret Agent as well as several collaborations with Ford Madox during the following two decades. Conrad died in 1924 but will always have and hold a place in the hearts of many readers. In his book Heart of Darkness Conrad gives the reader an understanding of how the Africans were mistreated during colonization. The book also pinpoints many cases that show the greed and selfishness of imperialism.


The evilness of how the Africans were treated is critiqued well in a quote "the men who work for the company describe what they do as `trade' and their treatment of native Africans is part of a benevolent project of civilization" (; Heart of Darkness). This is a very true statement which shows that the way the colonizers treated the African was more like slaves rather than people.

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The book Heart of Darkness describes this inhuman behavior in the quote "Each chief was authorized to collect taxes; he did so by demanding that individuals should work for a specific period of time for a minimum payment. This, of course, was another name for slavery. The so-called taxpayers were treated like prisoners; their work was carried out under the supervision of armed sentries, and, as can be easily imagined, the system lent itself to all kinds of tyranny, brutality and subsequent reprisals by the natives. In one concession alone one hundred and forty-two Africans were killed. The spirit of bitterness and hatred generated in the people was quite terrifying, but little could be done about it as thee was not enough control in the area to prevent the various agents from misusing their power"(Heart of Darkness; pg 81). This quote sums up the immorality and the misuse of power against the Africans. It also gives insight into the horror of the colonization that was taking place at the time. One critic (Wilson Harris) helps describe Conrad's view and vision of the way that the Africans were treated. Harris writes "He sees the distortions of imagery and, therefore, of character in the novel as witnessing to the horrendous prejudice on Conrad's part in his vision of Africa and the Africans". This quote helps explain why Conrad describes the Africans the way he did (which some people may consider racist), but in actual fact it was just the reality of the situation.


The evilness of imperialism is shown very well in this quote " As Marlow travels from the outer station to the central station and finally up the river to the inner station, he encounters scenes of torture, cruelty and near slavery"( This shows that the colonizers would do whatever it took including taking over the people and using them as `near slaves' for their own personal benefits. The results of this madness and greed can be best shown through Conrad's use of life and imagery. The land of Africa is described throughout the book as a living thing, and the Congo is brought to life as a snake. Also the hills are described as being `scarred' from the recourses being taken out of them. During the course of the book, the trees and land in Africa are constantly moving and swallowing up the travelers. It is sort of forcing them towards Kurtz and barring their retreat. This in my mind is the land and the spirit of what `used to be' rebelling against the colonizers that include the travelers searching for Kurtz. The evilness and greed of what was taking place is unimaginable and so this spirit being still very much alive is defiantly very realistic.


Colonization, greed and the mistreatment of human people happens all the time in our current day life. It is very sad, but true that we are living in one of the (if not the) biggest powers of imperialism ever. In Iraq for instance, we left Sadam in Iraq during the first gulf war for a reason. We had the power and the resources to do exactly what we are doing now back then. It is all about the oil, and sadly but truly oil is not even a necessity anymore. Technology has grown so much that we now obtain the power to generate enough electricity and power through wind alone. We also have the ability to run cars off of water rather than gas, but if we look at where our president and his family have their money we clearly can see the problem. It is all invested in the oil business. Why is it so great that the vice president `Cheany' is heading up a campaign to salvage the oil fields? Is it such a big surprise that he also has money invested in the whole oil business as well? This is one example of a current day situation that is reflected to the greatest extent in the wonderful novel Heart of Darkness. This book was an excellent portrayal of the evilness and suffering caused by imperialistic powers exercising their power in the wrong ways. It also helped me understand the suffering that took place in Africa.


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