Conrad’s Congo Journey

Conrad’s Congo Journey

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Conrad’s Congo Journey


Joseph Conrad’s own experiences during his trip through the Congo helped him provide a foundation for the writing of Heart of Darkness. In 1890, Conrad took a job as a captain on the river steamer Kinshasa. Before Conrad took this job, he had worked for the French merchant navy as a way to escape Russian military service and also to escape the emotional troubles that had plagued him. Conrad had been in a financial crisis that was resolved with help from his uncle. After this series of events, Conrad joined the British merchant navy at the beckoning of his uncle and took the job as the captain of a steamboat in the Congo River. An important fact to remember is that Conrad was a young and inexperienced man when he was exposed to the harsh and dangerous life of a sailor. His experiences in the West Indies and especially in the Belgium Congo were eye opening and facilitated his strong outlooks that are reflected in the book Heart of Darkness. Conrad’s journey through the Belgian Congo gave him the experiences and knowledge to write about a place that most Europeans would never see in their lives.

The diaries Conrad kept during his journey through the Congo gives detailed descriptions of the monotonous African landscape. Conrad wrote that the landscape of the African coast looked the same every single day.[1] This is reflected in Marlow’s narration of the jungle where shapes and forms cannot be made out clearly. The monotonous landscape differed from what Conrad had expected of this exotic location. When he was still a young kid, he had once boasted that he would someday journey to the heart of Africa. However, the actual journey was not at all what he expected it to be. Conrad was shocked at the men in the African colony. He was repulsed by the European colonizers because of the horrible treatment of the natives as well as the unlawful aggressive pursuit of loot. Conrad witnessed atrocities committed by the European colonizers, which helped to form his opinions on the colonization of Africa. In the novel, Conrad uses sarcasm to display his displeasure towards the European colonizers’ treatment of the natives. The Europeans in the book are called pilgrims and the natives are called cannibals, however the pilgrims are the ones who are much more willing to use force to resolve their problems.

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Conrad’s own experiences with the colonizers and natives must have had an effect on the way he portrays these people in his novel. Conrad’s racism is also present in his representation of the natives in his diaries. “In the evening 3 women… features very Negroid and ugly.”[2] The characteristics of the landscape and people in the novel are portrayed the way Conrad experienced the Belgian Congo in the 1890’s. His strong feelings towards the both the colonizers and natives are reflected through his own experiences in the jungle.

Conrad’s experience in the Belgian Congo also included suffering from a serious fever and dysentery. The sickness and suffering that he experienced are reflected in Heart of Darkness. Marlow suffers from sickness at the end of the novel and reaches Europe as a different man than before. Conrad’s own experiences in the Belgian Congo suggest that the Congo weakened his health and outlook on imperialism in general. The harsh conditions of his journey and the horrors committed by the colonizers remained with Conrad. The novel reflects many of the experiences Conrad experienced in Africa and provided an outlet for the emotions he felt during this process.

Sources Cited

Irene Navarro Berlanga. Conrad’s Biography. University of Valencia. 29 September 2002 http://mural.uv.es/inaber/biography.htm>.
This website was written by an english student at the University of Valencia. The website provides a biography of Joseph Conrad and focuses on the problems Conrad went through in order to become a successful writer. There are also links to the author’s other works regarding the novel Heart of Darkness.

Conrad Bibliographical Information. Lemoyne University. 29 September 2002 http://wwwdev.lemoyne.edu/english/conrad.htm>.
This website is a quick biography for a Lemoyne University course dealing with Conrad and Heart of Darkness. This page provides some comparisons between Conrad’s own experiences with how Marlow describes his journey to the Belgian Congo in the novel. This page is a good site for a look at Conrad’s life as well as it’s importance to the writing of the novel.

Joseph Conrad. Biography and complete works. Booksfactory. 29 September 2002
http://www.booksfactory.com/writers/conrad.htm>.
This website is a biography of Joseph Conrad done by the Booksfactory. This page provides some information about his family background and gives a list of some selected works that Joseph Conrad produced.


[1] Conrad Biographical Information. Lemoyne University. 29 September 2002 <http://wwwdev.lemoyne.edu/english/conrad.htm>.

[2] Joseph Conrad. Heart of Darkness. New York: The Modern Library, 1999.
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