Part 1 of the book, Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad focusses on the hypocrisy of imperialism. Marlow believes that colonialism is hypocritical since the colonialists who claim to be civilized are the ones who have committed some of the greatest atrocities in human history. Marlow provides a perfect example of the Belgians during his journeys into the Congo where the natives were treated so inhumanely. In fact, King Leopold considered the country to be his personal treasure. Despite his hatred for colonialism, Marlow’s views seem to keep changing. He agrees to work with the Belgians, despite the atrocities they commit since he is seeking adventure and also believes that the African culture and way of life is primitive. According to him, the Western culture will help them get out of the dark ages (Conrad, 2001).
Another change in tone comes about when Marlow speaks about the death of Fresleven. Fresleven is generally a good natured character who ends up dying in the hands of a chief’s son due to a disagreement over chickens. He changes his tone from rebuking colonialism to promoting it due to the uncouth nature of the natives. Notably, a repeated motif in the text is darkness. There seems to be darkness everywhere from Africa to Europe in countries such as England and Belgium. Africa is considered dark since the people are uncouth and carry out certain practices such as migrating from an entire village due to their superstitious nature. The Belgians and English are considered as dark due to their inability to see Africans as fellow human beings. In fact, they dehumanize the Africans because of greed as they want to have a share of the riches that come from the continent such as ivory. As a result, they treat Africans very inhumanely and with extreme violence so much so that killing an African is not considered a capital offence.
The revelations of Kurtz show that he is a man of extreme evil as well as eloquence and charisma. Marlow uses Kurtz as a way of showing that despite the colonialists’ claim that they have come to Africa to assist the natives, they are truly here for their own gains. Kurtz is an extremely violent man who treats Africans as sub-humans. On the other hand, his fellow white men believe he is a genius since he has been able to tame the “wild” African. Furthermore, Kurtz acts as a means of Marlow justifying the atrocities that are being committed to the natives. Upon viewing the painting by Kurtz, whereby a blindfolded woman is holding a torch, he justifies the ruthless nature of the colonialist because, as he states, they are attempting to open the eyes of the Africans to true civilization.
The use of light, or darkness, is prominent in the book. In essence, the darkness is used to symbolize all that is bad with society while light is used to describe all that is good. In the narration, the African culture is considered to be dark. In fact, it is alluded that the colonialists have come to Africa to expose the native culture to the light. The use of white and black imagery is also prevalent in the book. The white colonialists are considered to be civilized individuals while the native blacks are considered to be uncouth and primitive individuals. Despite this description, whites seem to be also in the dark since the actions that they carry out against the Africans are downright uncivilized. For example, the colonialists kept bombarding a certain cliff for no apparent reason. Besides, the indiscriminate killing of Africans and the wastage of supplies is clearly not a civilized action. A key quote in the book is, “The word ‘ivory’ rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed” (Conrad, 2001). The quotation shows how much the colonialists valued ivory as it was a means of economic gain and social growth.
- Conrad, J. (2001). Heart of darkness. Mineola, N.Y: Dover Publications.