Heart Of Darkness

Heart of Darkness

In Joseph Conrad's book Heart of Darkness the Europeans are
cut off from civilization, overtaken by greed, exploitation, and
material interests from his own kind. Conrad develops themes of
personal power, individual responsibility, and social justice. His
book has all the trappings of the conventional adventure tale -
mystery, exotic setting, escape, suspense, unexpected attack. The
book is a record of things seen and done by Conrad while in the
Belgian Congo. Conrad uses Marlow, the main character in the book, as
a narrator so he himself can enter the story and tell it out of his
own philosophical mind. Conrad's voyages to the Atlantic and Pacific,
and the coasts of Seas of the East brought contrasts of novelty and
exotic discovery. By the time Conrad took his harrowing journey into
the Congo in 1890, reality had become unconditional. The African
venture figured as his descent into hell. He returned ravaged by the
illness and mental disruption which undermined his health for the
remaining years of his life. Marlow's journey into the Congo, like
Conrad's journey, was also meaningful. Marlow experienced the violent
threat of nature, the insensibility of reality, and the moral
We have noticed that important motives in Heart of Darkness
connect the white men with the Africans. Conrad knew that the white
men who come to Africa professing to bring progress and light to
"darkest Africa" have themselves been deprived of the sanctions of
their European social orders; they also have been alienated from the
old tribal ways.

"Thrown upon their own inner spiritual resources they may be
utterly damned by their greed, their sloth, and their hypocrisy into
moral insignificance, as were the pilgrims, or they may be so corrupt
by their absolute power over the Africans that some Marlow will need
to lay their memory among the 'dead Cats of Civilization.'" (Conrad
105.) The supposed purpose of the Europeans traveling into Africa was
to civilize the natives. Instead they colonized on the native's land
and corrupted the natives.

"Africans bound with thongs that contracted in the rain and
cut to the bone, had their swollen hands beaten with rifle butts until
they fell off. Chained slaves were forced to drink the white man's
defecation, hands and feet were chopped off for their rings, men were
lined up behind each other and shot with one cartridge , wounded
prisoners were eaten by maggots till they die and were then thrown to
starving dogs or devoured by cannibal tribes." (Meyers 100.)

Conrad's "Diary" substantiated the accuracy of the conditions
described in Heart of Darkness: the chain gangs, the grove of death,
the payment in brass rods, the cannibalism and the human skulls
on the fence posts. Conrad did not exaggerate or invent the horrors
that provided the political and humanitarian basis for his attack on
colonialism. The Europeans took the natives' land away from
them by force. They burned their towns, stole their property, and
enslaved them. George Washington Williams stated in his diary,

"Mr. Stanley was supposed to have made treaties with more than
four hundred native Kings and Chiefs, by which they surrendered their
rights to the soil. And yet many of these people declare that they
never made a treaty with Stanley, or any other white man; their lands
have been taken away from them by force, and they suffer the greatest
wrongs at the hands of the Belgians." (Conrad 87.) Conrad saw intense
greed in the Congo. The Europeans back home saw otherwise; they
perceived that the tons of ivory and rubber being brought back home
was a sign of orderly conduct in the Congo. Conrad's Heart of
Darkness mentioned nothing about the trading of rubber. Conrad
and Marlow did not care for ivory; they cared about the exploration
into the "darkest Africa." A painting of a blindfolded woman carrying
a lighted torch was discussed in the book. The background was dark,
and the effect of the torch light on her face was sinister. The oil
painting represents the blind and stupid ivory company, fraudulently
letting people believe that besides the ivory they were taking out of
the jungle, they were, at the same time, bringing light and progress
to the jungle. Conrad mentioned in his diary that missions were set
up to Christianize the natives. He did not include the missions into
his book because