Pillaging Treasure Presented as a Civilizing Mission in Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad

Published: 2021-09-24 02:20:10
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What is The Heart of Darkness?
In the novella “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad that took place in the late 1890s, the main character’s name is Marlow. He is a sailor, riverboat captain and he is very independent- minded and very dubious of those that are around him. Him and a few others set out to journey through the Congo river to get to the heart of Africa in search of Mr.Kurtz for the Company. As the story progresses, it is apparent that Marlow gains an obsession for this man. Mr.Kurtz was a very well respected man because of all of the ivory that he possessed in the novela and he was also ill, which is why Marlow and the others were sent to get him so he could be brought back to Europe. Ivory was a very important resource for the Europeans, which they gained from killing elephants and taking their tusks. Around this time, ivory was very profitable and contributed to a rise in power for those that possessed it. These men would do anything to get their hand on it! Throughout the journey of Marlow and the other men, there were many observations of the natives and their land made. The deeper they traveled into Africa, it seemed as though civilization began to fade. All except Marlow, was not phased by the inhumane acts taking place. In this essay, I will give an explanation on what “The Heart of Darkness” truly is or what it symbolizes.
First, I’ll talk about the importance of ivory to the Europeans because this resource contributed to a lot of the use of violence in the novella. Ivory is the white-creamy substance that make up the tusks of elephants and a couple of sea animals but it was fairly easy to get it from the elephants. They used this resource to make piano keys, dominos and other decorative items. At that time, Africa had an abundance of these animals which is why they needed complete control over this continent. And why not get some free labor off of the natives since they weren’t able to defend themselves? The Ivory Trade was a very profitable business in this time era, which is why the Europeans would do profoundly immoral things to get it. If you possessed a lot of ivory, you gained power and people respected you. This should give the reader a better understanding of the root cause of the madness in the Europeans.As an actual place, the heart of darkness would be a location in Africa. It is the Congo rainforest to be exact but the quotes will be about the Congo River which actually leads into it. On page 31, Marlow says “The earth seemed unearthly here.” He is referring to the river here, in which he also described as leading to the center of the Earth. His surroundings made him uncomfortable because everything seemed so foreign to him. On page 29, he says “Going up the river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rotted on the earth and big trees were kings.” Marlow believed that Africa was not civilized because he said it looked like the beginning of the Earth. The further the men traveled into the Congo, the more they felt as though they were going back in time. Again on page 29, it states “There was no joy in the brilliance of sunshine.” This is a great description of the setting. Marlow is saying that the sun didn’t shine there and this is the very definition of darkness. Because of the depth and fullness of their vegetation, everything seemed to be inky and seemed to close in on anyone that entered.
It is a definite fact that Africa had not been fully explored in that time period. Up until the 19th century, the Europeans had very little understanding or knowledge of this continent because not many people had the courage to further explore it. They usually stayed along the coast where they felt safer because it had already been conquered. Around this time, the Europeans had also referred to this continent as the “Dark Continent.” This makes it safe to say that the heart of darkness can be meant to symbolize the Congo rainforest.
Once the reader begins to go deeper into the reading, it is apparent that the heart of darkness can also represent a state of mind. Before Marlow’s egress out of Europe and into the Congo, the Company doctor says “the changes take place inside, you know” on page 9. The doctor was eager to measure Marlow’s head in the interests of science to see if the size of it would change after he returned back from Africa. He was confused about the reasoning for this but the doctor assured him that the actual change of a person that journeyed to the heart of darkness was internal. He somewhat warns Marlow in advance about the changes that he will go through while he’s on his journey. On page 32, it states “…the evil spirit inside the boiler would get angry through the greatness of thirst, and take a terrible vengeance.” In a supernatural sense, this quote is saying that the native feels the need to satisfy a supernatural being or the person that he worships. In actuality, he had been instructed to run the boiler on the boat by the European that was in control but there was not much of a difference. The Europeans were their Gods and they would be punished if they did not carry out their tasks. This points out the mindset of the Europeans. They would sometimes harm the natives because they had the power to do so. The natives were not viewed as equals because it was something that the Europeans established years ago. On page 14, Marlow states “Near the same tree two more bundles of acute angles sat with their legs drawn up. One, with his chin propped on his knees, stared at nothing, in an intolerable and appalling manner, his brother phantom rested its forehead, as if overcome with a great weariness; and all about others were scattered in every pose of contorted collapse, as in some picture of a massacre of a pestilence.” The natives that were mistreated and exploited did not receive any type of medical assistance, they were just left for dead. The way that they were treated, made it quite impossible for Marlow or anyone else to even them as human. On their journey, these men witness the most horrific acts and had to overcome some obstacles of their own that leads up to meeting the well respected Mr.Kurtz. On page 50, The harlequin says “Well, he wanted it, and wouldn’t hear reason. He declared he would shoot me unless I gave him the ivory and then cleared out of the country…” The harlequin tells Marlow about Kurtz threatening to kill him before because he would not give him the ivory that the chief gave him. It wasn’t even a large amount so this shows how people of this time would do anything to get this resource. They wanted every bit of it! Kurtz was even willing to kill one of his own to get more ivory. On page 63, Marlow was observing Kurtz and he states “I saw on that ivory face the expression of sombre pride, or ruthless power, of craven terror–of an intense and hopeless despair.” Kurtz was laying helpless because of his sickness and Marlow believed that he probably lived his life all over again, every detail of it. All of sudden Kurtz cries out: “The horror! The horror!” on the same page. The Congo turned Kurtz into a savage and he never thought anything of his doings until he faced death and as his life was flashing before his eyes. It outlines the experiences and diabolical things in the hearts of the Europeans. This confirms that there was definitely something mentally going on with the men that entered the heart of darkness and why they may have never returned. These people were so deprived of sight by what they were taught, that they couldn’t see the harm that they were causing on the natives. Only a person on the outside of all of the madness, such as Marlow, could see the evil going on in the hearts of these imperialists. It was just how things were back then.
In brief, the “Heart of Darkness” can stand for many things but these two explanations stand out more than any other. Africa being the literal place and the mindset of the Europeans being the state of mind. These people came into Africa to “civilize” the natives but tried to achieve this by doing terrible things to them and also took their resources for self-gain. While being there, they also went through some changes in which the jungle turned them into terrible, savage-like beings and it was uncontainable. Marlow was able to witness this, the dark side of humanity while on his journey. With the fulfilling details and descriptions that the author gave, the reader can better grasp the true meaning of this phrase.

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