A Critical Analysis of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness Essay Example

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  8
Wordcount:  2015 Words
Date:  2022-12-08


Conrad's book, "Heart of Darkness," talks about the challenges associated with alienation and the problems created as a result of imperialism (Nofal 452; Aydin 230). Britain lifestyles conspicuously veered towards the Victorian norms and values at the time Conrad wrote his book. Therefore, Conrad's book not only serves as the critical bridge that connects the ideas of modernism and the traditional Victorian values but also represents a significant moment of societal transformation. For instance, a plethora of the natives in the novel considers their predecessors as their role models by following a unique set of traditional life. However, Mr. Kurtz continuously attacked these Congolese natives' ideas claiming that their perception of embracing the good deeds of their predecessors was a struggle to create more confusion and damage to themselves (Wesley 20; Fathema 148). This essay provides a detailed comparison between the concept of British colonialism and the contemporary society in respect to Conrad's novel "Heart of Darkness." The essay explores some of the ideas that have remained the same alongside those that have changed since the days when the society saw it appropriate to invade another country, region, or culture and drain its valuable resources.

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Critical Analysis

According to Wesley, Conrad's novel stars as a critical argument on what it means to be part of a colonizing empire (22). Conrad's story revolves majorly around Marlow and his adventurous journey through the Congo River. Marlow is determined to meet Mr. Kurtz, a highly reputed ivory-trader and bring back to civilization by taking him to his country, Britain. However, Mr. Kurtz had no intentions of leaving the Congo River region. As a result, he responded to Marlow's plans by ordering for an on his steamboat when approaching his station. Similar to numerous African societies who exclusively rely on donations and foreign aid from European countries, including Britain and the United States, the Congolese in Conrad's novel worship Mr. Kurtz despite his exploitative nature (Nofal 454; Abu- Snoubar 1). As a captain employed by a Belgian Company that dealt with multiple trading activities in Africa, Marlow also witnessed a plethora of instances of brutality perpetrated by the company's agents against the Congolese natives.

Marlow revealed that most of the Congo River inhabitants worked as forced laborers and suffered from discriminative treatments orchestrated by the Belgian agents. The nastiness of the imperial business contrasts gruffly with the majestic Congo jungle that surrounds white men's residents (Wesley 23; Lekesizalin 64). This cruelty made the white settlers residential areas to look like small islands in the vast darkness of Africa. Marlow and Mr. Kurtz served as the instruments of imperialism, which refers to a typical system of governance in which a foreign regime takes control of another country in terms of politics, military power, and economy. At the beginning of their relationship, Marlow and Mr. Kurtz appeared to be having a pretty lucrative deal. The two travel across the world to make a fortune that seems to be endless through their hard work. Mr. Kurtz has the right level of experience needed to carry out this exploitative mission (Abu- Snoubar 4; Aydin 233). He had initially traveled to the interior parts of the Belgian Congo before working as a station manager for the Belgian-ivory Trading Company.

Mr. Kurtz managed to accumulate wealth and in turn, used the concept of imperialism, which is common in the contemporary society, to mistreat the native Congolese (Fathema 150; Lekesizalin 66). As a result, young men like Marlow found it beneficial to follow in the footsteps of their predecessors, such as Mr. Kurtz. In a Roman Empire, where jobs were increasingly growing scarce and limited, becoming part of the imperial forces was common among youths. Physically-fit and intelligently-mind youths like Marlow perceived traveling to other regions as the best way to achieve their future goals. Nevertheless, Europe was suffering from decreasing opportunities for wealth and power following the depletion of their limited resources. As a result, most of the youths saw it critical to travel to other parts of the world, especially Africa, to enhance their probability to succeed (Wesley 27; Abu- Snoubar 7). Marlow's visit to Brussels to receive guidelines from his employer, the ivory trading company, brought him to a large group of young men preparing to sail to other parts of Africa in the name of setting up an empire.

As a result, Marlow says, ''They were going to run an over-sea empire, and make no end of coin by trade'' (Conrad 122). On meeting Mr. Kurtz, Marlow also reveals a wide range of troubling issues regarding the concept of British colonialism. In the first scenes of the book, Marlow says, "Hunters for gold or pursuers of fame, they all had gone out on that stream, bearing the sword, and often the torch, messengers of the might with the land, bearers of a spark from the sacred fire. What greatness had not floated on the ebb of that river into the mystery of unknown earth!" (Conrad 132). This assertion shows how British colonialism was detrimental to Africa. The whites targeted the precious resources available in Africa, such as gold, ivory, and other minerals. Marlow continues with his revelation when he says, "The dreams of men, the seed of commonwealths, the germs of empires" (Conrad 135). In this instance, the river that Marlow referred to had a connection with to the patriarchal acts committed by the British Empire. The empire, which was at its height of political and economic power, invaded Africa as a way of fulfilling its goal of conquering a large part of the world (Abu- Snoubar 9; Shihada 231). Marlow perceived this British Empire's orchestrated invasion of other regions as a difficult to understand and dangerous approach that remained strangely appealing to the victims.

According to Conrad, the approach used by the British regime to concur and colonize the world promoted the motto, "The sun never sets on the British Empire" (143). This motto implies the fact that Britain's effort in colonizing the world was unstoppable. Marlow also emphasized his revelation of the patriarchal nature of the British Empire when he says that, "And the torch and spark of sacred fire are far more than the pursuit of wealth and fame" (Conrad 151). The symbolic use of the torch and the spark emphasizes the theory of the "civilizing mission," which was mainly used by numerous European countries in justifying their conquest of foreign countries. Therefore, these assertions play a critical role in bringing out the inherent distinctions between colonialism and plain imperialism. Conrad's definition of the concept of colonialism is that move which involves the outward establishment of permanent outposts alongside creating specific rules and laws, but the primary goals of making money (147). Conversely, plain imperialism is an open policy or the concept of extending a country's rule over foreign territories, often by military invasion or by simply acquiring political, economic, and cultural control of the targeted region (Nofal 456; Lekesizalin 69). Therefore, colonialism practiced in Belgian Congo was mainly an act of imperialism as seen in the case of the Roman Empire conquering over predetermined territories in Europe.

Contemporary Implications

Analytically, a plethora of governments in the contemporary society cling on the colonial things done in the 1900s as discussed in Conrad's novel. Therefore, there are a wide range of initiatives undertaken by different countries in contemporary society that appear to the host nations as dangerous but appealing (Abu- Snoubar 9; Shihada 231). For instance, the United States, which serves as the Superpower, is no way better than the British Empire. Despite struggles to abandon the conventional mistreatment of people during the colonial era by the British Empire, the U.S and other countries, including China, continue to develop new strategies to achieve their patriarchal goals. For instance, the United States decision to invade and destroy Iraq alongside its capital city, Baghdad in April 2003 was an act of imperialism and colonialism. The infamous Superpower had other evidence-based strategies that it could use to address the issue of terrorism rather than burning down Baghdad as a whole (Aydin 237; Shihada 235). For instance, peaceful negotiations and joint efforts with the Saddam Hussein government could lead to a better solution rather than causing massive injuries, destruction of property, and loss of innocent lives.

Fathema ascertains that the fact that the U.S managed to take control of the economy, as well as politics of Iraq, shows that there are numerous Kurtz-ian figures in contemporary society (151). Similar to Mr. Kurtz, the U.S. allegedly took control of all Iraq's leading oil manufacturing companies and other economic resources. The same effect was also evident is the case of NATO's invasion of Libya on 19 March 2011. The NATO army saw the need to conquer Libya, drain its resources, especially oil, and in turn put in place a weak government that it could easily control (Shihada 238). China is also increasingly becoming a significant force to reckon in neo-colonialism and imperialism. For instance, China is increasingly exploiting a plethora of developing markets, especially East Africa, through the concept One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative. China continues to cite the economic benefits that it's business relations with other foreign countries create as the main reason for invasion (Nofal 458; Wesley 30). However, these initiatives have more negative effects to the host country such as Kenya as opposed to China. The latter is increasingly benefiting from its deal with East African countries through economic development and creation of jobs for its people.


Conrad's novel plays a crucial role in highlighting the patriarchal approaches used by numerous colonial governments to invade different parts of the world. The book's main character, Marlow, shows how colonial masters concealed their plans to invade developing regions such as Africa and in freely obtain their resources. Most of the ideas, themes, and concepts pursued in the book compare with what a plethora of countries in the current world use to achieve their destructive goals at the expense of their hosts. For instance, the United States and China provide the best examples of two imperial countries that are increasingly conquering other parts of the world through well-calculated moves. Therefore, there is the need for the invaded countries to understand the long-term implications associated with signing business agreements with such countries to sustain their economies.

Works Cited

Abu- Snoubar, Tamador, K. Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness: Debunking the Two Basic Imperial Cliches. European Journal of English Language and Literature Studies, Vol.5, No.5, 2017, pp.1-11.

Aydin, Asim. A Eurocentric Reflection in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Journal of History Culture and Art Research, Vol. 7, no. 2, 2018, 230-238.

Bloom, Harold. Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. New York: Chelsea House, 2008. Print.

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Mineola, N.Y: Dover Publications, 2001. Print.

Fathema, Fawzia. Joseph Conrad's Didactic Intention in Heart of Darkness. International Journal of Humanities Social Sciences and Education (IJHSSE), Vol. 2, No.11, 2015, pp. 148-151.

Lekesizalin Ferma. The Production of the Imperialist Subjectivities in Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness." International Journal of Applied Linguistics & English Literature, Vol.6, No.4, 2017, pp. 63-69.

Nofal, Khalil, H. Darkness in Conrad's Heart of Darkness: A Linguistic and Stylistic Analysis. Theory and P...

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A Critical Analysis of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness Essay Example. (2022, Dec 08). Retrieved from https://proessays.net/essays/a-critical-analysis-of-joseph-conrads-heart-of-darkness-essay-example

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