Analyzing Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness Essay Example

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  8
Wordcount:  1943 Words
Date:  2022-12-08


Heart of Darkness, which was written by Joseph Conrad, covers a wide range of topics mainly about the problems experienced from alienation and imperialism. The book also connects many ideas and concepts of modernism and those that were practised before its publication (Lekesizalin 63). Also, the novel represents a unique transformation in the society in which people starting abandoning the Victorian values and instead trying to conceive modernist ideas. A good example of this transformation in the book is whereby majority of the natives in Conrad's book regarded their predecessors as their role models by embracing some of their unique practices. However, some of these natives' ideas were strongly criticized by foreigners such as Mr. Kurtz saying that their commitment to follow the good deeds of those who lived before them was an attempt to create more confusion in the society (Conrad 3). In this essay, I will compare the idea of British colonialism and the modern society as portrayed by Conrad in his book, Heart of Darkness. I will also demonstrate some of the ideas that remained the same and compare them with those that changed since the times of British colonialism where different countries saw it necessary to invade another region and drain its valuable resources.

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Critical Analysis

Many researchers identify Conrad's Heart of Darkness as a book that provides a comprehensive description of the meaning of colonizing and being colonized by a certain country. The book mainly covers the encounter of its main character, Marlow who travels through the Belgian Congo in a time believed to be in the early 1900s. Marlow had the determination of meeting Mr. Kurtz, who worked as an ivory trader in the region. His goal is to ensure that he brings Mr. Kurtz back to civilization by taking him to his home country, Britain. However, Mr. Kurtz did not express any intentions of leaving his work station to his homeland. Therefore, he retaliated to Marlow's civilization plans by attacking his steamboat when nearing the station. Mr. Kurtz wondered on how he could leave his greener pasture, where he was loved by everyone, to go back to Britain. Conrad reveals that Congolese worshipped him as their god despite the manner in which he harassed them (4). Marlow, who worked as a captain for a Belgian Company that dealt mainly with trading of ivory in Africa also witnessed some of the problems that Congolese people went through.

During his journey in the Congo River, Marlow revealed that many Congolese were harassed and mistreated by the Belgian Company agents despite working as forced labourers entitled to no form of payment. These Africans also lived in poor conditions as opposed to their Belgian masters who lived in leafy and rich suburbs of Congo (Conrad 5). The distinction between the poor natives and the rich settlers was so sharp that someone could easily notice on visiting the country. Analytically, Marlow and Mr. Kurtz gradually evolved into instruments of colonialism and imperialism. Imperialism refers to a form of governance in which people from another country takes control of another nation in the form of economic, social, political, and military power. Mr. Kurtz had already established himself in the Belgian Congo as a successful colonial master before being joined by Marlow. Consequently, the two travel across the world making an endless fortune. However, Marlow depends mainly on his colleague, Mr. Kurtz, to successfully go through this exploitative mission due to the experience he had amassed by living in the region (Conrad 5). Mr. Kurtz had visited nearly every region in the interior parts of Belgian Congo before being employed as a station manager by the Belgian Ivory Trading Organization.

The Imperial Nature of British Colonialism

During his stay in Congo, Mr. Kurtz obtained a lot of wealth before starting to mistreat his subordinates. Therefore, young men such as Marlow found it crucial to walk in his footsteps in order to also make a fortune. Conrad wrote his book at a time when the Roman Empire was losing its popularity due to harsh economic times and tremendous reduction in job opportunities across Europe. Therefore, intelligent young men such as Marlow had no other alternatives apart from travelling to other regions in order to pursue their dreams of leading a successful life. As a result, Africa, especially the Belgian Congo, was specifically chosen as the best settlement area due to its richness in minerals and other critical resources such as ivory (Aydin 230). Marlow's decision to visit Brussels in order to get directions from his employer, an ivory trading firm, gave him the opportunity to meet a crowd of young men with intentions of sailing their boats to different parts of the world. However, most of these young men identified Africa as their preferred destination as they wanted to set up an empire, something that already brings out the theme of imperialism in the novel.

After meeting this group of young men, Marlow says, ''They were going to run an over-sea empire, and make no end of coin by trade'' (Conrad 7). Marlow's meeting with Mr. Kurtz also gives him a chance to reveal a lot of controversial issues about the idea of British colonialism. In the first scenes of the book, the infamous captain 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"(Conrad 3). His sentiments illustrate the negative effects of British colonialism in Africa. The concept of imperialism allowed Europeans to successfully invade African countries and in turn drain a wide range of resources, including gold, ivory, and other minerals. Surprisingly, these attacks were carried out in a convincing way that no native could understand their negative effects. Conrad also agrees with this sentiment when he says that the approach that the British governments used in conquering a large part of Africa was promoted by the motto, "The sun never sets on the British Empire" (3). This phrase points to the fact that Britain's determination to invading and colonizing different cultures, regions, and countries across the world were unstoppable.

Besides, Marlow also demonstrated the imperial nature of the British government by saying, "And the torch and spark of sacred fire are far more than the pursuit of wealth and fame" (Conrad 4). Here, the torch and the spark are used symbolically to illustrate the fact that many European countries used the concept of civilization in justifying their invasion of other nations, especially in Africa. This saying also portrays the main differences between the concept of colonialism and imperialism. Conrad defined colonialism as a move carried out by a certain country to establish long-lasting political, economic, and social influence in another nation (7). Colonial governments carry out such invasions with the primary aim of obtaining resources and money from the victimized nations. On the other hand, plain imperialism is a form of open policy which involves the outward extension of a foreign country's rule over another nation through military plans. A country can also promote imperialism by acquiring the political and economic control of a certain region. Therefore, Belgians simply practised colonialism by invading the Congo Region and in turn drawing its valuable resources.

Contemporary Examples of Colonialism and Imperialism

Analytically, numerous governments across the world still cling to the ideas of colonialism and imperialism as practised in Conrad's novel. Most of the initiatives undertaken by these conquering nations appear to be dangerous but appealing to a lot of host countries. A good example is whereby the United States, which operates as the Superpower, exhibits most of the colonial strategies used by the British Empire in 1900s. The U.S and other developing countries such as China are increasingly developing new tactics to politically, socially, and economically colonize numerous regions across the world (Aydin 233). For instance, the United States' decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was both an act of colonialism and imperialism. The U.S had other effective measures that it could utilize to address the issue of terrorism as opposed to burning and destroying Baghdad, the capital city of Iraq. Analytically, going for alternative dispute resolution strategies such as peaceful negotiations could have helped in preventing the number of injuries and deaths reported in the 2003 war.

During the war, the U.S successfully took over the control of Iraq's politics, social systems, and the economy. American militia also claimed ownership of numerous oil reserves and related companies across Iraq ((Aydin 235). This decision deprived Iraq's government capacity to cater for the needs of its people and culminated in the murder of its President Saddam Hussein. Similarly, NATO used such plans to successfully invade Libya on 19 March 2011. This army saw the overall need to conquer Libya, drain its valuable resources such as oil while claiming that they were doing away with Muammar Gaddafi's, dictatorial government. His assassination on 20 October 2011 marked the onset of NATO's rule before replacing Gaddafi's regime with a weak government that can be easily manipulated. Lastly, China is also embracing the concepts of colonialism and imperialism despite being a developing country. The second largest economy in the world continues to explore new opportunities in developing markets, such as East Africa (Lekesizalin 65). Through the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, China has managed to record significant economic development and create more job opportunities for its people at the expense of their partners such as Kenya in East Africa.


Conrad played a crucial role in discussing numerous strategies that counties across the world used to invade others and in turn drain their resources. Marlow, the main character in Conrad's book, shows how numerous colonial masters hid their plans to invade developing regions such as African and in turn, enrich themselves. Most of the ideas and themes pursued in this book are similar to what numerous countries, including the U.S and China are using to exploit developing regions in Africa and Asia. As a result, it is important for the countries being invaded to understand the effects of their invasion and take appropriate counter-strategies.

Works Cited

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.

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

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.

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