Criticism Of Imperialism In Joseph Conrad's Heart Of Darkness

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Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness follows the tale of Charlie Marlow, a British seaman. Set in the heart of the Congo, Marlow drives a steamboat for “the Company”, a Belgian ivory trading firm. Throughout his journey, he meets Mr. Kurtz, the star agent of the company. As the story progresses, Mr. Kurtz goes through stages of madness coinciding with his need for more ivory, which raises the theme of madness. Ultimately, it is imperialism which brings Kurtz to the Congo, and a product of imperialism, greed, which brings him to his madness. Because mankind is never meant to supersede the highest authority, which is what imperialism allows, once above all arbiters, mankind goes mad.
Heart of Darkness starts off with Marlow sitting on the Thames
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The idea of Social Darwinism is most likely what drove Joseph Conrad’s criticism of Imperialism. Throughout his life, he had written many other works also focused on human nature, the inevitability of malevolence in mankind, and the internal battles between good and evil. Mr. Kurtz, in Heart of Darkness, follows these characteristics of human nature. At first, he is simply an ambitious man, with “promise”, “greatness”, a “generous mind”, and a “noble heart” (Conrad, 3.66). Immediately, greed overtakes Kurtz, and his insatiable thirst for the wealth that ivory brings him drives him to create alliances and make enemies with the native Africans. He proceeds to pillage villages continuously, in search of ivory. Marlow described that the jungle “got into [Kurt’s] veins, consumed his flesh”. (Conrad, 2.29). It seemed that Kurtz had lost his own humanity, which had been destroyed by imperialism …show more content…
In the present day, there is an understanding that all cultures have value to them, and none have more value than others. This same idea was not the consensus in Europe during the New Age of Imperialism. Imperialism, at its core, had the belief that wealth and power needed to be amassed for your own good, and was therefore selfish. The same selfishness allowed Social Darwinism to come to light, which connected to the idea of progress in humanity. As Vaughan’s work discussed, one of the large contributors to madness in imperialism could have been the stark contrast of the black faces of different Africans with those of the white Europeans (Vaughn, 45-55). For the homogenous Europeans who believed that the Western Society was superior to every other race, traveling to a new setting and coming into close proximity with people who exhibited physical characteristics differing theirs could have brought madness. This suggests that Kurtz was not brought to madness due to the lack of an arbiter, but rather due to the lack of cultural acceptance in his original upbringing, England. To rebuke this, Kurtz and Marlow must both be examined. Marlow and Kurtz both hail from imperialist England, yet there is evidence that Kurtz is significantly more mad than Marlow. As explained, Kurtz was at the top of the power structure and considered a God, while Marlow

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