Ethical Dilemmas Of Ethics In Joseph Conrad's Heart Of Darkness

1165 Words 5 Pages
Ethics define right and wrong in the world; without them the world would be lost in chaos. However, if ethics are viewed from a cultural relativism perspective, they can be seen in a very different light. Cultural relativism is defined as “Each person’s culture is the standard by which actions are to be measured” (Wilkens, 2011, pg. 29). In Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad presents several key ethical dilemmas about race, imperialism, and corruption. Ethics, at the time this book was written, was completely different then they are today. Europe was the super power at the time. Although Britain and France were the most powerful, the book centralizes its attention on Belgium, who ruled the Congo. From an outside perspective, the colonist’s actions …show more content…
Marlow, the most untouched out the men, demonstrates his lack of taste for the natives several times. The racism demonstrated in this book was so great that the colonists viewed the natives as inhuman. “We are accustomed to look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster” (Conrad, 1990, pg. 32). Marlow, while on the boat with the cannibals, viewed them as monsters that have been shackled for their own personal use. How can this even be a question of whether this is right or wrong? The abuse and mistreatment of humans as slaves is barbaric and uncivilized, but with cultural relativism as a lens, it is not wrong. The culture was fully behind the colonists treating the natives this way because they were receiving the benefits from it. They received ivory. The racism brought on by imperialism was morally acceptable if viewed through the normative system of cultural relativity. While it may seem incredulous, if viewed through this worldview it makes sense. Following the cultures morals means that many styles of barbaric thinking can be correct because their system of thinking is as correct as everyone else’ system. This means that Marlow and Kurtz were morally justified in their racist …show more content…
Kurtz is an obvious example of the corruption brought on by the ivory trade, but Marlow too, is corrupted and shown to be changed by the environment in which he was placed. At the beginning, Marlow seems almost innocent and unprepared for the journey ahead, and at the end he lies to a woman who loved Kurtz. Would he have told her the truth if he remained unchanged, or was it the corruption that took place in him that made him lie? Here is an example of him beginning to change, “He was there below me, and, upon my word, to look at him was as edifying as seeing a dog in a parody of breeches and a feather hat walking on his hind legs” (Conrad, 1990, pg. 33). In this passage, Marlow begins to show he is following in the footsteps of Kurtz and his old self is slipping away. At the end of the book, he is introduced to the intended for Kurtz and the audience sees the transformation complete. “The last word he pronounced was- your name” (Conrad, 1990, 71). At the end of the story, Marlow leaves the audience with a lie. Kurtz did not utter those words. Can the corruption seen in Marlow be justified? The answer is yes, once again, because he is following the cultural ethics in order to complete his task. He did nothing wrong in the eyes of a relativist.
While Heart of Darkness presents many ethical questions, cultural relativism has an answer for all of them. Its

Related Documents