The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad is a fictional novel with the sturdiest statements on imperialism. Though it has other significant themes, the emphasis focusing on imperialism can be easily noticed by the readers. Conrad wrote a letter to William Blackwood, his publisher, stressing how imperialism affected Africans. The narrative is clear and it sheds light on the criminality of incompetence and the high degree of selfishness in Africa civilization claiming its justification. Conrad declares his thoughts in a way that appears simple but in the reality, it is not. The aim of this paper is to discuss Conrad's criticism of Imperialism in "Heart of Darkness" and the relevance of his criticisms to contemporary society.
Many literature critics assumed that Conrad’s work failed to express the ideas of imperialism since he was an anti-imperialist. The critics who analyzed his work found it unclear. For a better understanding of Conrad attitude, the reader must pay close attention to three passages that he wrote. The work of Conrad is imprecise since it leaves many people with diversified interpretations whenever they want to understand his objective when criticizing the imperialism.
In a letter to the publisher, Conrad appears to oppose wasteful and self-centered imperialism. He seems to justify the acts of British claiming that it is efficient and effective. Conrad validation of imperialism leaves the readers with many questions in mind because of his unspecified ideas. Conrad criticisms are associated with assumptions because his passages cannot be easily understood, as they remain unclear.
The letter explores the issues concerned with imperialism in very complex ways. As Marlow from the outer to inner station and finally comes across the river, he bumps into sights of torture, slavery and cruelty. The fatal scene identifies the harsh reality on how colonial powers remained ruthless to the Africans. The incentive behind the adventure shows the rhetoric hypocrisy in justifying imperialism. The company employee claims that they are in the process of trade and their harsh treatment to Africans is part of civilization. Alternatively, Kurtz accepts that he took forcefully took the ivory and claims that it was not fair trade. He accepts that his treatment to Africans is aimed at destroying them. He is not guilty of his evil acts of “suppression” and “extermination” and clearly shows that he exercises power through intimidating the natives. His tenacious honesty leads to his decline, as his achievements hovers to expose the dirty deeds associated with European activities to the African natives.
In the heart of darkness, Conrad opted to use two unequivocal criteria: efficiency and idea, in judging imperialism. Regarding the internal and external evidence, Conrad never showed the values he stated. However, he opted to use them as they had earlier been applied England assuming that they will perfectly condemn the Congo imperialism. It can be said that, Conrad intention was to disguise himself independent of the foreign ideas and policies. In the political angle, Conrad is seen as an individual who tries to convince the audience that atrocities in Congo were unreal. In the letter, he gives a suggestion to judge British Imperialism with different criteria from the first one and it remains inherent.
In his criteria, it is difficult to understand Conrad’s value signified by the “idea” since he never gives its definition. If we judge imperialism within Conrad text, it becomes clear that Marlow refers to the “idea” as, “identification of oneself as a member of the native society,” but not what ideas elsewhere in the narrative. The “idea” that Kurtz aims at not liberating the natives but improving their social status and this leaves Marlow with an admiration. Readers of the Heart of Darkness understand this idea as the mission of the colonial powers was to suppress the natives.
Heart of darkness by Conrad has a detailed explanation pointing out the inefficiencies in Leopold’s rule. Long ago, critics looked in the details and concluded that the inefficiency indicated the ludicrousness of imperialism in a general view. Maybe, Conrad use of brilliant pictures was to indicate the instances of wastefulness due to the inefficiency observed in King Leopold’s ruling. These can be seen in the process of building a railway line as well as the scantiness of the currency system.
Seemingly, Conrad is fully aware of the weakening currency system in Leopold’s leadership. He describes the way the crew at the station is paid. The narrator explains the process of payment, “every week three pieces of brass wire, each about nine inches long, and the theory was there were to buy their provisions with that currency in river-side valleys. You can see how that worked.” (p.41). At this point, Conrad shows detailed absurdity that implies Congo lacked a well-functioning monetary system. The currency system does not allow free trade since the consumer population was inclined to pay for developments. This is a detailed explanation of the insufficiencies of Leopold’s imperialism that pointed by Conrad.
Additionally, Conrad also makes judgment towards Leopold leadership by criticizing the “idea” of its civilizing mission. During the Berlin act, Leopold vowed to improve the well-being of Congolese inhabitants. Afterwards, he violates the act by suppressing the Africans and inflicting them to pain and suffering. The king also fails to honor his promise since he supported the imposition of enforced labor to the people. Baron Moncheur is an apologist of the King and he attempts to validate the labor tax by claiming that it was intended for the process of civilizing the Africans. Despite Conrad believing on the philosophy of work, he never agreed with attempts of inflicting forced labor to the Africans.
Conrad’s criticism are relevant to the contemporary society. We have noticed how the criticisms made the British readers understand how Leopold exploited Congo. At the beginning, Conrad never imagined that his criticism would enlighten the society on the evil actions that existed disguised as civilization. The Heart of Darkness stirred reformers to put in place mechanism to bring Leopold rule to the end. The society benefited from political reforms that positively contributed to a developed society.Throughout his criticisms, Conrad appears very complex in the way he expresses his ideas on imperialism. He handles every case in a different angle and his statements vary according to the targeted colonies.
As illustrated above, the Heart of Darkness clearly indicates issues of imperialism in the society. Conrad opposes imperialism that is self-centered and wasteful. He believes he can only support constructive imperialism, but this never comes into reality. Conrad blames the colonial masters of taking advantage of civilization to oppress the Africans. In the end, his work inspires political reformers to put in place measures that aim to overthrow Leopold.
Conrad, J., & Watts, C. T. (1998). Heart of darkness and other tales. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Bloom, H. (1987). Joseph Conrad's Heart of darkness. New York: Chelsea House.