Analysis Of How Joseph Conrad Condemns Colonization Through The Protagonist’s Perspective In The Heart Of Darkness

August 15, 2022 by Essay Writer

Heart of Darkness is a novel by Joseph Conrad written in 1899 which tells a story of a protagonist called Marlow who is a sailor and gets a job in ‘the company’ to be a captain of a steamship that takes an adventure and journeys in central Africa in the river of Congo. The story moves along through a period of colonialism where slavery was taking power. Throughout his journey the protagonist experiences and observes the image of African natives in Congo. However, the author uses the protagonist to show the readers what he saw and the experiences of how colonization exploited and disrespected the cultures and traditions of native Africans. Although the author uses the protagonist to tell a story of how Africans were treated which appears as if he was racist. While exploring the jungles of Africa the protagonist sees the exploitation, enslaving and ill humane treatment of native African people caused by colonialism. He also observed that the native African culture is being disregarded by suppressing the people who stay there. Marlow meets a man named Kurtz who is a trade agent in the upper part of the company. Marlow’s perspective of witnessing events in Africa that shows how harsh the conditions were for the native people. This essay will discuss how the novel condemns colonization through the protagonist’s perspective and the events he encounters in his journey, Kurtz as a character who represents colonial power and the ways in which the Kurtz is characterized throughout the novel.

The novel condemns colonialism through Marlow’s experiences while traveling in Africa. The author, through Marlow’s thoughts and his actions is able to address the issue of colonialism by attacking it through the protagonist’s eyes. Marlow grew up believing that European people ‘were no colonists’ but rather people who ‘were conquerors’. This means that the protagonist thought that the Europeans are not colonizing a place but rather ‘Taking away’ from people who ‘have different complexion’. This shows the belief the protagonist had on colonization and also how he thought it was, however, these changes occur when he arrives at Central Station he sees that colonization is different from how he imagined it to be. The first evidence of disregarding colonization is seen by the protagonist. The protagonist arrives at a place and sees ‘men’ who had ‘iron collars’ on their necks and this made him surprised because he did not understand where the ‘iron collars’ came from. That experience means that Marlow did not like what he saw and was amazed by the conditions the natives were in. The protagonist kept asking himself ‘where did they get it’. This shows that the protagonist had no idea why the men were tied like that. He did not know that such behaviour was acceptable. Marlow believed that ‘these men’ cannot ‘by imagination be called enemies’ by judging how he ‘could see every rib’ and that showed him signs that the native people are starving. Marlow sees how the native people are starving and offers a ‘young boy’ his ‘Swede ship’s biscuits’. These actions show the sympathy and care he feels towards the starving boy. The protagonist is also not happy after meeting Kurtz, he realizes that Kurtz uses colonialism to get the ivory which makes him to be at a higher position. Marlow expresses that Kurtz is ‘no idol of his’. This shows that Marlow is not pleased about any of the things Kurtz does so, therefore, he cannot look up to a figure that has the bad side of colonialism. The protagonist also disregards the word ‘rebels’ which Kurtz uses to describe the native people, so Marlow starts ‘laughing’ to describe the ridiculousness and disbelief of what Kurtz is saying. We see through Kurtz that even though he had colonized the natives land he also lost himself during the process and ended up following the native peoples’ ceremonies meaning that he also became part of the tribe.

Colonial power is the power that is used to control people in order to gain wealth through resources that belong to the natives. Colonial power was the most important part that the Europeans came with during the colonization era. This kind of power is seen in a character called Kurtz. Kurtz is a figure that represents colonial power, we see this power when he first arrived in the land of Congo. Kurtz was a leader of a high position of a trading post and ended up getting obsessed with the Ivory. Kurtz had ‘stacks of ivory ‘and ‘not a single tusk’ was ‘left’ in the ‘whole country’. Kurtz power is shown when he was able to get the people in the ‘tribe to follow him’ because the people ‘adored him’. By being able to make the natives to follow him makes him a powerful person probably feared by the natives too. ‘This means that Kurtz had managed to get all the ivory for himself from the native land. He also worked on a ‘Suppression of savage’ report which means that he wanted to find ways that he would take from the land as much as he can by ‘approaching natives with the might of deity’ which means that although the colonists know what they want from the natives they should come to their lands appearing as innocent and guided by actions of good will. The character achieved this by being close to the natives by practicing the ceremonies the natives had. Kurtz cared more about the ivory to an extent that he called everything in the land ‘his ivory, his station, his river’. This proves that he has strong ownership towards everything because he believed that ‘everything belonged to him’ meaning everything that is in the land of the natives. His sense of ownership reveals how he is treated as a god in the native place. Although the native people follow him they are afraid of him because he hangs ‘rebellious heads’ of African natives who appear to be ‘rebels’. This means that any Africa native who does not do what Kurtz says is seen as a rebel. The power Kurtz shows is when the natives are willing to even fight for him when he ‘ordered the attack’. This shows that the native is willing to risk everything for him and this indicates the power of control he has over them. He abuses power by using native people to gain wealth, hence the native people are suppressed. Kurtz cares about obtaining wealth and natural resources from the natives; this makes him a figure of colonial power because he controls and owns everything that belongs to the natives in the land.

Characterization of a character is described and seen through his actions, speech, the words he says and thoughts. Kurtz was described as ‘a remarkable person’ because of how hard he was working to get the Ivory from the native land. Marlow also saw him has a man who was able to say any opinion he has. The natives ‘adored’ means that they saw Kurtz as a good person although he was using the native people in the Congo. Another way that he is seen is when he told Marlow that ‘he would shoot’. This indicates how heartless and greedy he is because the words he says indicate that he would do anything for the Ivory even if it means he kills for it. Kurtz is seen again as a greedy, selfish person when he said that the ‘lot of ivory now is really his’ and also that ‘he collected it’ at a ‘great personal risk’ meaning that he has gone through difficulties including being part of the natives so that he can get the Ivory. Kurtz is also characterized as a person who is heartless, this is seen when he hangs native peoples heads on ‘sticks’. This kind of action shows that he cannot treat people with humanity and hence the act makes him a heartless, ruthless being. He has an obsession over ivory because he ‘ordered the attack’ on Marlow’s steamboat because he did not want to be ‘taken away’ because this would mean that he would lose what he had worked hard for. Kurtz selfishness is also shown when he is in his death bed but continues to shout that they should ‘save the ivory’ instead of saving him. He is guided by materialistic wealth which is the ivory of the native people. Kurtz is seen as a powerful man because he was the one who ‘ordered the attack’ through the natives. This action indicates that he can control the people in the native Congo. Kurtz is also seen as a person who conveys hate towards the native people and this is seen on what the ‘report’ which he had written that they should ‘exterminate all brutes!. This means that to get what they want they should destroy everything that is on their way. He is also an honest man because on his last death bed his last words were ‘the horror, the horror!’. This means that he had acknowledged and seen the bad sides that come with colonizing a place and suppressing the people who live in it. By confessing before dying indicates a person who had regret about what he did and also acknowledging his bad acts towards the native people.

In conclusion, this essay has discussed the following: the first paragraph has discussed how the author uses the characters in Heart of Darkness to show that it condemns the acts of colonization. The second paragraph has looked at how Kurtz is seen as a figure of colonial power by looking at the ways he treats the people. Lastly, the final paragraph has discussed the characterization of Kurtz in terms of what his actions are and what he says that makes him be viewed in a certain way.


  1. Conrad.J. (1902). Heart of Darkness. ebook Available at: https:/www.fulltextarchive.com/page/Heart-of-Darkness/


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