Imperialism and Africa, Meet Mr. Kurtz

June 19, 2022 by Essay Writer

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is a novel about European imperialism and its far-reaching aims, methods, and effects. The author, Conrad, presents his own personal opinions through his central character, Marlow, who learns a great deal about imperialism while on a journey to the African Congo, and through his search for the infamous Kurtz throughout the novel. Although Heart of Darkness seems to be an anti-imperialistic work, this is not entirely true. Rather, Conrad criticizes the exaggerated romantic notion of imperialism. The novel begins with a discussion between Marlow and those accompanying him on the boat, concerning the idealistic imperialism of conquerors, especially that of the English, who were “bearers of a spark from the sacred fire.” Marlow himself had “tingled with enthusiasm” at the thought of imperialism, as his friends do during their collective memories of the past, but this is all before his experience in the Congo, and his encounters with both the notion and the actually being of Kurtz, when he truly uncovers the crudeness of the Belgians and their imperialistic character.Conrad introduces and develops Kurtz as a character whose shadowy nature was spurred on by something dark lurking in Africa – two forces that ultimately pull Kurtz from his ‘civilized’ prior life, and lure him in turn from restraint. Then again, “you can’t judge Mr. Kurtz as you would an ordinary man” reminds the Russian sailor, and indeed Kurtz is a larger-than-life superhero throughout much of Joseph Conrad’s story. The darkness in Kurtz’s heart is so strongly suggested that the reader believes him to represent the idea of imperialism, rather than simply the common imperialist. Taking Kurtz as the picture of the imperialist idea in its prime, the reader is left to see that the hearts of imperialism and Africa both contain corresponding, negative darkness.The darkness Kurtz holds within himself mirrors the darkness of the ‘civilizing’ mission itself. It is unconsciously revealed in the brick maker’s comment on Kurtz: “He is an emissary of pity, and science, and progress, and the devil knows what else.” Although somewhat questionable, this statement hints that there is more truth in the darkness within the heart of Kurtz, and in turn in that of imperialism, then can be seen immediately on the surface. Certainly Kurtz set out aiming to bring some good values to the Congo, and thus is reaching for the goals of many others looking to do the same, but so much is unknown about what he brings to accompany such progress and enlightenment. But for all the darkness of Africa, it could not elicit any dark reactions from Kurtz and the imperial idea if they did not already contain shady moral elements. The often skeptic Marlow, whose voice is left uninterrupted by Conrad during most of his narrative, is not consumed by the same weaknesses as Kurtz is. “He had stepped over the edge; while I had been permitted to hold back my hesitating foot.” Marlow knows that the great imperial mission is tainted by something inherent in its constitution. Africa is a dark place where people like Kurtz cannot restrain themselves when egged on by some unknown shared, immoral feeling.Above all, the idea of imperialism seems to explore both hypocrisy and moral confusion. The reader views Marlow, idealistic and forced to connect himself to either the malicious colonial bureaucracy or with the rule-defying, mysterious and questionable Kurtz. Heart of Darkness looks into the notions of a choice between the lesser of two evils. Then again, can moral or social values relate to judging evil? Marlow witnesses a number of questionable acts while in the Congo, and these motions in turn reflect back to the larger issue of imperialism and its ideals: at the Outer Station, Marlow watches native laborers blast away at a hillside with no particular goal in mind. The illogical incorporates, often at the same time, both life-or-death issues with non-sensical absurdity. The reader sees first hand that greed is a foe difficult to stand up against, and one so big that no man, not even the mighty Kurtz, can take a stand against alone. Kurtz was placed in a setting where greed raged, and in time became a part of him, eventually taking him over. In the end monetary power or power over other individuals gets us nowhere in the world, no matter our cause’s status.Kurtz represents the unraveling of the dishonest, treacherous ‘civilizing’ imperialism that was utilized in an attempt to control the Congo from Belgium. While Joseph Conrad writes that the darkness that is responsible for Kurtz’s eventual downfall (both morally and physically) lies in the Congo itself, he also puts an amount of as much of that dim, unclear aura in Kurtz and the imperialism that he come to represent. In the end, Heart of Darkness becomes merely a hazy title whose purpose and meaning remains unclear even at the end of the story. At the finale, it becomes clear that the Congo, Mr. Kurtz, and imperialism itself all have hearts equally dark in Conrad’s twisted reality.

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