Heart of Darkness; Values of Colonisers Essay

To what extent does Conrad challenge or endorse the values of the colonisers in Heart of Darkness? Conrad, in Heart of Darkness, challenges the values of colonialism, but at the same time he conforms to the constraints of popular culture of the time in which he wrote. In this way, the extent to which he challenges mainstream ideas is limited in regards to the angles of his criticism.

Conrad’s detailed descriptions of the Europeans in Heart of Darkness implicate his discontent towards colonial practices whilst certain references to the “black fellows” who reside in Africa show his opinions are influenced by his time, and thusly impact his acquired knowledge of what is politically correct or incorrect. Conrad challenges stereotypical beliefs and values of colonisers in Heart of Darkness but falls victim to their jargon, in this way, Conrad himself is portraying some of the qualities of colonialist groups whom he aims to question throughout the novel.

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These qualities such as Euro-centrism are challenged through Conrad’s use of language, as his rich but obscure descriptions and his portrayals of the landscape and people of Africa contrast to the Europeans. Conrad highlights the pointlessness and futility of the quest in Africa through his main character and narrator Marlow. Statements display his disgust and horror in colonialism as he describes the European’s efforts as a “rapacious and pitiless folly” and states that he “stood appalled” at the sights he saw of “mournful and senseless delusion”, of the “empty and desolate station” of Kurtz.

There is a lack of positive and tranquil descriptions of the landscape which enforce the idea that Conrad does not aim to endorse Colonialism. Frequent references to things of the earth seeming “unearthly” imply the detrimental transformations and distortions spurred from colonising happening to Africa. Entering Africa is described as entering “darkness”, as though it is like entering “brooding gloom”. Conrad most importantly parallels his story to that of the theme of death.

Conrad describes “death skulking in the air”, foreshadowing events to come in the novel. Furthermore, the city is referred to as a “whited sepulchre”, once again revisiting the theme of death which Conrad uses frequently, which highlights his discontent towards the negative effects of colonialism. Conrad challenges the typical beliefs and values of colonisers though his representation of Kurtz, and the extent to which he transforms Kurtz’s character into one that personifies corruption and evil. Kurtz and his crew are symbolic for colonialism itself.

These characters are used to depict the horrors and evil nature of it. One member of Kurtz’s district is described as a “pestilential fellow, snapping ivory from the natives”; the savage light in which the coloniser is shown thus depicts Conrad’s disapproval of their actions. “No restraint” is how Kurtz is described, emphasizing the greedy nature of colonialism. There are several references to Kurtz; “the flabby devil”, which denote demonic origins; “the shade of Kurtz” and the “making of Kurtz”, which dehumanise him.

Furthermore, Kurtz himself requests solitude as he’d “rather be alone”, portraying the anti-social nature of colonialism and how it has consumed Kurtz to the point where he does not even wish for human interaction. Conrad conforms to generalisations whilst depicting the people of Africa, in this way he is affirming colonist beliefs and does not pose himself a suitable figure to give voice to the Africans. Imagery of the African people is described often in a shocking and animalistic manner, hence Conrad marginalizes them. Distant kinship” is a brand given to the Africans, which is, both, a post-colonialist view as well as a slightly dehumanising depiction. The reference to the Africans as having ‘kinship’ with westerners implies the humanness within them which Conrad recognises, this is contrasted by the use of the word ‘distant’ which contradicts the label of kinship, implying the Africans are not like the westerners, but rather some far off descendants. Conrad describes them as having “faces like grotesque masks” and their actions are referred to as an “incomprehensible frenzy”.

Conrad paints a picture of the African people presenting a “wild passionate uproar” as the Europeans approach; he further states the scene was “ugly. Yes it was ugly enough”. Conrad then continues to contradict his statement admitting “they were man enough” and there was meaning in all the upheaval that “you could comprehend” meaning; relate to. This shows his attempt to understand the perspective of African people. Conrad here accepts the humanness of the African people but nonetheless in a manner that is seen as nconventional today. Conrad’s reference to the “edge of black mass”; the Africans, to be “prehistoric” could be interpreted as derogatory but at the time in which Conrad wrote; was normal. Conrad uses rich imagery as a key method to depict the African people; “the bush was swarming with human limbs in movement, glistening of bronze colour”, this imagery endorses colonialist views as it dehumanises the African people in a way which denotes animalistic characteristics.

Conrad refers to their body’s as ‘limbs’ which are moving, through the ‘swarming’ bush which implies animalistic movements, furthermore reference to their skin is a way of noting difference between the Europeans and the Africans and hence marginalizes the African people. Conrad, in Heart of Darkness, presents a post-colonialist view on the colonisation of Africa. The Europeans, in their attempt to collect ivory turn savage and lose their morals; blinded by greed they cause devastation.

This is readily highlighted throughout Conrad’s novel through the representations of the African people in a more positive light in contrast to the westerners. Although Conrad does not entirely endorse values of colonialism such as euro centrism, he does endorse the language used by colonisers whilst he is referring to the colonised. In this way, his criticism of colonisation is to a partial extent, and not yet whole. Conrad does not follow colonist ways; he differs and resents his unconventional ideas throughout the text, shown through the depictions of the African people.


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