Heart of Darkness and A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder: Critique of European Attitudes on Empire and Colonialism

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Reality of the Human Condition
Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, mirrors similar themes which can also be seen in James De Mille’s novel, A Strange Manuscript Found in an Copper Cylinder. Although Conrad and De Mille wrote their novels several years apart both novels serve as a critique of European attitudes on empire and colonialism. These novels not only critique but also satirize the European value systems and point out the hypocrisy of imperialism. De Mille and Conrad use the characters of Adam More and Captain Kurtz to demonstrate the failures in European attempts of colonizing foreign land, the flaws of European prejudices and attitudes as well as the differences in perceived good and evil in European institutions through the repetition of contrasting light and dark. De Mille and Conrad both appeal to their readers by laying out a story in the form of a frame narrative capturing a sense of adventure and discovery while integrating distinct and powerful political messages throughout reflecting on the reality of the human condition. In A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder, De Mille uses the character of Adam More to serve as a mediator for the reader to identify with the European views of colonialism; he is open minded enough to help guide the reader through the novel and allows them to sympathize with the situations in which he is placed in. Upon finding himself in the island of the Kozekin people More instantly identifies with the people because of their physical likeness, whereas with his first encounter with humans he is very tentative and tries to exert his superiority by shooting his rifle. Through both experiences De Mille distinctly approaches the problems of imperialism. Because of the difference in physical appearance More scorns the first group of natives he encounters and flees from them because of their horrific behaviour, namely cannibalism. Although he knows nothing of the new land or about the people he encounters after fleeing from the first island immediately feels comfortable and welcome in their presence; although unknown to him, they too practice cannibalism. More’s comfort with the Kozekin people demonstrates the colonialist need for sameness and conformity. More automatically believes he is superior to the Kozekin and feels that he is “considered […] some superior being, from some superior race; although [his] broken and faulty way of speaking the language was something of a trial, still [they] seemed to consider every word [he] uttered as a maxim of the highest wisdom.” (Mille 172) Although he believes himself to be superior to the Kozekin people, his only sense of superiority comes from his rifle in which he finds himself using many times throughout the novel to assert himself. Although he believes his guns to be a symbol of superiority amoung the Kozekin he eventually learns that it has become a symbol of his incapacity to connect and understand the people around him. More not only believes that he is superior, but also believes that his Christian European morals and values are greater than those of the Kozekin. Although the Kozekin people value death it is in poverty and self denial that they find true happiness, they need not seek out material possessions to find fulfillment in life, rather they seek to divulge themselves of everything so that they can find peace with themselves and nature. Much like De Mille, Conrad uses the character of Captain Kurtz to demonstrate the European failure to colonize foreign land. Although unlike More, Kurtz appears to have been successful in his task of “civilizing” the Congolese people, although unknown to society are the ways in which he accomplished this. Much like More, Kurtz resorts to his weapons and violence as a way to assert his superiority amoung the Congolese people; although in a much more extreme fashion. Captain Kurtz’s mission to trade goods for ivory takes on the role of obtaining ivory by force rather than trade. When...
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