How Conrad presents his opinion on the horrors of Colonialism
The Narrator tells the story from a ship at the mouth of the Thames River near London, England around 1899. Marlow’s story within the story is set in Brussels and in the Belgian Congo in Africa sometime in the early to mid 1890s, during the colonial era.
European nations were in a hasty search for wealth and power. This was called the scramble for Africa, in which European countries competed to colonize as much of Africa as possible. This included plundering substances like rubber, timber, and most importantly ivory. The colonial Europeans claimed to want to civilize the African continent; however, their actions spoke otherwise. They were interested solely in gaining wealth and did not care how they did it, or who was killed. One of the most brutal of the European colonies in its treatment and use of the native Africans was the Belgian Congo, the property of the Belgian King Leopold I. In 1890, Joseph Conrad worked as a pilot on a steamship in the Belgian Congo where he witnessed the events which he later describes in the Heart of Darkness.
Heart of Darkness revolves around the theme of white supremacy, and colonial idealism.
“Black shapes crouched, lay, sat between the trees leaning against the trunks, clinging to the earth, half coming out, half effaced within the dim light, in all the attitudes of pain, abandonment, and despair. Another mine on the cliff went off, followed by a slight shudder of the soil under my feet. The work was going on. The work! And this was the place where some of the helpers had withdrawn to die. They were dying slowly it was very clear. They were not enemies, they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now, nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation, lying confusedly in the greenish gloom.”
In the above passage, Conrad says the ‘helpers’ withdrew here to die. These people were not helpers, but slaves who were forced to work till physical exhaustion, left ‘sat between the trees leaning against the trunks, clinging to the earth’ as if clinging onto life. These men were not even viewed as equals but half effaced within the dim light; the imagery is that of dehumanization of these men. Previously having being referred simply as ‘Black shapes crouched’, enforcing this idea that these men were treated as merely inanimate objects and almost a shadow of the colonialists. In the next sentence he uses three adjectives to enforce the feelings these ‘Black shapes’ would be going through using the rule of three. Conrad explains how another mine on the cliff went off; this could possibly hint at the shudder that Marlow had as a reaction to what he was witnessing. These people were not enemies; they were not criminals, in fact the English Colonialists were these criminals and enemies to the country itself, they were the ones causing this starvation and slow torture. Along with colonialism and trade came the forced ideals of a race who thought themselves superior to the occupants of the land before them. This was the same situation that the Native Americans endured when the Europeans landed in America. This is also clear in the Heart of Darkness where we see the Whites completely dominate the Blacks. In the above passage, Conrad says the helpers withdrew here to die. These people were not helpers, but slaves who were forced to work till physical exhaustion. The blacks are not given any personal traits or uniqueness unless they possess a similarity to the Whites as explained by Marlow when he refers to them as ‘Black Shapes’ giving them no personality to which we can relate.. Even then, we see no glimpse of humanity in their characters. This was a dehumanization of the native society. Conrad refers the ‘workers’, the irony, being that these people had retired to this spot to relax into death, instead these people were being used as slaves and merely withering away as they work....