Imperialism- Conrad's Heart of Darkness

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Imperialism and its oppressive processes have affected societies as well as individual lives for centuries. In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, oppression through imperialism demonstrates how a certain civilization, the Congolese, is affected negatively by imperialism. By focusing on Africa, it allows for a graphic recount of the many years spent reigned by foreign oppressors and tyrannies. In Heart of Darkness, the Congo is oppressed by the imperialists economically and geographically. As well, the oppressed people are taken advantage of spiritually. Conrad describes how the ruling tyrant is affected by the process of conquering a local people and this draws a parallel to the ruling empire. Conrad, through his novel, attempts to demonstrate the negative consequences associated with imperialism for not only the natives but also the imperialists.

In Heart of Darkness, the Congo is victimized when it is conquered geographically and economically by British and Roman imperialists. According to Conrad, the British enter the Congo with a belief that they were there to do good and to introduce their ways to the Congolese. In terms of economic defeat, the British reaped the benefits of the Congo’s rich resources. On his way to the post, the character Marlow points out, “It had known the ships and the men...The dreams of men, the seed of commonwealths, the germs of empires.” (Conrad, 67). The tone of this statement is optimistic and not that of someone heading to battle. Marlow also discusses the many travellers who come through the Congo searching for fame or gold. The most obvious oppressive measure in Heart of Darkness is the geographic conquering in the Congo. Marlow reflects on Africa’s tumultuous past by referencing Roman imperialism, “I was thinking of very old times, when the Romans first came here, nineteen hundred years ago.” (Conrad, 71). This statement allows some insight for the reader into the centuries of fighting over ownership of the Congo that the Congolese have endured. Without concern for the civilizations already present, the supposed colonizers from Rome and Britain imposed their idea of civilization. The economic and geographic domination of an area for the benefit of another people directly affects those already inhabiting the region.

The conquering of a place and its people does not just affect the land and its resources; it also affects those inhabiting it. Marlow describes the Congolese’s spirituality being oppressed, “The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking is away from those who have a different complexion of slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.” (Conrad, 69). Marlow discusses his aunt’s thoughts on the process, “She talked about weaning those ignorant millions from their horrid ways.” He watches the Europeans using their own laws to control and oppress the people of the Congo, for example, he sees an ugly chain-gang at the first station, which does not seem as though they are criminals. Nevertheless, the European law had decided for the natives, Marlow describes, “like shells from the man-of-war, like an insoluble mystery from the sea. (Conrad, 12). The Congolese appointed to work on his ship, he describes as, still belonging, “to the beginnings of time,” but “as long as there was a piece of paper written over in accordance with some farcical law or other made down the river, it didn’t enter anybody’s head to trouble how they would live. (Conrad, 33-34). Skulls of then men judged by the European law were set on stakes around Kurtz’s compound to invoke fear in those who questioned it. The Congolese are spiritually dominated through imperialism and taken advantage of based on their physical differences. They are forced to convert themselves from ‘savages’ to the British civilized way of life. The spiritual degradation is demonstrated through this transformation because they are forced to accept that their way of life is...
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