Joseph Conrads Views on Colonialism

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"What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea."

"Those who read me know my conviction that the world, the tempered world… rests, notably, on the idea of Fidelity."

This is a running theme through most Conrad's books. As a sailor he learned that to survive, every crewman did the job he was assigned, and that the survival of the ship, and therefore the community, depended on each man doing his duty.

The heart of darkness can be read as a political critique of western imperialism as exercised by the Belgians, who more or less raped the Congo of its resources while brutalizing the country's people and making them slaves of unbridled political avarice.

At the time Heart of Darkness was written, the British Empire was at its peak, and Britain controlled colonies and dependencies all over the planet. The popular saying that "the sun never sets on the British Empire" was literally true. The main topic of Heart of Darkness is imperialism, a nation's policy of exerting influence over other areas through military, political, and economic coercion. The first narrator expresses the mainstream belief that imperialism is a glorious and worthy enterprise. Indeed, in Conrad's time, "empire" was one of the central values of British subjects, the fundamental term through which Britain defined its identity and sense of purpose.

From the moment Marlow opens his mouth, he sets himself apart from his fellow passengers by conjuring up a past in which Britain was not the heart of civilization but the savage "end of the world." Marlow continues to talk of olden times when the Romans arrived and brought light, which even now is constantly flickering. He says those people were not colonists but conquerors, taking everything by brute force. This "taking of the earth is not a pretty thing" when examined too closely; it is the idea behind it which people find redeeming. The bitterness of Marlow's recollection demonstrates Conrad's own strong bias against colonialism, which he wants to impart to the reader

According to Marlow, such barbarism cannot be justified on any grounds; however it can be compensated for by a legitimate and just cause behind it. Colonialism to him was

"Just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale"

It was not an exchange of resources, but a cruel and unjust domination and usurpation of the resources of the weaker party by the stronger, in this case the usurpation of the natives' ivory by the pilgrims.

The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much"

The Europeans were a so-called cultured and sophisticated race whose professed aim was the betterment of the African lot. The resources at their disposal, their culture, their food, and their finances, none of these were transferred to the Africans in order to improve their living standard; instead all concentration was focused on getting as much wealth out of the land as possible, even at the cost of the lives of the natives. Had the purpose behind this unjust domination been something worthwhile, the sins of the pilgrims might have been atoned for. But there is no such purpose; no moral betterment, spiritual uplifting, or cultural enhancement of the natives is intended. All that is aimed at is the ivory.

"They wandered here and there with their absurd long staves in their hands, like a lot of faithless pilgrims bewitched inside a rotten fence. The word "ivory" rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it"

The word "ivory" has taken on a life of its own for the men who work for the Company. To them, it is far more than the tusk of an elephant; it represents economic freedom, social advancement and an escape from a life of being an employee. The word has lost all connection to any...
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