Society as a Corrupting Force in Heart of Darkness

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Society's Struggle against its Savage Roots

Webster's online dictionary defines civilization as "a society in an advanced state of social development". Without the restraints of society, the behaviour of people will regress to their savage beginnings, due to the fact that one's need for survival will overpower all other impulses. The descent into savagery, man's inherent desire to survive over anything else, and the need for civilization and order shows how society unnaturally holds everyone together. Society artificially bonds everything together by imposing rules and structures and without the reminders of civilization and its conventions the savagery of human nature emerges.

The strength of a society can be linked to its dependence on its physical and social characteristics so that when members of a society are separated from those characteristics they are in jeopardy of a regression away from civilized behaviour. The journey of this descent into savagery is shown through the Congo as an uncivilized setting, Kurtz's uncivilized mission and through the theme of William Golding's novel Lord of the Flies. To begin, the Congo in Africa is home to dark native peoples that are portrayed with a natural, primal quality, a stark contrast to the civilization in Europe. The setting is where the supposed sophistication of civilized men is deconstructed. Marlow tells his shipmates about his childhood dreams of visiting uncharted places on maps. However, once a space had been discovered by Europeans, "it had ceased to be a blank space of delightful mystery - a white patch for a boy to dream gloriously over. It had become a place of darkness" (Conrad 71). Once a location has been discovered by the Warren 2

civilized world, it is exposed to the ‘light' of development. Without the arrival of the light of the Europeans for use in comparison, the Congo would be neither light nor dark; it is civilization that creates the primitive darkness. The light of civilization in the Congo is depicted as evil, symbolized by the white accountant who is clothed in white starched linen amongst the white man's civilized endeavours (digging holes) set against the dark natives -crouched in pain against the dark tree trunks- who are starving and dying as they work for the white man. Secondly, Kurtz is on a mission to procure ivory and to impose society onto a region of darkness. In his report to his superiors, he scrawls across the bottom, "Exterminate all the brutes!" (Conrad 128) Kurtz does not believe that the natives are in any way civilized, nor does he believe that the natives can become civilized on their own. He does not see the Africans as human beings, but merely as animals. Instead of civilizing them, which he obviously has decided would be foolish, he feels it would be easier simply to kill all of the natives. In these beliefs, one can see the darkness that comes from the civilizing mission. The darkness is within Kurtz (and people like him), and that darkness is brought to light in the minds of people like Marlow who see the savagery in their ways. Furthermore, a contemporary of Conrad, William Golding, also explores the theme of descending into savagery. Embedded within his story of a group of young boys struggling to survive alone on a deserted island -separated from society they had known- are insights to the capacity of evil within the human soul and how it can completely destroy society. On this desolate tropical island, the lost boys begin to organize themselves to gain a sense of stability, order, and brotherhood. They begin to build a society that contains rules and government. "'I agree with Ralph,' states Warren 3

Jack. 'We've got to have rules and obey them. After all, we're not savages'" (Golding 40). By the end of the novel after they have been stranded on the Island for what seems like weeks all reason has escaped the actions of the boys. "'Never mind what's sense. That's gone…" (Golding 172) The boys...
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