Heart of Darkness: Futility of European Presence in Africa
Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness is both a dramatic tale of an arduous trek into the Belgian Congo at the turn of the twentieth century and a symbolic journey into the deepest recesses of human nature. On a literal level, through Marlow's narration, Conrad provides a searing indictment of European colonial exploitation inflicted upon African natives. By employing several allegoric symbols this account depicts the futility of the European presence in Africa. One of the first glimpses into the frivolous occupation of Africa by the Europeans is seen when Marlow recounts his journey to Africa aboard a French steamer. The immensity of Africa is describe as "The edge of a colossal jungle, so dark-green as to be almost black...". Africa is contrasted with man’s drive to penetrate its immense depth. Any signs of humanity on its shore appear minuscule and insignificant in comparison to the immensity of the ambiguous jungle. "Here and there grayish-whitish specks showed up clustered inside the white surf, with a flag flying above them perhaps. European settlements some centuries old, and still no bigger than pinheads on the untouched expanse of their background." Despite the decades of colonial activity, the coast of Africa appears completely unchanged and indifferent. "Every day the coast looked the same". However, the most striking image that conveys the futility of the imperial presence is the man-of-war ship Marlow sees inanely firing into the jungle. Marlowe wryly comments, "It appears the French had one of their wars going on thereabouts". This scene is described as "incomprehensible", and the shots the ship are firing are described in such a way to exemplify the futility of such actions with words such as "pop", "small flame", "little white smoke", "tiny projectile", and "feeble screech". Although Marlow perceives their efforts as futile, the Frenchmen see this blind attack as an exertion of their force...
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