In The Heart of Darkness, Conrad achieves the element of paradox, by reflecting on the imperialism of Europe. The author shows how imperialism is costly and ridiculous especially in its conquests of Africa. The profitability does not equal the amount of money it took to try and obtain it. In essence, the end did not justify the means. Excerpts teem with notions of ridiculous attempts at explaining how the gaining of resources from Africa justified how much effort actually went into obtaining them.
Imperialism sprouted in the European nations of France, Great Britain, and Spain in the nineteenth century. They had worked on claiming areas of the Americas, in order to gain ownership of its resources, and tried to impose and convert its people to Christianity. The colonies brought about by imperialism, and brought a wealth of new natural resources to Europe. At that time the new colonies proved to be highly profitable. New resources were brought to Europe including precious metals that helped the nations to become richer, settle debts, and wage wars. In The Heart of Darkness, Conrad explores European Imperialism in Africa. The Heart of Darkness discusses a paradox of imperialism in the treatment of the native Africans. Slave labor had been no stranger to European culture and history. Slaves were gained through the conquest of another area, or they were given as payment for debt. Europeans exploited and used others of what they would consider “uncivilized” nations for their hard labor. Imperialistic Europeans basically turned the term slaves into criminals. Conrad shows that these “criminals” had no rule of law. If natives were claimed to be criminals, they were forced to work for others to contribute to society. Though slavery had been abolished in much of European society, it would appear that it was still practiced, and merely named something else, thus the paradox of imperialism. Another example of a paradox that Conrad writes about continuously pertains to the jungle. Africa is viewed as a large and unruly place that is not at all aligned with European ideas and laws. “We pounded along, stopped, landed soldiers; went on, landed custom-house clerks to levy toll in what looked like a God-forsaken wilderness, with a tin shed and a flag-pole lost in it; landed more soldiers – to take care of the custom-house clerks presumably. Some, I heard, got drowned in the surf; but whether they did or not, nobody seemed particularly to care.” (Conrad, 1641). The quote seems to mock an attempt that was made to bring the order of Europe to the jungles of Africa. The paradox created is that the Europeans who attempted to bring about some sort of order and civilization to the country, merely succeeded in only putting up a fort or shack of some sort in the jungle.
A final paradox of imperialism in The Heart of Darkness comes when Europe attempts to control land and goods of ivory, or as Conrad puts it, a “trickle of ivory”. The empire spent vast amounts of money in order to gain control of land in Africa and its natural resources and precious materials. However, the amount of money that had to be used in order to obtain this “trickle of ivory” was unfathomable. Travel systems would have to be set up, manpower from Europe would have had to been put in place, and also goods and supplies would have been shipped from Europe to Africa in order to accomplish all this. The clear paradox is stated in Conrad’s words “...a stream of manufactured goods, rubbishy cottons, beads, and brass-wire [was] sent into the depths of darkness, and in return came a precious trickle of ivory” (Conrad, 1645). It was as if to say that they spent material after material to gain a small amount of just one other. It would seem nonsensical to approach the conquest of resources in such a manner.
A lack of common sense and a portrayal of absurdity seem to loom about The Heart of Darkness. The paradoxes of European imperialism achieved in this writing are numerous. The cost of achieving new materials and new lands in Africa are proved to be more costly than they were worth. Imperialisms sense of civilizing and goal of conquest is mocked, and their actions deemed ridiculous in Conrad’s portrayal. Often have empires attempted to extend their reach, only to find that the cost of doing so is more than they expected, and indeed, prove to be unprofitable in comparison.
Conrad, Joseph. The Heart of Darkness. Eighth Edition. 2. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2005. 1633-1692. Print.