“The Heart of Darkness”: Reflects the Paradoxes of Imperialism in the Late 19th Century

“The Heart of Darkness”: Reflects the Paradoxes of Imperialism in the Late 19th Century
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“Heart of Darkness” is considered to be a novella that epitomizes the hollow aspect of civilization in the post-modern society. Published in the year 1902 and written by Joseph Conrad, the book explores the dark face of the European colonization. This darkness is exposed through the encounter of the protagonist of the novel, Marlow, who passes through this darkness while going through the wilderness of Congo basin, being the witness of the cruel treatment by the Europeans inflicted upon the natives of Africa and by perceiving the immeasurable darkness present within every individual that instigates them to execute the most immoral acts of heinous evil. Myriad paradoxes of Imperialism are well exposed in the novel. This factor also forms one of the major themes of the novel, which is manifested with the operation of ego, super-ego and identification of every individual with suppressed and forbidden primitive instinct of savagery (Conrad, “The Heart of Darkness”).

Thesis Statement

This essay intends to explore the paradoxes of Imperialism manifested at myriad levels in the novel subtly presented through the intricate instinct of human being to revert back to primitivism.
Paradoxes of Imperialism Reflected

Before delineating with the multiple paradoxes of Imperialism operating throughout the novel, it is very important to express that the issues of imperialism that captivates the novel entirely are complicated. The spectacle of torture, slavery and de-humanized treatment of the colonizer upon the colonized is deliberately developed at a slow pace through the trajectory of Marlow’s journey from the Outer Station to the Central Station and ultimately to the river which is named in the novella as Inner Station. The entire journey which Marlow covers through these areas projects a very harsh panorama of colonial enterprise.

A close introspection to the plot of the novella also launches the readers to a paradigm where the adventures undertaken by Marlow and the momentary drive behind all those adventurous plunge hints at the rhetoric inherently associated with the means that justify the hypocrisy of the imperial system. The men working for the company execute exploitation in the name of “trade” and their treatment to the native Africans are justified as a process of civilizing them (Conrad 3-100).

If the character of Kurtz is observed carefully then one can find the true paradox of imperialism operating in the novel. He does not consider his taking of ivory with force as any kind of trade. He confesses what he executes. His treatment of the natives is clearly termed by him as “suppression” and “extermination”. He is peaceably fine with this fact that he reigns with the means of violence and threats. Kurtz’s perverse and dishonest nature is responsible for his downfall. But at the core of his fall the primitive pursuit of mankind behind the sophistry evolves out. This instinct is savage and inherent in every individual (Conrad 3-200).

The novel “Heart of Darkness” is a marathon against the oppression inflicted on the non-whites behind the imperial pursuit and is projected in a more harsh and sinister way. For Marlow, the Africans turn out to be a mere backdrop. He calls his helmsman as machinery and the black mistress of Kurtz as a fine example of statuary. It is subjugated to a human screen where Marlow can work out his philosophical struggle for existential crisis. For Marlow as well, the presence of the natives and their exoticism, supplies fuel to his pursuit of self contemplation. In the case of Marlow there is no trace of open racial abuse or colonial violence. Nevertheless, the kind of dehumanization projected through the philanthropic and philosophical zeal of Marlow is an exemplary outcome of Imperial aggression. At one plane, “Heart of Darkness” presents a powerful expression that condemns the hypocrisy operating in the imperial system and on the other plane; it also projects number of issues that encompass race which is an omnipotent troubling phenomenon in the colonial structure (Firchow 1-250).


“Heart of Darkness” explicitly captivates the discourse of existential crisis. One of the best literatures of the post-modern period evolving out from the hollow dark age following the world war, “ Heart of Darkness”, definitely traces the evil which was brought into this world and the dehumanization that followed the extreme colonial and imperial pursuit of the Whites. At the same time, the myriad paradoxes of the imperialism is presented in the novel with subtle intensity which make it an epitomic saga of cruelty, oppression and racial abuses inflicted by the colonizer upon the colonized, since ages.

Works Cited
Conrad, Joseph. The Heart of Darkness. Formatting Objects Authoring, 1997. Web. 05 Jun. 2012.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. United States: Plain Label Books, 1975. Print.
Firchow, Peter Edgerly. Envisioning Africa: Racism and Imperialism in Conrads Heart of Darkness. United States: University Press of Kentucky, 2000. Print.