“They were dying slowly-it was clear. They were not enemies, they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now, nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation, lying confused in the greenish gloom”. (page 14 para. 3, line 1). The quote is coming from Marlow, upon arriving at the outer station, and first witnessing the devastation the Belgians have caused the native peoples. He is speaking about the black men, who have been enslaved, dying all around him. He can see the work they are being made to do, and finds it a great horror, similar, perhaps, to what hell must be like.
This quote also shows Marlow’s first recognition to an epiphany, he will later realize, as imperialism. He says clearly, these men can not be viewed as criminals, for the only function they seemed to be carrying out was dying, and die they did, in great numbers, and at the hands of the “enlightened” Europeans. I believe his conscience was getting the better of him, first seeing the death, disease, starvation, and chaos all around, allusions of a modern day genocide, which righteous people can not stand to watch, but are helpless to do anything about it.
Descriptions of Africans dying, or more precisely, being killed, are common stories surrounding imperialism. Heart of Darkness, finely details the worst kind of African imperialism, the Belgian kind. Millions of people, in what today is called the Congo, were forcefully enslaved, and then made to gather ivory tusks, and rubber plants, all the time being treated as animals, for the sole purpose of lining the pockets of the Belgian monarchy.
These scenes shock the more caring, and kind hearted reader, in today’s world, and leave questions swirling in the mind about how atrocities, similar to the ones described in Heart of Darkness, could have been carried out, by a supposed more enlightened society. Surprisingly enough, European imperialists do not hold the sole rights to death and destruction. In fact, simply by reading a history book of the last 2000 years, the reader may come to the conclusion that imperialism was a natural part of empire expansion.
Just look at the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Huns, the Moslems, the Christians, and finally the British. What did they all have in common, first they all conquered territory, and usually to do this they needed to kill indigenous people, so that they could use newly conquered land, for their needs. Secondly, these civilizations never seemed to have qualms about the murder, of sometimes millions of people, and destruction they caused in their quest for riches. The question begs to be asked were all these conquering civilization barbarians?
A brief definition is people that are uncivilized, cruel, inhumane, lacking moral insight. So, do the colonial Europeans fit into this category of barbarity? It would seem so. I mean, it has been estimated that 10 million Africans died under Belgian rule. What a paradox that the people, who were supposedly the most enlightened, the most religious, and the torchbearers of humanity, were they same people causing so much despair to Africa. So what caused the Europeans to act so cruelly towards the Africans, and how could they have discarded their own belief system of religion towards other humans.
In Europe, employee rights were being passed in government that gave protection to workers when accidents occurred. Families were close knit, with the old parents often living in the care of their children. Churches provided spiritual release to the masses, and finally the King and Queen, of most European nations, were devoutly religious. These facts disprove the notion that European imperialist were heartless creatures. How could a people that cared so much about life around them, expressed through their arts and music, be total barbarians?
The answer lies with those same beliefs that allowed such deep insight into nature, and humanity, and unfortunately, twisted some otherwise humane systems of civilization. These beliefs extended only to European people, who were believed to be a civilized society, and it was their duty to bring barbarian hordes to the light of spirituality, and walk in the way of God. However, the imperialists had twisted these religious ideals into a form a racism that would benefit them economically. They viewed the Africans in a light of inferiority, as subhuman species, ready to be used and discarded when the situation deemed it necessary.
The imperialists therefore, used these people as packhorses, and when the Africans would stumble, and not be able to continue with the forced work, the Europeans would leave them to die, as they would a packhorse. No moral qualms, or even words of protest would be spoken, why should they be, nobody cries when millions of ants are crushed to death, by a giant foot, living in their home, minding their own business. At most, a person like Conrad will write a story about the atrocities he has seen, and people we will read, and then view it as fiction because they can not believe their people are capable of these actions.
How very touching”, a few may murmur, but then they will be out the door, and on the bus to work, and never think about the desolate again, until tomorrow’s paper. These people can not feel the pain of those that suffer. Their hearts have not turned to stone by choice, but molded by the dye a society value has cast the unfortunate “sub- races” into. Not until, the Europeans of the 19th century have walked in the African’s shoes, or they start to open their third eye will they every have been able to see that the law’s of nature take precedence over the economic laws.