In Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” it is apparent that he is very critical of Imperialism. The main character and narrator, Marlow, is telling the story of his trip to the Congo and his experiences with Imperialism along the way. Conrad’s critique of Imperialism has a strong focus on the affects on the Africans, such as being overworked, and starved, as well as the affects on the Europeans, such as greediness, and a hunger for power. Conrad’s critique of Imperialism focuses greatly on the mistreatment of the African natives. Marlow was exposed to both natives affected by Imperialism, and natives that haven’t been affected by it.
On Marlow’s journey to the Congo, he encountered a boat being paddled by African natives near the shore. When describing what he saw, he says, “You could see from afar the white of their eyeballs glistening. They shouted, sang; their bodies streamed with perspiration; they had faces like grotesque masks—these chaps; but they had bone, muscle, a wild vitality, an intense energy of movement, that was as natural and true as the surf along their coast. They wanted no excuse for being there. They were a great comfort to look at” (Conrad, 20. Marlow thought it was interesting to watch and admire the natives in their natural state from afar. He actually felt that it was even satisfying. European Imperialism hadn’t affected them. Later on, when Marlow reached land, he was exposed to what was actually happening to the natives being affected by Imperialism. He witnessed six African men chained together with iron collars on their necks, carrying small baskets up a pathway (Conrad, 23. )
Marlow watched them carry those baskets up the hill, and he came to the conclusion that these men had to have been criminals and that’s why they were being reated in such a way. A short time later, Marlow comes across another group of natives, but this time they were on the ground, crouched over, and he described them by saying, “They were dying slowly—it was very clear. They were not enemies, they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now, nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation, lying confusedly in the greenish gloom. Brought from all the recesses of the coast in all the legality of time contracts, lost in uncongenial surroundings, fed on unfamiliar food, they sickened, became inefficient, and were then allowed to crawl away and rest.
These moribund shapes were free as air—and nearly as thin” (Conrad, 25. ) He had a firsthand view of just what Imperialism had been doing to the natives. They were being taken advantage of and treated as if they were criminals, when in fact they have not done anything wrong. The Europeans were meant to be helping the Africans become more educated and civilized, but instead, the Africans were being overworked and starved to death. Marlow continues to encounter this mistreatment of natives over and over again throughout his journey.
Though Conrad’s critique of Imperialism focuses greatly on the mistreatment of the African natives, he has also put a focus on what happens to the Europeans as well. Throughout his journey, Marlow also sees the affects Imperialism has had on the Europeans as well. Earlier in his story, Marlow says, “I had got a heavenly mission to civilize you,” meaning that he believed that the mission of Imperialism was to help civilize the African natives (Conrad, 9). When he actually got there, he saw that the motives for many of the Europeans had changed. Rather than ducating and civilizing the Africans, the Europeans became motivated by money and power.
An example of when it struck Marlow just how Imperialism had affected the Europeans was when he was on the ship going to find Kurtz, and there was little food for the native crew members. The natives had been cannibals, and they were absolutely starving. Marlow thought about the situation and said, “Why in the name of all the gnawing devils of hunger they didn’t go for us—they were thirty to five—and have a good tuck-in for once, amazes me now when I think of it.
They were big powerful men, with not much capacity to weigh the consequences, with courage, with strength, even yet, though their skins were no longer glossy and their muscles no longer hard. And I saw that something restraining, one of those human secrets that baffle probability, had come into play there” (Conrad, 67. ) When Marlow says this, he’s saying that it truly amazed him how the Africans had every opportunity to attack the white men and eat them, but they never did. He goes on to say how hunger is one of the hardest feelings to fight and suffer through, but they were showing great willpower and restraint by fighting through it.
The Africans were the ones that had been called savages the whole time, when in reality, the Europeans were the ones truly acting that way. They became too influenced by the desire for power and expanding their wealth, that they had completely taken advantage of the Africans instead of helping them. In the late 19th-20th century, European Imperialism was based on economic and ideological factors. In Joseph Chamberlain’s, “The White Man’s Burden,” he discusses some of the economic factors, saying how “no nation has ever achieved real greatness without the aid of commerce” (Chamberlain).
He is stressing the need for Europeans to open new markets and expand existing ones in order to increase commerce. Also, through Imperializing, they could gain access to new territories, markets, and trading routes, which would further increase commerce, allowing the Europeans to achieve true greatness. Though economic factors played a part in Imperialism during this time, the ideological factors played an even greater part. Some of the ideological factors that played a part in Imperialism were asserting national greatness, and fulfilling a racial mission and improving the lives of others.
An example of this belief is in Cecil Rhodes’, “Confession of Faith,” when he says I contend that we are the finest race in the world and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race… I contend that every acre added to our territory means in the future birth to some more of the English race who otherwise would not be brought into existence,” (Rhodes) which means the Europeans truly believed that they were the superior race during the time, and that it was their heavenly duty to overtake other territories and expand the English race.
In Richard Meinhertzhagen’s document, “An Embattled Colonial Officer In East Africa,” he was a young soldier stationed in Kenya during the frontier of European Imperialism. Throughout his journal entries, he discusses the conflicts and violent events that took place between the white men and natives while he was serving his time. At one point in his journal entries, he is talking about the European plans to make East Africa into a huge white farming and stock area, and he says, “Perhaps that is correct, but sooner or later it must lead to a clash between black and white.
I cannot see millions of educated Africans—as there will be in a hundred years’ time—submitting tamely to white domination. After all, it is an African country, and they will demand domination. Then blood will be spilled, and I have little doubt about the eventual outcome” (Meinhertzhagen. ) He is saying how Europe has these plans to Imperialize and capitalize on the land in East Africa, but he doesn’t think it will last in the long run. He’s expressing his doubt in Imperialism.
Conrad also had doubts in Imperialism since the Europeans motives of civilizing the Africans changed and it became more about wealth and power. Later on in the journals, he also goes on to say how when white men have to live with the African natives, their character begins to deteriorate and they can’t resist falling to the savagery of Africa (Meinhertzhagen. ) This relates to Conrad’s, “Heart of Darkness,” because Marlow witnesses the white European men that went to help civilize the savages, become the savages themselves.