Joseph Conrad's novella, Heart of Darkness, describes a life-altering journey that the protagonist, Marlow, experiences in the African Congo. The story explores the historical period of colonialism in Africa to exemplify Marlow's struggles. Marlow, like other Europeans of his time, is brought up to believe certain things about colonialism, but his views change as he experiences colonialism first hand. This essay will explore Marlow's view of colonialism, which is shaped through his experiences and also from his relation to Kurtz. Marlow's understanding of Kurtz's experiences show him the effects colonialism can have on a man's soul.
In Europe, colonialism was emphasized as being a great and noble cause. It was seen as, the white mans mission to help civilize and improve a savage race. At the beginning of the book, Marlow talks about the Roman conquest of Britain and the similar situation to that of Africa. The Romans felt the British people were savage and looked down on them because they believed that they had achieved more. I believe Marlow drew this comparison to ironically show that the Europeans are not as superior as they think and to demonstrate that they too were once conquered 'savages'. Marlow mockingly says that what the Romans did "was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind" (pg.65). He says the Romans were conquerors and not colonialists, and explains that what saves the colonialist is "the devotion to efficiency" and "the unselfish belief in the idea"(pg.65-66). Yet throughout the novel, Marlow's personal experiences show how colonialism was just that, the robbing of Africa for ivory and profit by Europeans. He ascertains that there were no improvement in Africa like the Europeans claimed, "unless the body of a middle-aged negro, with a bullet hole in the forehead...may be considered improvement" (pg.81). This notion of extreme physical violence is something that threads its way through the novella.
The above epitomizes what Marlow thinks about what colonialism really brought to Africa. Some Europeans may have genuinely believed in the idea of colonialism as being noble, but this "belief in the idea" cannot save the horrible actions of colonialism or make them acceptable. Indeed this false belief in an idea, rather then the practicalities of colonialism only aids to brutality of such actions.
Furthermore at the time of the writing of this novella, approximately within the 1800's, exploration was seen as a wonderful adventure and the period of mapping out the world was well under way. Europeans saw Africa as a black place on the map waiting to be discovered. When Marlow was young "[he] had a passion for maps. [He] would look for hours at South America, or Africa, or Australia and lose [him-self] in all the glories of exploration" (pg. 66). Marlow now says, "The glamour's off"(pg.67). This effectively shows how Marlow's attitude has changed...