Heart Of Darkness, Apocalypse Now, And Hollow Men

1389 words - 6 pages

Façade of Civilization Exposed in Heart of Darkness, Apocalypse Now, and Hollow Men

"Civilization", like "democracy" is something of a loaded term. For democracy there is a straightforward definition; a democracy is a society where the members of that society vote for their political leaders. "Democracy" can also refer to a set of social attitudes that individuals can possess. For instance, a snob possesses attitudes that can be described as "undemocratic" regardless of his or her participation in the political process of his or her own society. The term civilization literally means a society which has reached a high level of organization and development, which can be characterized by highly specified division of labor, monumental architecture, a redistributive economy, and a highly developed degree of literacy, among other things. The term "civilization" also refers to a set of attitudes and behavior that Western society has adopted as being consonant with the literal definition of civilization. A "civilized" individual is one who is well-educated, moral, virtuous, humanitarian, and possesses a degree of innate "nobility." In today's world these terms, and therefore the term "civilization", are understood throughout the world according to their European definitions, and therefore they are, to a certain degree, ethno-centric. This is because of the predominant role European civilization has played in shaping world civilization. With the exception of Japan, every place on earth has been occupied and administered by a European power for a significant period of time during the last five hundred years. Today the world's understanding of how nations should govern themselves is with constitutions patterned after European models, with separate legislative and administrative branches and with central banks administering national currencies. In the post-colonial age therefore, it makes sense that the European standard of civilization is the world's standard.

            Of course, the most successful of European empire builders was Great Britain. A hundred years ago, she was the strongest power on earth, and the position the U.S. holds today is largely an inheritance gained from her. Throughout British literature of the Eighteenth, Nineteenth, and Twentieth centuries, the theme of "civilization" re-occurs. Often this recurring treatment deals with the hypocrisy of a "civilized" nation interfering with the free will and self-determination of other peoples. Jonathan Swift deals with this hypocrisy in his pamphlet A Modest Proposal in which he suggests that the suffering the Irish are undergoing due to the inhumanity of the English administration could be relieved by a greater and even more blatant (but probably more honest) form of inhumanity. Mary Shelley suggests in her novel Frankenstein that when "civilized" man overextends himself and becomes hubristic, the fruits of his work are base, inhuman, and capable of bringing about the most brutal...

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