Heart Of Darkness As Social Protest

1056 words - 4 pages

Heart of Darkness as Social Protest


Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, is an intriguing and extremely

disturbing portrayal of man's surrender to his carnal nature when all

external trappings of "civilization" are removed.  This novel excellently

portrays the shameful ways in which the Europeans exploited the Africans:

physically, socially, economically, and spiritually.


      Throughout the nineteenth century, Europeans treated their African

counterparts savagely.  They were beaten, driven from their homes, and

enslaved.  Heart of Darkness is no exception.  In the first section of the

novel, Marlow is disgusted by the condition of the Africans at the First

Station.  His encounter with the chain gang sickens him to the point where

he is forced to wait for them to pass.  He even takes a separate path to

avoid encountering them again.


      While avoiding the chain gang, Marlow stumbles upon the object of

their work-"a vast artificial hole...the purpose of which I found it

impossible to divine."  Apparently, to keep them occupied and thus "out of

trouble," the natives are forced to do meaningless, pointless exercises.

Marlow is shocked by this total subjugation of the Africans and the

completely pointless work which they are forced to perform.


      Prior to 1807, the Europeans directly enslaved the Africans.  After

1807, Britain, and eventually most European countries, banned the slave

trade.  However, this did not stop the Eldorado Exploring Expedition, whose

members Marlow described as "reckless without hardihood, greedy without

audacity, and cruel without courage," from using natives as forced labor

for their benefit--the classic definition of slavery.


      Europeans were also extremely distrustful of the natives.  They

were often accused of crimes because of the color of their skin.  At the

beginning of the novel, a French ship is firing blindly into the woods

because "[apparently] the French had one of their wars going on

thereabouts."  Later in the novel, at the Central Station, a native is

accused of causing the fire that engulfed the European's storage shed.  He

is beaten savagely; later he ran away from the station.


      The Europeans, aside from physically exploiting the Africans, also

exploited them economically.  When the Europeans first came to Africa, they

found a civilization that was extremely well-developed, albeit in a

different way than traditional Western civilization.  They discovered a

continent that was rich in many things, particularly gold, silver, and

ivory.  Far from the external checks of civilization and motivated by their

greed, they decided to exploit the riches...

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