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...