Foolishness and Maliciousness in Exposed in Heart of Darkness
Joseph Conrad paralleled the Eldorado Expedition in his novel Heart of Darkness with the Katanga Expedition of 1890-1892. By doing so, he illustrated the folly and malevolence of the leaders of the Katanga Expedition and of Imperialist profiteers in general.
The foundations for the Katanga Expedition were laid in 1883 when King Leopold proposed that he would leave the Congo state to Belgium in his will if he could borrow 25 million francs without interest to finance development of the area. In 1890, Prime Minister Beernaert ensured that Leopold got the loan (Pakenham 399). Through German adventurers and British missionaries, Leopold soon learned of both the riches Katanga had to offer in terms of natural resources and of its unusual native warlord, Msiri. With hopes of gaining raw materials, Leopold launched the Katanga Expedition in 1890 (Pakenham 400).
Conrad’s "Kurtz" in Heart of Darkness is based on Georges-Antoine Klein (Sherry 9), although there are many similarities between him and Msiri, the native chief of Katanga, as well. Like Kurtz, Msiri was fond of keeping tight control of everything in his area, and he was partial to showing off his collection of human heads (Pakenham 400). As Kurtz had no qualms about shooting his supporters (such as the Russian) over trivial matters (Conrad 56), Msiri frequently cut off appendages of any of his subjects who displeased him (Pakenham 403). As Msiri was huge, "six-foot and fourteen stone," (Pakenham 403), Kurtz "looked at least 7 feet long" (Conrad 59). When Msiri’s enemies became bolder, huts filled with Msiri’s supplies were burned down (Pakenham 406). This is analogous to the incident in Heart of Darkness when a shed full of supplies meant to be delivered to Kurtz "burst into a blaze so suddenly that you would have thought the earth had opened to let an avenging fire consume" everything (Conrad 26). As Msiri was "shoveled into a royal burial plot," (Pakenham 410), Kurtz was buried in a "muddy hole," (Conrad 69). Beyond the comparisons between Msiri and Kurtz, there are more literal links between the Katanga and Eldorado expeditions, as well.
In Heart of Darkness, Marlow had "just returned to London after a lot of Indian Ocean, Pacific, China Seas-a regular dose of the East-six years, or so," (Conrad 11). Conrad himself returned to London in 1889 after sailing in the east erratically...