The Duality Of Ivory: An Examination Of Greed In Society Through Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness

1122 words - 5 pages

Greed: the intense and selfish desire for something (Oxford Dictionary). It is one of the seven deadly sins, and society recognizes the vile nature of this trait, yet it is an integral part of our society, visible through our abundance. Joseph Conrad’s Europe was one of abundance: the more you had, the better you were regarded, and appearances were important, social success was gauged by what was observable. In response to vain society, to obtain social success you needed greed, for greed equated to more money, more power, more success. Ivory laid in the very heart of this mindset. It was the symbol of abundance, used in items including pianos, pool balls, and dominos. In Heart of Darkness, Conrad uses ivory as a catalyst to showcase the dual nature of greed encouraged by society, and caution about its consuming, destructive nature, especially when unreigned by society.
Kurtz, while not the most liked man, is revealed to be revered. He is described as “remarkable” and “first class” due to the sheer amount of ivory he brings in for the Company as he “sends in as much ivory as all the others put together” (Conrad, 13). Kurtz’s success makes him envied and although now nearing his fall from grace, in his prime Kurtz was remarkable. He had a good job, success, power, and even the ideal fiancée. He was a king, except it was not due to a birthright, fate, or any external forces; he created his status. It is within this fact lies the allure of ivory, of greed -- it is one that can be emulated. The idea of ivory sparks the desires of many, as it provides a simple means of fulfilling dreams of money, power and success. It is this simplicity that man lusts after. In the novel, Conrad twice mentions the lingering properties of the word ivory, how, when spoken, it would “ring in the air for a while” (Conrad, 16). Over time ivory became the ideal, encasing societal pressures, enhancing its appeal. Ivory becomes the mysterious and mystical force seducing men down the path of ivory-trading, and deeper towards the abyss of their greed.
“The only real feeling was a desire to get appointed to a trading post where ivory was to be had, so that they could earn percentages. They intrigued and slandered and hated each other only on that account….” (Conrad, 17). In this passage, Marlow speaks about the pilgrims on board his ship, a group of people who have packed their lives away with the same aspirations. Instead of embracing the comradery of an uncertain future, they slander and hate each other for no substantial reason except conceding to the same societal pressures, demonstrating the results of unsuppressed emotions roaming free through the “true ivory-country”. Furthermore their greed becomes rowdy and impatient, unpatronized by the restraints of society. This not only transform into detrimental attitudes such as jealousy and spite, it also manifest into behaviour, reflected in the way the way ivory is obtained in the novel. Ivory in not simply collected,...

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