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The Irony Of Colonization Through Christianity: "An Outpost To Progress" By Joseph Conrad

1054 words - 4 pages

"An outpost to progress" focuses on the colonization of Africa near the end of the nineteenth century as it dares to question issues raised of colonization through Christianity. From the beginning of the story it becomes evident that the title, "Outpost of Progress" is in itself ironic, as the two white men are shown to be lazy and incompetent. The story was written as a reference to the ivory trade and the colonization of Africa. Conrad uses irony throughout the story to candidly challenge the merits of colonization through Christianity. Conrad uses one of the most powerful and well known symbols of Christianity, the cross, as an ironic marker signaling Christianity's unsuccessful effect on the wilderness and as an ironic benchmark measuring the moral values and facade of the Europeans designated to the trading post in Africa.The story employs two eager Europeans, Kayerts and Carlier, who are appointed to a trading post in the African jungle. There they participate in and oversee the ivory trading, hoping for financial benefits for both the company and themselves. With limited roles in the trading, they become isolated and demoralized as time goes by. The cross is mentioned early in the story when the grave of the previous surveyor is examined. The complicity of Christianity within colonization becomes evident as Conrad uses the cross as a symbolic measure of the impact faith will have on Africa. Conrad's irony becomes obvious: the cross's awkward position reflects Christianity's insignificance and unimportance in the African jungle. It is not surprising to note that Christianity plays a limited role in redemption, salvation and eternal life within this story.However, Conrad's main intention in the story is to weaken the superiority of white Europeans who exploit Africa's resources only to benefit for themselves. The colonization of Africa in the nineteenth century was far from the initial intentions of "bringing light and faith and commerce to the dark places of the earth" (Conrad 102) it was alleged to be. The cross, therefore, which presumably signifies the interference of civilization and progress upon the wilderness, instead becomes an ironic indicator of moral failure and economic opportunity. The trading post that Kayerts and Carlier are assigned to is anything but an outpost of progress; the men are lazy, incapable, and lack "all initiative." The native Makola, serving as Kayerts's and Carlier's bookkeeper, suggests a profitable exchange of slaves for ivory to the two men. Initially Kayerts and Carlier are stunned and offended by the idea, although eventually they accept the trade and help Makola for personal financial benefit. Through their greed for ivory, the men allow their native workers to be bartered to a marauding tribe.Both men are continuously plagued by diseases and grow weak in body, mind and soul towards the end of the story. Their psychological health continues to deteriorate as the two men progressively go mad. Ideas that...

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