The Meaning of Heart of Darkness in the Post-Colonial Climate
Since its publication in 1899, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness has rarely been disputed on the basis of its literary merits; in fact, it was long seen as one of the great novels of the burgeoning modern era, a sort of bridge between the values and storytelling styles of the waning Victorian period and those of the modern era (Gatten), and regarded a high-ranking space amidst the great literature of the century, if not the millennia (Mitchell 20). Conrad’s literary masterpiece manages references to other great literature, universal themes which cut to the heart of philosophical questions of the innate goodness or evil of man, and historical references such as the Belgium and Roman empires (Kuchta 160), among other accomplishments, and so has garnered a lexicon all its own in the annals of literary criticism, debate, and analysis.
Much consideration given Heart centers around a pivotal concern of the era in which it was written: that of what, in hindsight, were the early death rattles of the heyday of European colonialism, specifically in Africa. There is some debate amongst critics as to whether the novel, ultimately, is a morality tale about human greed, power, and evil (one could toss in deceit, cowardice, and a host of psychological considerations as well), or more a sociological commentary upon the morality of colonialism and imperialism from the point of view of a highly disillusioned expatriate turned agent for the empire, turned anti-imperialist (the character of Marlow in the novel: Conrad himself, in spite of his best efforts to disguise his input behind characterization) (Films for Humanities and Sciences). The truth is almost certainly, with all the richness of meaning and language in Heart of Darkness, that the novel is both, and then some.
If Conrad’s intention was to foster debate – or, indeed, disgust –concerning European colonialism, it is ironic that his novel, in the post-colonial era of today, has become the centerpiece of heated debate about the allegedly racist nature of its language and the greater implications of his view of race in light of the fall of colonialism and what most consider a great awakening of sorts in areas of the West’s views on race (Kuchta 160). That is, it is ironic that Conrad’s supposedly anti-colonialist work has earned the distinction of a reputation as representative, in modern academic circles, of a grossly outdated (not to say politically incorrect, in the extreme), highly colonialist and racist mentality.
In fact, a cursory search of internet and other resources in today’s era is unlikely to produce many, if any, writings on Conrad and Heart of Darkness that are devoid of mention or focus upon the fixation of race and racism of which Conrad is accused. This was almost certainly not the case during at least the first fifty years following the publication of the novel, at which time most writing...