Representation of Colonialism in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness Essay

Representation of Colonialism in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of DarknessIntroductionThe burst of scholarship on colonial studies in the last two decades- crossing the disciplinary boundaries of literature, anthropology, and history- has begun to fill one of the most blind spots in the Western world’s examination of its history. Yet there is something strange about the timing: scholarly interest in colonialism arose when colonial empires had already lost their international legitimacy and ceased to be viable forms of political organization. Earlier when colonialism was an object of mobilization, scholars and intellectuals were most captivated by the drama of liberation movements and the possibilities of “modernization” and “development” for people whom colonialism and racism had excluded from the march of progress.Part of the impetus behind the recent research and writing on colonial situations has been to ensure that this past is not forgotten. But the colonial past is also invoked to teach a lesson about the present, serving to reveal the hypocrisy of Europe’s claim to provide models of democratic politics, efficient economic systems, and a rational approach to understanding and changing the world, by connecting these very ideas to the history of imperialism. Some concerns have led some scholars to examine thoughtfully the complex ways in which Europe was made from it colonies’ past and the ex-colonies’ future were shape by the process of colonization.Heart of DarknessAfter Lord Jim, none of Conrad’s novel inspires so much decisive uproar as Heart of Darkness.

  And most of what has been written is of little use because it does not explain adequately why the story s so heavy, stylistically speaking, or- when critic give reasons drawn from the substance of the story, for the opacity of Marlow’s “yarn” – the philosophy or meaning discovered is often so extraneous to the narrative as to call in question Conrad’s interest in the fiction.As the novel begins, both the first narrator and Marlow give voice to the same thoughts with subtle differences.”And this also been one of the dark place of the earth,” says Marlow, implying that this London is no longer dark, though the first narrator has just noted that they are quite hidden beneath the gloom. Although Marlow admits that English conquest, like all others ‘means the taking away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flattered noses than ourselves,” he claimed that English form is redeemed by an idea: “And idea back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and some unselfish belief in the idea- something you can set up , and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to.”(Conrad)All critics have read this astonishing passage as a straightforward, unambiguous apology for British Imperialism, spoken from Conrad’s heart through Marlow’s mouth.

No one seems to hear the reverberations of Marlow’s bitter emphasis later on figures of religious devotion, especially the worship of ideas. He will himself finally say that he had to lay the ghost of Kurtz’s “gifts” with a lie, but it is left to the reader to perceive that Marlow must kill off a part of his self-knowledge with lies in order to save the ‘beautiful word” of British civilization along with the beautiful world of Kurtz’s Intended.In Heart of Darkness Marlow is forever fussing about reality and unreality, but it is his own rather than his listeners faculties that he mistrusts. If we read the stories repeatedly, as we must for its full effect, we know that the dark English coast before him recalls for Marlow the darkness of Modern Africa, which is the natural darkness of the jungle but more than that the darkness of moral vacancy , leading to the atrocities he has beheld in Africa. In a second reading we may wonder even this early whether the moral darkness Marlow saw in Africa is, as he implies, the same as the precivilized darkness, or if Marlow’s insight is incomplete.

For the moral darkness of Africa, we learn later, is not the simple darkness of native “ignorance”, but of white man who have blinded themselves and corrupted the natives by their claim to be light bearers. One feel to question Marlow’s ultimate “discovery”, for we are from the start treated to several questionable examples of his wisdom, this Marlow who has been matured, supposedly by his Congo experience. Compared with the English conquests, Marlow claims, the Roman conquest of England was “ just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a grand scale, and men going at it blind- as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness.”  But comparison further favour the Romans, if we think of Conrad’s reference to Britain’s activity in Africa as “on the same principle” as murder. One may easily wonder too, if this very English Marlow, who says the Roman “chaps were not much account really,” is not distinctly removed from the Conrad who insisted so often that Rome was the Fountainhead of Western civilization and that England’s culture derived directly from it.Identifying Marlow closely with Conrad, one may suggest that the novel expresses a deferred collision between “the adventurous Conrad and Conrad the moralist.” But surely that collision is conveyed better in Marlow’s meeting with the Russian than in his meeting with Kurtz. Face to face with Kurtz , Marlow experiences a more serious collision, between Conrad the British subject and Conrad the Moralist.

The question left hanging is whether good work anymore the evil work justifies the empire-builder in Africa.In the iconography of the novel, Marlow’s talk of “devotion to efficiency’ has a religious overtone no less menacing than his reference to an “unselfish belief in the idea-something you can set up, and bow down before , and offer a sacrifice to.” We cannot separate these images altogether from the “pilgrims’, the ivory, the young Russian’s worship of Kurtz ideas, and Kurtz himself self apotheosized, “insatiable of splendid appearances of frightful realities.”It is important to decide, most crucially, whether “the jungle” and all its signifies for Conrad in Heart of Darkness is evil in the sense of intrinsically alien to man’s social instincts, as literary critic Guerard and Moser implied in their writings, or whether primitive life represents the “existential” truth of human relationships which has had to be suppressed by racialist “civilizers”.

Marlow who will not allow that Kurtz’s experience in the Congo is vitally relevant to Europe’s future action, is yet aware that its “shadow” can follow him home. Into the lady’s house with him goes the sound of savage drums, like the heartbeats “of a conquering darkness”. In spite of the darkness, the wilderness is vibrantly alive and throbbing, while in her “radiance”, the lady inhabits a “sarcophagus”. She is a “familiar shade”, recalling Dido in Virgil’s underworld. And it is her Europe that is underworld.Marlow’s interview with Kurtz’s Intended, like everything else is the story; approaches allegory in its suggestiveness without departing from the concrete experience of a man like Marlow would have registered in such a situation.In Heart of Darkness one major theme, if not the ruling theme is that civilization depends for its conquest of the earth on a combination of lies and forgetfulness. Conrad’s debt to Nietzsche seems nowhere more apparent.

One of Nietzsche’s aphorisms would have made an excellent epigram for the story: “‘I did that’, says my memory. ‘ I could not have done that,’ says my pride, and remains inexorable. Eventually the memory yields” (Nietzsche 1927, p.

451). Out of this profound and involuntary human perversity come all the devils and all the nightmares that Marlow encounters in Africa, as well as his own oversights or forgetfulness concerning Britain’s activities in “the dark continent”.Marlow and his friend at the end of the novel sit looking at the Thames, seeming to see its course run back into the Congo, which Marlow compared to an immense snake uncoiled. The snake is motionless, perhaps, but venomous, ready to recoil in that heart of that immense darkness.

Marlow continues to sit like a meditating Buddha, but readers are left to meditate on what he has failed to see; the England’s efficiency and ideas would not solve her from the half –shaped resolve in Africa which will hardly distinguish one white man from another when Africa’s moment comes. All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz, Marlow said. It seems the major burden of the story to reveal what Marlow has failed to see –that England is in now way exempt.The vital paradox in Marlow’s Congo experience points beyond Conrad’s own conflicting sympathies to a didactic intention, neatly disguised so that only the wise English reader might profit from it. So with Conrad in Heart of Darkness, we see an extraordinary example of political fiction, conveying its most important meanings through the evasions and self-contradictions of a narrator.Conclusion  At the heart of colonialism it has been argued that, is the rule of difference. It might be more useful to emphasize the politics of difference, for the meanings of difference were always contested and rarely stable.

  As broad comparative study suggests, all empires, in one way or another, had to articulate difference with incorporation. Difference had to be grounded in institutions and discourses, and that took work.Europe’s ambivalent conquests-oscillating between attempts to project outward its own ways of understanding the world and efforts to demarcate colonizer from colonized , civilized from primitive, core from periphery- made the space of empire into a terrain where concepts were not only imposed but also engaged and contested. From the very moment of the French Revolution, rebels in the plantation colony of Saint Domingue raised the whether the Declaration of the Rights of the Man and the Citizen applied to the French empire as well as the French Nation and in so doing, they as Laurent Dubois puts it, “ ‘ universalized’ the idea of rights.” Ever since political activism in and about empire has posed not only possibilities of accepting or rejecting the application to colonial words of ideas and structures asserted by Europe, but also the possibility , however difficult , of changing the meaning of the basic concept themselves.

However Heart of Darkness can be touted as important book which represented the true colour of the colonial literature where there is same kind of hypocrisy, same kind of ambiguity, same kind of confusion.                                                                       Works CitedChatterjee, Partha. The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Post-Colonial Stories. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York: Konemann, 1999Harkness, Bruce, (ed.

) Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness and the Critics. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth 1960.Nietzsche, Friedrich. “Beyond Good and Evil”, The Philosophy of Nietzsche. New York: Modern Library,1927