Imperialist Tendencies in Conrad This fact is further corroborated by the loss of the sense of humane that the aforementioned U.S. soldiers manifested and which Marlow illustrates in the aforementioned passage.
Thematically, there are a number of different issues that Joseph Conrad explores in his novel The Heart of Darkness. However, one can argue that the one that has the most relevance in contemporary times is the author's critique of imperialism. This interpretation of the novel (as a critique of imperialism) is apropos in contemporary times for the simple fact that one can posit the notion that the efforts of the United States in the Middle East are little more than updated forays into imperialism. Conrad, however, portrays imperialism from the vantage point of European powers and their initial forays to subject the continent of Africa. Through his skillful manipulation of characters such as Marlow, Kurtz, and the manager of the Belgium company whose interests these characters represent, Conrad is able to demonstrate that the aspirations of imperialism actually veil some of the more base, lower urges of man and 'civilized' man.
Perhaps the author's characterization of Kurtz helps to demonstrate this fact most eminently. Kurtz is a member of the company who starkly represents its imperialist desires. He is a European who is a skilled musician and painter; virtually no other characters can match his leadership abilities. These character traits are emblematic of Europe and its old world charms. However, Kurtz also most dramatically demonstrates the dangers of imperialism, which are largely manifested in the fact that in attempting to civilize and exploit what is deemed the uncivilized world, these Westerners fall prey to the very same sort of savagery that they are attempting to obliterate. For all of Kurtz's artistic sensitivity and cultivation, he is powerless to fight the effects of the Congo. Before long, he is running around on all four legs in a manner that is as uncivilized as that of any indigenous native -- and perhaps even more so (Marlow). This fact is demonstrable of Conrad's criticism of imperialism in a subtle way, because it evinces the fact that for all of the alleged superiority of Westerners, the very nature of imperialism (the desire to conquer, pillage and appropriate for one's self) creates urgings within mankind that are attuned with his lower, and not his higher nature. Were Kurtz's world, which previously consisted of a fiancee and his artistic endeavors, not suddenly reduced to the desire to enslave and steal ivory from indigenous people, it is highly unlikely that he would not have reduced his behavior to acting like an animal. In this regard, imperialism and the desires that actuate it are akin to animalistic urgings, which certainly is a way for the author to offer extremely poignant criticism of this practice.
In fact, the loss of decency, sensitivity, and sense of the humane is at the crux of Conrad's criticism of imperialism in this novel -- which directly correlates to the relevance of such criticism in contemporary times. This sort of debauchery is viewed by Marlow in several passages in the novel. The narrator's encounter with the El Dorado Expedition certainly reinforces this notion. The aforementioned expedition illustrates imperialism at its worst, and was not nothing more than a band of Europeans out to plunder and take any and everything of value that they encountered in the African jungle. The author's criticism of these endeavors and of this company itself is evinced in the subsequent passage in which Marlow regards them as less than human. After watching the company departs he reflects: "Long afterwards the news came that all the donkeys were dead. I know nothing as to the fate of the less valuable animals. They…found what they deserved" (Conrad). It is critical to note that in this passage Marlow refers to this rapacious company as "animals," and even compares them, unfavorably, to the pack of donkeys which they rode and which toted their belongings. Such a regard for these men is akin to some of the more contemporary occurrences that have taken place with the U.S. In its War on Terror: specifically in the war theater in Afghanistan. A 2014 article reveals that there were U.S. soldiers that were urinating on dead members of the Taliban (Bowman). The parallel between these actions and Marlow's reflection is clear: in both instance, there are Westerners regarding others as less than human. There is an innate sense of disregard for basic human life that urinating on a dead person signifies, somewhat as there is a disregard for human life evinced in calling men "animals." Although some might choose to ...
Additionally, Marlowe's criticism of imperialism directly revolves around the intention of those that come to plunder from foreign lands. The motive for profit is fairly lucid in the author's tale in which the Belgian company and most other Westerners found in the Congo are merely there to remove valuables from the land, and subjugate all those that they encounter in the process of doing so. Again, Marlow's insight highlights the author's opinion on the subject. Relatively early on in the story Marlow muses, "The word 'ivory' rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it. A taint of imbecile rapacity blew through it all…I've never seen anything so unreal in my life…as…this fantastic invasion" (Conrad). In many ways, this passage elucidates the core of the intentions of the imperialists and the reason why the author is criticizing them. They are so preoccupied with despoiling the natives of their resources that they are virtually "praying" to ivory. Their approach wherein the ends justify the means is alluded to by the "rapacity" that characterizes their desire for ivory. Moreover, however, these imperialist efforts are little more than an "invasion," a term that not only alludes to the overlying goal of stealing ivory, but which also resonates with contemporary society. Regardless of the lofty aims of freedom and democracy that America has proffered to the rest of the world for its martial efforts of the current and previous decade, it is still effectively invading other countries (Afghanistan, Iraq, etc.) in much the way that the imperialists are invading Africa in Marlow's novel. Moreover, many of the early efforts of this war that were waged under the auspices of former president George W. Bush were linked to the oil interests of his family and the pursuit of the oil that is in abundance in the Middle East (Phillips). Thus, it was not ivory that this president and the invading armies of his country desired, but another natural resource indigenous to a foreign region that required efforts strikingly similar to those of imperialism to access. This fact explains evidence relating to Bush's desire to invade Iraq prior to 9/11 (Baker). The principle point of criticism for such desires lies in the dishonorable intentions of despoiling the natural resource of a foreign land, which seemingly applies to both the novel and modern efforts of the U.S. military.
Perhaps the ultimate point of criticism of imperialism in this novel pertains to the Westerners regard for the natives. The superiority complex that fuels all imperialist desires is a tacit, implicit one, in which the invading forces can always justify their invasion and appropriation of indigenous resources by a variety of means. Typically these involve some sort of religious justification, intellectual one, and moral one to supplement what is in effect just overwhelming greed and innate ignorance (and disrespect) for how other cultures live life. In this regard, not even Marlow is bereft from a prejudiced viewpoint of non-Western cultures that validates the imperialist appetites of the Europeans and serves as one of the chief points of the author's criticism of this practice. When observing some of the natives Marlow thinks, "It was unearthly, and the men were -- No, they were not inhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst of it -- the suspicion of their not being inhuman. It would come slowly to one" (Marlow). This passage indicates that it is easier for Marlow to regard Africans as "inhuman" than to acknowledge the fact that these people even belong to the same species as him. This fact is indicative of a cultural arrogance that operates at the crux of all imperialism. This fact certainly applies to the overseas efforts of the U.S. In the Middle East. Urinating on a slain man is certainly indicative of a blatant disregard for him and a sense of superiority on the part of the one relieving himself. Thus, the regard for natives is another point of criticism for imperialism found in this novel and in contemporary society.
In summary, Conrad's chief criticism of imperialism as indicated in his novel The Heart of Darkness is that it brings out and demonstrates some of the more base tendencies…
This fact is further corroborated by the loss of the sense of humane that the aforementioned U.S. soldiers manifested and which Marlow illustrates in the aforementioned passage.
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