'Heart of Darkness': Imperialism

Though European countries had been invading lesser developed countries for centuries, their involvement in other countries thrived in a period known as the Age of New Imperialism as their thirst for power grew. Author Joseph Conrad, in his novella Heart of Darkness, addresses this topic of imperialism in a social criticism of the European colonization in Africa. This literary piece was revolutionary during the time period, as it addressed the issue of the rampant racism, mistreatment, and destruction that European colonists brought to the African country Congo. The author portrays the corruption of imperialism through the development of one of the main characters, Kurtz, and his journey through the Congo jungle, thematic elements of darkness, and a melancholy style of writing.

Joseph Conrad provides a negative depiction of the European distortion of lesser developed countries through the cutthroat methods of Kurtz as he ventures through the Congo and the opposition he faces from protagonist Marlow. As a central figure in the novella, the character of Kurtz embodies the barbarity of European imperialism. Marlow satisfies the function of antagonizing Kurtz through skepticism the position of power that he holds as he views how far he will go in the mistreatment of the native Congo people in order to gain ivory. Marlow’s ambiguity toward the morality behind imperialism is displayed in his thought process surrounding Kurtz. When discussing Kurtz, Marlow states, “They only showed that Mr. Kurtz lacked restraint in the gratification of his various lusts, that there was something wanting in him – some small matter which, when the pressing need arose, could not be found under his magnificent eloquence” (Conrad 45). The quote not only divulges the authority that Kurtz possesses due to his appealing nature, but the abuse that occurs because of the “lacked restraint… of his various lusts”. During the Age of New Imperialism, European countries ranked the most powerful because they used their modern developments as a way to dominate third world countries who did not have such and take advantage of their resources. In this novella, the high-ranking position of authority Kurtz holds personifies the powerful entity of all European colonizers and his mistreatment of the native people for the ivory trade business exemplifies just a snippet of the extortion occuring due to imperialism. Asian Social Science additionally remarks on the issue, “… Kurtz yielded to their combined power by using his authority as deity to help him attain his goals… he was representative of the European colonizers, and his behavior represented the wills of what he belonged to” (Zhao 148). Through the characterization of Kurtz, author Joseph Conrad intends to simulate an idea of the atrocities of imperialism in order to expose an issue that at the time everyone had looked the other way to.

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'Heart of Darkness': Imperialism. (2021, Mar 16). Retrieved October 3, 2023 , from

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