20th Century Novels EssayTo what extent could Heart of Darkness be described as a disturbing novelthat reflects some of the major concerns of 20th Century fiction?Line: 5Due: 4th June 2004Joseph Conrad’s literary classic Heart of Darkness serves as a powerfulindictment of the hypocrisy of imperialism and the evils of racism. Itreflects the savage repressions carried out in the Congo by the Belgians inone of the largest acts of genocide committed up to that time (Brians,1998).
Typical of many of the other modernist literature produced in theearly decades of the twentieth century, Heart of Darkness is also as muchabout the human condition of alienation, loneliness and solitude as it isabout imperialism. We live in a world in which the consequences of nineteenth-century Europeanimperialism are still being felt. Primarily between 1880 and 1900 manyEuropean governments scrambled frantically for territory(Schmiechen,1999). During this age of imperialism, in the centre of the Africancontinent lay the newly colonised Belgian Congo, and the setting of thenovella Heart of Darkness. The issue of Imperialism is explored incomplicated ways in Heart of Darkness.
The central character of Marlowencounters many scenes of torture, cruelty, racist superiority and near-slavery, and this results in the book offering a harsh picture of colonialenterprise to the reader. The hypocrisy of imperialism is felt to some extent in the novella, for themost part amongst the characters of the pilgrims and cannibals. Thepilgrims of Heart of Darkness, although appear to be Christian, are notpilgrims in the religious sense but men from Central Station, who carrywooden staves wherever they go. They are obsessed with keeping up a veneerof civilization and proper conduct, and are motivated entirely by self-interest. They all want to be appointed to a station so that they can tradefor ivory and earn a commission, but none of them actually takes anyeffective steps toward achieving this goal: ” They beguiled the time bybackbitting and intriguing against each other in a foolish kind ofway.
. . They slandered and hated each other only on that account. ” (pg.
53-54). They despise the natives and treat them like animals, although intheir greed and ridiculousness they appear less than human themselves. Inan astounding lack of intelligence, the pilgrims attack the jungle,creating a cloud of smoke which blinds Marlow’s navigation: “The pilgrimshad opened with their Winchesters, and were simply squirting lead into thatbush. A deuce of a lot of smoke came up and slowly drove forward. .
. Icouldn’t see. . . ” (pg.
80) In another incident, the pilgrims throw thecannibals’ only source of food overboard in what “looked like a high-handedproceeding. “(pg. 75). In the novel the natives hired as the crew of the steamer are known as thecannibals, paradoxically they are surprisinglyreasonableandwelltempered. The leader of the group, in particular, seems to be intelligentand capable of ironic reflection upon his situation.
Marlow respects theirrestraint and their calm acceptance of adversity. “Fine fellows – cannibals- in their place. They were men one could work with, and I am grateful tothem. And, after all they did not eat each other before my face. ” (pg. 67).
Whilst narrating his story Marlow not only emphasises the savagery of thepilgrims by comparison with the “nobility” of the cannibals, extending thecontrast of civilization and savagery, but he also begins to indicate whatit is that deserves some measure of respect. The nearly impossible feat ofwithstanding hunger is accomplished by the savage cannibals through someinexplicable integrity: “No fear can stand up to hunger, no patience canwear it out, disgust simply does not exist where hunger is; and as tosuperstition, beliefs, and what you may call principles, they are less thanchaff in a breeze. Don’t you know the devilry of lingering starvation, itsexasperating torment, its black thoughts, its sombre and brooding ferocity?Well I do. It takes a man all his inborn strength to fight hunger properly. It’s really easier to face bereavement, dishonour, and the perdition ofones soul.
. . ” (pg. 76). Although they out number the pilgrims thirty men tofive, The cannibals continuously maintain a measure of self-restraint,choosing rather, to face near-starvation.
While Heart of Darkness offers a powerful condemnation of the hypocriticaloperations of imperialism and the paradoxical human nature, it alsoaddresses issues surrounding race that can be viewed as evenmoredisconcerting: “The prehistoric man was cursing us” (pg. 68). This commentreflects the European inclination to