Hypocrisy of imperialism in heart of darkness essay


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Genocide and the Romantic: The Characterization of Marlow in Conrad's Heart of Darkness

Just as important, though, was the fact that Conrad chose a genre of fiction——the novella——to convey his message, albeit in a decidedly unconventional fashion. Apparently, the dual-narration structure of Heart of Darkness ——with Marlow relating his story to his friends aboard the Nellie on the Thames , one of whom narrates the novella itself——was necessitated by the dictates of Blackwood's Magazine , which first published the piece Charters However, Conrad takes what could have been a limitation on his creativity and transforms it into the very fulcrum on which the narrative turns: namely, the ambiguousness of Marlow's nature.

Instead, he realized the possibilities that only fiction could afford him, for one finds Conrad's critique not so much as many suppose in what Marlow describes but in the character of Marlow himself. Truly, the nominal protagonist of Heart of Darkness stands in for the hypocrisy of an age. Ultimately, Marlow becomes complicit in the genocide and the madness in the Congo , choosing to conceal what he has discovered in Africa to protect the naivete of a lady——Victorian ideals of propriety stretched to conceal even the most heinous of crimes.

If from nothing else, one begins to sense Conrad's implicit criticism of Marlow in the character's extreme detachment from the atrocities around him. Indeed, at times Marlow appears so oddly unaffected by the brutality he witnesses in the Congo that the reader tends to wonder about his sanity. Note, most strikingly, Marlow's description of his first extended view of Kurtz's compound. Marlow's detachment from his experiences comes to the fore again, and perhaps even more fully, in his final confrontation with Kurtz. Before Marlow lies a man slipping towards death, a man whom he has traveled hundreds of miles to meet, whose voice and ideas have come to obsess him.

And yet, Marlow views the whole affair in an almost clinical manner; once again, human suffering remains for him a remote concept.


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Throughout Heart of Darkness Conrad plays with our expectations as readers, portraying Marlow as apparently capable of genuine emotion, only to reveal the heartlessness beneath that exterior. Perhaps the most striking instance of this approach comes as Marlow recounts the aftermath of the attack on the steamer.

Truly, in these passages Marlow seems to reveal a basic humanity, sadly recalling the bloodied remains of his native associate. Perhaps you will think it passing strange this regret for a savage who was no more account than a grain of sand in a black Sahara.

The Hypocrisy of Imperialism in "Heart of Darkness" - WriteWork

Well, don't you see, he had done something, he had steered; for months I had him at my back——a help——an instrument. It was a kind of partnership. He steered for me——I had to look after him, I worried about his deficiencies, and thus a subtle bond had been created which I only became aware of when it was suddenly broken.

The life of a human reduced to the utility of a nautical tool; one wonders if Marlow would have felt any more remorse had the ship's compass gone missing, or if some particularly useful maps had been blown overboard.

A Quick Literary Analysis Review

Of course, one might argue that Conrad, far from critiquing his main character, only seeks to reflect the reality of men like Marlow through such a characterization. Indeed, experience can sometimes lead a person to seem detached from events which appear to the novice as uniquely horrifying. However, Conrad goes on to criticize Marlow by portraying him as not only lacking in empathy, but also as being a hypocrite, taking part in the Victorian civilization he so vehemently condemns.

Marlow claims to be a man of experience and skill, decrying the great criminal waste of men and material he sees upon arriving to Belgian Africa. And yet, in later passages Marlow is only too glad to praise the Company's nicely quaffed accountant, a man whose elegant accouterments remain just as useless and incongruous as the French bombardment.

It might be argued, of course, that Marlow himself makes these comments with a keen sense of sarcasm or irony. He is a romantic disguised as a cynic——scratch a little and his hard-bitten exterior, his emphasis on the truth and his willingness to reveal the crimes in Africa , crumbles beneath a love of country and the need to protect that most important of commodities: a young woman's virtue.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad - Summary & Analysis

In a more fundamental sense, that Marlow even finds himself able to convey his story at such length to the men aboard the Nellie stands as perhaps the clearest expression of his Victorian ideals and his overriding romanticism. Again, the dual-narration structure becomes important in Conrad's conception of the story, allowing the author to conveniently limit how much he chooses to disclose about Marlow's true nature.

After all, if Marlow were the sole narrator, his hypocritical comments about imperialism made directly to the reader would be too much, a too facile revelation about his personality and beliefs. And yet, either possibility remains for Conrad an indictment of Marlow.

The unnamed narrator sits aboard a pleasure ship called the Nellie, along with four other men, including Marlow. The five men are held together by the bonds of the sea, yet are restless and meditative aboard the ship, waiting for something to happen.

Shakespeare 's Heart Of Darkness

As darkness begins to fall, the men recall the great ships and explorers that have set forth from the Thames on voyages of trade and adventure, often never to return. Suddenly, Marlow remarks that the very region they had been admiring, "'has also been one of the dark places of the earth.


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  5. This seems to be an odd statement, as the conversation about famous British explorers and their glorious voyages was being conducted in a celebratory tone. Referring to these seamen as "knights-errant" implies that they promoted the splendour of Great Britain, expanded knowledge of the globe, while contributing to the civilization and enlightenment of mankind.

    While the narrator expresses the common European belief that imperialism is a glorious and worthy enterprise, Marlow contradicts this convention by conjuring images of Britain's past, when it was not the heart of civilization but the savage end of

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