Heart of Darkness Analysis
Telling the story of Charles Marlow’s journey to the Congo Free-State via the Congo River, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness creates a parallel between the darkness found in Africa and that which is found in London. In the 1800s, European superpowers set out to bring civilization and advanced society to the “Dark Continent” of Africa. Imperialist nations believed they were inherently superior to these primitive savages, and that it was their responsibility to improve the natives’ quality of life by integrating western cultural practices and beliefs. However, by presenting his story in the shadow of London, rife with crime, pollution, and the exploitation of workers for profit, Conrad is able to make a clear connection between the savagery the imperialists found in Africa and the savagery that existed on their own doorsteps.
Conrad also presents the reader with considerable insight into the human condition, specifically as it pertains to the idea of behavior for selfish gains and behavior for the betterment of others. Through Marlow’s experiences, he sees hypocrisy on display when comparing the cutthroat, self-serving actions of those imperialists working directly within African society and the moral principles by which they claim to derive justification for their actions. While they say they are taking great personal risk to bring advancement to primitive peoples, they are instead using this new role as a means of securing additional power and authority for themselves. They are not selflessly giving of themselves, but are instead doing what they think is always in their own best interests, further displaying the hypocrisy not only of the individual, but also of western society.