Heart of Darkness: the Evil of Imperialism

Nathan Scott
Miss Hughes
Sinclair English Period 3
11 December 2013
A Literary Analysis of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness
During the late 19th Century, the African Congo was a place of sorrow, pain, and misery for the natives. Under the imperial rule of European nations, the native Africans were enslaved and forced to work. Millions of Africans died during this time, especially in the Congo. Joseph Conrad went to the Congo, intending to bring the light of civilization to the people of the Congo, but instead he witnessed first-hand the destruction of European imperialism. His book Heart of Darkness is his portrayal of this destruction, which is embodied in the character Mr. Kurtz and the Company he works for.
In Part One of Heart of Darkness, Marlow, Joseph’s semi-autobiographical narrator, tells of his first contact with the darkness in the Congo. At one point in his journey, he sees a group of African workers which he describes as “[b]lack shapes [that crouch, lie, sit] between the trees…clinging to the earth…half effaced in dim light, in all attitudes of pain, abandonment, and despair” (Conrad 83). This paints a gruesome picture of workers that were treated without even a modicum of humanity. According to Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost, these characters are directly relatable to the natives that were made to work on King Leopold’s railroad (143).
The destruction of Imperialism was not just limited to the natives of the colonized land. Its malicious reach stretched to the “pure” hearts of the colonizers. Conrad demonstrates this moral deterioration using the antagonist, Mr. Kurtz. Mr. Kurtz started as a normal, if not extraordinary, man. He then set his sights on the Congo in an attempt to gain power. While his title as a “universal genius” (Conrad 157) is repeated, almost religiously, throughout the first two parts of the book. It is slowly revealed that he has darker side that has taken over him. It is not until Part 3 that Conrad brings...