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Is Heart Of Darkness A Text Which Criticises Or Endorses Imperialism?

2231 words - 9 pages

Is Heart of Darkness a text which criticises or endorses imperialism?A fair answer to this question requires a review of imperialism and the associated notions of prejudice and racism. Completeness also depends upon understanding the setting of Heart of Darkness: the region now called the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the period around 1900. A version of Conrad's work first appeared in the Blackwood's Magazine in 1899, but was published as a novella in 1902.Imperialism is the political theory of the acquisition and maintenance of large, multi-ethnic states held together by coercion. This model is typified by the ancient empires of Rome and Greece. Subject states were conquered and ...view middle of the document...

Leopold's reaction to this reluctance was to establish the Association Internationale du Congo with himself as sole shareholder. Through this ostensibly philanthropic organisation, he personally controlled a region 76 times as large as Belgium and enjoyed the entire proceeds from Congolese rubber production. What followed was a period of brutality and atrocity of an intensity and scale unrivalled by any other colony on the continent at the time. (The recent genocide in Rwanda could be considered.)From 1903, international pressure was brought to bear by individuals such as Roger Casement, the British consul to the Congo (hanged in 1916 as a traitor for his role in trying to win German support for Irish independence); Edmund Morel, a former shipping agent and founder of the British Congo Reform Association; popular authors Mark Twain and Arthur Conan Doyle. In 1908, the Belgian government annexed the Congo Free State and took over its administration as the Belgian Congo. The BBC documentary, White King, Red Rubber, Black Death, which revisited the abject misery, horrors and deaths of an estimated five to ten million deaths under Leopold was screened in 2003.The role of Joseph Conrad and the timely publication of his novella Heart of Darkness in 1902 is the subject of debate even today.The immediate temptation in examining the question of Conrad and imperialism would be to look to Conrad's most well-known critic: Chinua Achebe and his 1977 lecture at the University of Massachusetts. His controversial article "An Image of Africa" has spawned almost 30 years of agreement and counter-argument. However, Achebe was attacking Conrad on the grounds of racism; not of being pro-imperialist and therefore direct support cannot be found in this direction. Had this essay been an assessment of racism, not imperialism, the resulting essay would be quite different. Whether colonisation implies racism will be examined in due course.Conrad himself travelled up the Congo River in 1890 and his observations leave no doubt to his reaction to what he saw. In his diary he wrote of witnessing "the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience and geographical exploration". Given that the Congo Free State was the most extreme example of imperialism, it is possible that in Heart of Darkness Conrad was condemning Belgian brutality, but not imperialism per se.Conrad introduces the notion of colonisation early in Heart of Darkness. On the deck of the Nellie anchored in the Thames, Marlow recalls the arrival in Britain by the legions of the Roman Empire: "I was thinking of very old times, when the Romans first came here, nineteen hundred years ago." While it appears that he may be preparing to suggest that periodic subjugation of one nation by another is the normal course of history, Marlow introduces a distinction: "They were no colonists ... They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force -- nothing to boast of, when you have it,...

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