The Rape of Africa in Heart of Darkness
At the threshold of the twentieth century, when exploitation of colonies was still widely spread and the problem of abuse of natural resources and native inhabitants was largely ignored, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness invites us to reflect on and ask ourselves when does progress and expansion become rape.
Joseph Conrad presents us with this, unfortunately, ageless book. It sheds a bright light onto the inherit darkness of our human inclinations, stripped of pretense, in the middle of the jungle where those savage tendencies are provided with a fertile ground.
The combination of greed, climate and the demoralizing effect of frontier life brought out the worst in people. They were raping the land, practically stealing the ivory from the natives, whom they were treating like slaves, or even worse than slaves, for slaves in America were an expensive commodity and therefore it was in the best interest of ...view middle of the document...
These moribund shapes were free as air - and nearly as thin. (Conrad 14)
The natives were cannibals, but in contrast, had higher moral standards than some of the raiders, who were plundering their country and even though they were paid "royally", for their services, with useless wire with which they were expected to procure food, they did not stoop so low as to threaten the lives of the pilgrims, even when they were bordering on starvation.
They had given them every week three pieces of brass wire, about nine inches long; and the theory was they were to buy their provisions with that currency in river-side villages. You can see how that worked. There were either no villages, or the people were hostile, or the director, who like the rest of us fed out of tins, with an occasional old he-goat thrown in, didn’t want to stop the steamer for some more or less recondite reasons. So, unless they swallowed the wire itself, or made loops of it to snare the fishes with, I don’t see what good their extravagant salary could be to them. ... - ... Why in the name of all the gnawing devils of hunger they didn’t go for us - they were thirty to five - and have a good tuck in for once, amazes me now when I think of it. (Conrad 37)
Technology and progress, in contrast with simple existence of the indigenous inhabitants of the land, afforded the colonists a God-like powers over the natives. Hidden behind a veil of lofty ideas like expansion and progress, colonists were committing unspeakable atrocities, not unlike the treatment of Native Americans in our own country.
But there is hope. At the time when racism wasn’t even a pejorative term and belittling attitude toward the "savages" was just an ordinary fact of life, you can see the change taking place in Marlow’s attitude toward the natives; he misses his helmsman, a man, whom he called "improved specimen" (Conrad 33), who was watching the steam boiler of the boat and who was killed by Kurtz follower’s spear. Marlow surprises himself thinking of this man as his equal.
Many of us, today, would benefit from just such a change of outlook. It seems as though time is standing still and even today, we are ridden with hate and prejudice toward each other based on foolish ideas and ideals.