Heart of Darkness: Cruelty

David Yu

In Joseph Conrad\'s book Heart of Darkness the Europeans are cut off
from civilization, overtaken by greed, exploitation, and material interests
from his own kind. Conrad develops themes of personal power, individual
responsibility, and social justice. His book has all the trappings of the
conventional adventure tale - mystery, exotic setting, escape, suspense,
unexpected attack. The book is a record of things seen and done by Conrad
while in the Belgian Congo. Conrad uses Marlow, the main character in the book,
as a narrator so he himself can enter the story and tell it out of his own
philosophical mind. Conrad\'s voyages to the Atlantic and Pacific, and the
coasts of Seas of the East brought contrasts of novelty and exotic discovery.
By the time Conrad took his harrowing journey into the Congo in 1890, reality
had become unconditional. The African venture figured as his descent into hell.
He returned ravaged by the illness and mental disruption which undermined his
health for the remaining years of his life. Marlow\'s journey into the Congo,
like Conrad\'s journey, was also meaningful. Marlow experienced the violent
threat of nature, the insensibility of reality, and the moral darkness.
We have noticed that important motives in Heart of Darkness connect the
white men with the Africans. Conrad knew that the white men who come to Africa
professing to bring progress and light to "darkest Africa" have themselves been
deprived of the sanctions of their European social orders; they also have been
alienated from the old tribal ways.

"Thrown upon their own inner spiritual resources they may be utterly
damned by their greed, their sloth, and their hypocrisy into moral
insignificance, as were the pilgrims, or they may be so corrupt by
their absolute power over the Africans that some Marlow will
need to lay their memory among the \'dead Cats of Civilization.\'"
(Conrad 105.)

The supposed purpose of the Europeans traveling into Africa was to civilize the
natives. Instead they colonized on the native\'s land and corrupted the natives.

"Africans bound with thongs that contracted in the rain and cut to
the bone, had their swollen hands beaten with rifle butts until they
fell off. Chained slaves were forced to drink the white man\'s
defecation, hands and feet were chopped off for their rings, men were
lined up behind each other and shot with one cartridge, wounded
prisoners were eaten by maggots till they die and were then thrown
to starving dogs or devoured by cannibal tribes." (Meyers 100.)

Conrad\'s "Diary" substantiated the accuracy of the conditions described in Heart
of Darkness: the chain gangs, the grove of death, the payment in brass rods, the
cannibalism and the human skulls on the fence posts. Conrad did not exaggerate
or invent the horrors that provided the political and humanitarian basis for
his attack on colonialism. The Europeans took the natives\' land away from them
by force. They burned their towns, stole their property, and enslaved them.
George Washington Williams stated in his diary,

"Mr. Stanley was supposed to have made treaties with more than four
hundred native Kings and Chiefs, by which they surrendered their
rights to the soil. And yet many of these people declare that they
never made a treaty with Stanley, or any other white man; their lands
have been taken away from them by force, and they suffer the greatest
wrongs at the hands of the Belgians." (Conrad 87.)

Conrad saw intense greed in the Congo. The Europeans back home saw
otherwise; they perceived that the tons of ivory and rubber being brought back
home was a sign of orderly conduct in the Congo. Conrad\'s Heart of Darkness
mentioned nothing about the trading of rubber. Conrad and Marlow did not care
for ivory; they cared about the exploration into the "darkest Africa." A
painting of a blindfolded woman carrying a lighted torch was discussed in the
book. The background was dark, and the effect of the torch light on her face
was sinister. The oil painting represents the blind and stupid ivory company,
fraudulently letting people believe that besides the ivory they were taking out
of the jungle, they were, at the same time, bringing light and progress to the
jungle. Conrad mentioned in his diary that missions were set up to
Christianize the natives. He did not include the missions into his book
because the land was forcibly taken away from the natives, thus bringing in a
church does not help if the natives have no will. Supplies brought in