Imperialism – The Main Theme of Heart
Imperialism refers to the colonial expansion practised by European allies during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The European imperialism in Africa had a gloomy touch in its nature which is vividly expressed by Conrad in “Heart of Darkness”.
Initially, the Europeans entered into Africa “for weaning those ignorant millions from their horrid ways”.
What Marlow, the narrator of the story, saw, in reality, was totally different and shocking. There was a sheer waste of resources all around the country. He felt himself in Africa as if he were “in a gloomy circle of some inferno”. The following incidents clearly present the real face of the colonizers and help us understand fairly well the European imperialism.
During his voyage to the inner station of Africa, Marlow observes a group of six black-men, walking slowly, with baskets full of soil in their hands. The black rags were “wound round their loins, and the short ends waggled behind to and fro like tails”. This presentation of the native Africans shows that for the Europeans they were not any better than dogs. They were deprived of the basic rights of workers thus living a life of slavery having no freedom at all.
Moreover, this group was also called “criminals” by the Europeans. How ironic is the situation that the people who did not even have control over their life had been referred to as “criminals” and “the outraged law”.
Behind this group, a white man was walking with a gun in his hand. He was the incharge of this helpless team. The irony in this incident is that six natives were controlled by a single outsider.
In another episode, Marlow tells the story of a contract between some cannibals and the director of Marlow’s steamer. The cannibals were hired to push the steamer off the sandbags for the period of six months. They were paid only three pieces of brass wire every week. The theory behind this was that where to purchase their provisions with this brass wire in the river side villages. However, the brass wire was useless to them as there were either no villages or the director was not ready to stop the ship for the sake of cannibals.
Earlier, these cannibals had a little stock of rotten hippo-meat, which could not last very long and they were growing increasingly hungry. Furthermore, some Europeans also threw out a considerable quantity of the meat overboard as they could not resist breathing such a dead hippo-meat.
In the meanwhile, some native Africans tried to attack the steamer. At this moment the head of the cannibals expressed his desire before Marlow that they wanted to eat these attackers so as to redeem their appetite. On this request, Marlow came to know their pathetic situation and thought of their ill-condition caused by persistent hunger and starvation. Therefore he concluded by saying “he and his chaps must be very hungry”.
The unsympathetic behaviour of the Europeans towards the natives and cannibals shows that they had forgotten the mission for which they were in Africa. Instead of bringing civilization, they came up with cruelty, injustice and unrest.
Apart from this immense cruelty, they were grabbing the real resources of the country. The ivory was very much precious and they sent it back to their native countries in enormous quantity. All the traders and agents including Mr Kurtz, the main character of the novel, who arrived there for the purpose of civilizing the Africans turned into savages and materialized their lust for ivory. This is what Marlow comments on saying “to tear treasure out of the bowels of the land was their desire, with no more moral purpose at the back of it than there is in burglars breaking into a safe”.
Even those who were equipped with some moral ideas, like Mr Kurtz, turned into imperialist characters when they enjoyed complete power with no social checks.