Heart of Darkness Essay

Heart of Darkness Essay

Though Conrad did not learn English until
he was twenty-one, he still mastered the language and artfully uses it
in Heart of Darkness. One sentence of his is particularly striking, as
it sums up the views that he condemns throughout the novella. The accountant,
one of the first imperialists Marlow meets, says to him, "When one has
got to make correct entries, one comes to hate these savages—hate them
to the death." This sentence is a perfect example of the typical imperialistic
belief that Marlow denounces, and serves as a synecdoche for the entire

One important characteristic of imperialistic
belief is the impersonality that makes imperialism happen. The repetition
of the word "one" is significant because it shows that detachment. The
imperialists try to appease their consciences by making the natives less
than human. Marlow and Kurtz are both exceptions to this ideal, but in
contrasting ways. Kurtz uses fear to belittle the natives, but does not
take away their humanity. Marlow, however, considers the natives to be
humans and respects their work ethics and humanity. Both Kurtz and Marlow
in fact find great relationships with natives: Kurtz with his African mistress,
and Marlow with his helmsman, to whom he was "a devoted friend". This important
difference in attitude between Marlow and Kurtz and the typical imperialist
is an integral part of the novella.

The phrase "hate them to the death" also
shows the dehumanization of the native Africans. When looked at for its
literal meaning, this clause suggests that until the natives die, there
can be no emotion for them but hate. It is an easy ideal to follow, and
makes the complete oppression more easily forgiven for the imperialists.

Marlow, however, once again has a contrasting opinion. When he visits the
black grove of death, he feels pity for the men who are no longer human
enough to die in peace, but must remove themselves to a deserted place
where they cannot be downtrodden. The accountant is merely disturbed by
the presence of a dying man where he must make his "correct entries". This
passage shows the businesslike nature of imperialism once again, as the
numbers of the business are more important to the white men, excluding

Marlow, than the humanity of it.

This sentence serves as an embodiment of
the imperialist theory as whole, which Conrad attacks, through Marlow,
throughout the novella. Marlow wholeheartedly disagrees with the treatment
of the natives, because he has a strong belief in the importance of work
ethic and the sacredness of humanity, as shown by his sympathy for his
helmsman, and also for Kurtz’s Intended. The imperialists, such as the
manager and the accountant, have only a fickle loyalty to what or whoever
is the most profitable connection. Because of Marlow’s belief in the native’s
humanity, the imperialists throughout the novella condemn him.

Though this one sentence seems unimportant,
in fact it is an integral part of the novel. Conrad is displaying a simple,
easily understood theory that he then illustrates. Here, one of few times
in the story, Conrad avoids clouding his belief and makes a thorough examination
both plausible and, indeed, interesting. The accountant’s statement epitomizes
imperialistic beliefs which Conrad, in his sense of humanity, condemns.