Imperialism in Heart of Darkness

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Updated: Sep 13, 2023
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“Throughout “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad, a sense of imperialism is present. Imperialism is defined as “acquiring and holding colonies and dependencies” according to google. Through the novel many of the travels Marlow encounters contain imperialist ideas and also in the way people are treated. Conrad’s novel takes place in the final years of the nineteenth century which follows Marlow one of the main characters as he travels through Africa on the Congo River. Heart of darkness tells the story of mankind’s and humanity through a hero’s journey as well as Biblical allusions to the fall.

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To Marlow, the Congo River represents greed, violence and evil all around. Just like in the Bible, the Congo River can be an allusion to earth just as Jesus was sent down to earth to save the people from sin and slavery. Marlow is to meet a man named Kurtz who went to Africa in search of Ivory and at the same time bring civilization and free the African natives from oppression. The Congo River is symbolic of the imperialism of the European countries have on the African natives. As Marlow describes it in Conrad’s “ Heart Of Darkness”, the river as “a coiled snake ready to attack when one least expects it” which is representative of the oppressed Africans who are forced to work in slave-like conditions for the Europeans as they take over parts of the continent. Just like in the Bible, God’s oppressed people were kept as slaves and controlled by the Romans. The Congo River also represents a place of darkness that appears like a snake with its head at the sea. Just like in the Bible in the story of the Garden of Eden, where the devil presented himself as a snake to Adam and Eve persuading them into eating the forbidden fruit. God told Adam and Eve not to eat of the fruit but nevertheless they did. Which relates to Kurtz as being at the head of the river. The capacity of evil was inherited from Adam “Romans 5:12,17, when Adam sinned, sin entered the entire human race.” Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.”

In the heart of darkness, Kurtz was not born a murderer but he was born with the capacity to murder and to commit others sins. There is different forms of sin and some are the lesser sins than others. Nevertheless, they are all not acceptable in God’s eyes but yet people continue to justify their sins. The Bible mentions about this very subject “Romans 1:18-21,25,26;18 But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who push the truth away from themselves. 19 For the truth about God is known to them instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. 20 From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. 21 Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. 25 Instead of believing what they knew was the truth about God, they deliberately chose to believe lies. 26 that is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires” (Bible).

Although Marlow shares many of the same prejudices as Europeans of his time, he has experienced enough of the world to begin to call to questions the white man’s imperialism. Marlow seemed to be like a prophet when he reached Africa by bringing enlightenment to the natives. As in biblical times, the apostles and many other prophets brought Christianity, enlightenment and hope to Gods people. Kurtz on the other hand, was like a Christ like figure in this novel due to the fact that he brought moral ideas to a place having followers who spread his word even after he had died. Just as in the Bible, Jesus brought good, peace, choices and teachings that his followers who believe in him will spread his word to the world after he died and beyond.

In “Heart of Darkness” Marlow says “I were about to set off for the center of the earth”. This foreshadows to the thought of death, pain and never ending suffering of “Hell”. Just like in the Bible, the Romans leaders brought death and suffering to Gods people by punishing and tried to kill them when they were set free in order to get back at God who freed them from oppression.

A Biblical allusion is also present throughout in the heart of Darkness book as when Marlow goes to France, in which he refers to the city as a “white sepulcher”. According to, “a sepulcher is some kind of tomb or relic holder, that is decorated on the outside and hollow in the center. The phrase “whited sepulcher” is an allusion to Matthew 23:27-28, which states “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” In the above Matthew verse allusion is calling the city and the European civilization it represents, hypocritical. This was also representative in the bible where all the religion elders, Pharisees and rabbis preached Christianity and righteousness but yet had a wicked thoughts and hypocritical thoughts to the point that they turn against Jesus and had him crucified.

In the Heart of Darkness novel, Joseph Conrad also suggest that people are pushed to their extremes by the environment and its surroundings, making them commit evil actions. The Bible says; “1 Corinthians 15:33.. Bad company corrupts good character” If you think about it the world is full of evil. People pretend to do good for the community when they are in the spotlight, but they have ulterior motive when they are actually looking out for their own self benefit. Like in the Heart of Darkness novel where is tells you about Kurtz having a successful ivory station in Africa , and the way he accomplish this was by raiding other tribes of their belongings. The Bible states that in “1 John 2:16, for the world offers only the lust for physical pleasure, the lust for everything we see, and pride in our own possessions. These are not from the Father. They are from this evil world.”

Kurtz “The horror! The horror” statement are the last words spoken by him in Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” Although Marlow who is present in the room to hear these words, they were not meant for him. Kurtz says these words in a stupor like state as if he was describing something he was watching on a screen, but really in reality it’s what he is seeing. “The true meaning of these last words are reflected in Marlow’s observations of Kurtz. Kurtz is a very corrupt man with a big ego who has done many questionable things during his time in the Congo.”(Lipika) Without a softening of their hearts with God’s help people just continue to cope with the unfair treatment of man kind.

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Imperialism in Heart of Darkness. (2020, Apr 23). Retrieved from