Originally published as a three-part series in the Blackwood’s Magazine in 1899, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness gives an insight on the mindset of western colonizers during the turn of the 20th Century.
The wayward company agent Kurtz, the novella goes, mingles with the African natives of Congo and deteriorates from this contact, “beguiled beyond the bounds of permitted aspirations.” (If only he didn’t venture to befriend the natives in his obsession for more ivory… But he did and was infected by the horrors of the African jungle.)
Now the only way for him to be saved is for the storyteller, the sailor Marlow, to navigate a steamship through the River Congo and retrieve Kurtz from the “heart of darkness.” However, by then he has already fallen sick and eventually dies.
Kurtz should have waited for his colleagues to completely civilize those savage parts. Kurtz’s company – the colonial instrument for exploiting Congo of ivory and other material resources – one of it’s officials declared was after all “a beacon on the road towards better things, a centre for trade… for humanizing, improving, instructing.” (Their humanizing mission couldn’t have been more successful – look at Congo today!)
But while the African natives in the River Congo are castigated and characterized as “savages” and “non-humans” by the European characters, it’s amazing how these figures appear as the real savages. They subjugate the natives, loot their ivory, and even find time to sow intrigue against each other. Their insatiable appetite for profit leads them to a destructive rampage.
Interestingly, the same kind of Worldview is still prevalent today as epitomized by the outgoing US President George Bush. Just replace ivory with oil, “benevolent assimilation” and “civilizing mission” with “war against terror,” and “savages” with “terrorists” and you get the mindset of modern-day imperialists at the turn of the 21st Century.
Kurtz, in his dying moment, couldn’t have said it better: “The horror! The horror!” ■