Heart of Darkness Essay

Liz Harbaugh

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 work.

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.