Novella’s Controversial Theme Satisfies

Vinny Arciaga, Staff writer

Woven into one’s own dark heart is a battle between savagery and civility.

In 1890, Joseph Conrad was a seaman in Belgium’s Congo Free State, now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Twelve years later, his novella, “Heart of Darkness,” was published, reflecting on his experiences in Africa. Fast forward and seniors today, all across the country are reading his “most famous, finest and enigmatic story,” as cited by the Encyclopedia Britannica.

The protagonist, Marlow, is a seaman that goes to Africa to learn about the whereabouts of an employee, Kurtz, and how he has been obtaining a vast amount of ivory.

The biggest argument that Conrad makes is that colonization is dehumanizing. Spoiler alert! While Kurtz is obtaining his ivory in the Congo Free State, he is manipulating an African tribe. When someone gets in Kurtz’s way, he kills them and displays their heads on stakes. It opens the readers’ eyes and makes one realize how inhumane colonization was, not only for the African natives, but for the Europeans as well.

Conrad’s language is rather difficult to read because of the advanced vocabulary, with words such as “ascetic” and “abscond”. In addition, Conrad’s syntax is lengthy when describing the African scenery. Those with a shorter attention span would have a difficult time reading.

The hardest part about reading this book though isn’t Conrad’s language, though. It’s the way that the natives are depicted Marlow refers to them as “savages” upon sight and are described as “dogs with trousers”. Simultaneously, the natives are viewed as mysterious and hard working—certainly more-so than the colonists. Even though Marlow seemed more open-minded towards the natives than his other Caucasian crewmates, one can still infer that he sees them as inferior.

“Heart of Darkness” is often considered controversial due to its racist portrayal of the natives. Although the way Marlow and the other Europeans describe the natives comes off as racist, it perfectly captures the social norm for people during Conrad’s time and Marlow’s open-mindedness shows Conrad’s subtle criticism of imperialism.

Despite the difficult language and racist descriptions, “Heart of Darkness” deserves four out of five stars. The novel clearly makes a statement on how the colonization of Africa made Europeans savage rather than the popularized opinion that Europeans civilized them.