Among the causes of 19th century imperialism in Europe, the researchers traditionally identify economic and political power. However, this paper proves that The Heart of Darkness provides deeper reasons, including mental sets and beliefs that determine behavior of Europeans and Africans.
In the beginning of the book, the position of Europeans unveils in scene, where Marlow interprets the actions of Ancient Romans:
“Mind,” he began again, lifting one arm from the elbow, the palm of the hand outwards, so that, with his legs folded before him, he had the pose of a Buddha preaching in European clothes and without a lotus-flower – “Mind, none of us would feel exactly like this. What saves us is efficiency – the devotion to efficiency. But these chaps were not much account, really.” (Conrad 5)
Marlow was compared to Buddha in Europe, which means that Europeans attempted to seem wise and enlightened, and this is evident in many acts. However, the most terrifying thing is that Europeans approve the act of worshipping to ideas. For instance, in the same passage Marlow proves the desire to follow idea even if someone gets hurt: “what redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretense but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea – something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to” (Conrad 5). Though Marlow distinguishes the motives of the conquests from the motives of colonization, determined by efficiency, it is important to notice that Marlow’s belief in efficiency is following the idea, which implies victims. Thus, political causes of colonization are evident, including the fact that both conquerors and colonists wanted to gain power in order to take as much as possible from those, who are too weak to resist.
This passage also witnesses desire of Europeans to achieve dominance. Marlow agrees that, in fact, conquest was a cruel attempt to not only get more power, but also superiority over darkness. For instance, Marlow argues that “the conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much” (Conrad 5). It allows asserting that the desire of dominance over diversity drives new Imperialism in Europe. However, psychological reason of this colonization is fear of diversity, awareness of own weakness and unacceptance of darkness in own minds and hearts. Marlow said that the Romans should be respected because they wanted to “tackle a darkness” (Conrad 5), though the actions of Europeans in the 19th century seem to demonstrate fear and impotence in dealing with own darkness.
The consequences of colonization for both the Europeans and Africans are mentioned in the novel as well. When the colonists approached the earth, it was unearthy: “the earth seemed unearthly. We are accustomed to look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster, but there – there you could look at a thing monstrous and free. It was unearthly, and the men were” (Conrad 13). As a result, Conrad wrote that these people felt ugly after they recognized what they did and were strong enough to face it. At first, the Europeans believed that Africans were half-devil and half-child, and, therefore, easily justified their actions in relation to uncivilized people. However, Conrad helps to understand that Europeans have lost their own face and humanity, as their acts cannot be described as acts of civilized person. The Europeans realized the bitter consequences of their intentions to tackle darkness and came to own devil nature.
The Beauty and the Sorrow Englund
To demonstrate the connection between individual’s social status, gender, education and age I have chosen five people, who are both similar and completely different. All of them are educated, intelligent and noble: Laura de Turczynowicz, Richard Stumpf, Michael Corday, Andrei Lobanov-Rostovsky, and Flourance Farmborough. These people come through severe tests of war, including the moments of both joy and suffering, and the way they pass through war is discussed below. It is worth emphasizing the role of ideology and propaganda that may make people blind despite their intelligence and education.
Laura de Turczynowicz, American wife of a Polish aristocrat, “has a sheltered, comfortable existence. She screams at the sight of a mouse. She is frightened of thunder. She is modest and rather shy. She scarcely knows how to cook” (Englund 212). However, her peaceful perfect summer in a cozy house ended in the morning on August 2, when she woke up because of “violent banging” sound, after which she was told that war had been declared. Laura did not understand the war; she compared it to ‘a natural catastrophe’, incomprehensible tragedy that could not be avoided. She realized that the wartime was characterized by initial terror transformation into strange euphoria (Englund 407). Before the war, nobody though that their people can be distinguished as subjects in the eyes of enemy, though the war still seemed to be an abstraction that was far away from Laura. Until her husband was called to join the war, she was still living a pleasant life, though she helped to build a private hospital. She did not believe in war, but she helped as much as she could. Moreover, she did not run away from the scenes of suffering and death of injured and dying soldiers. She saw cruelty, unfairness and absurdity of war, when she saw an object that did not remind a human being, but was talking in educated Polish (Englund 440). She recognized that death and suffering surrounded her, and she could not escape from this horrible sight. When her family was having a dinner, the bomb fell in their house, starting the fire. However, Laura was trying to save gold icons, jewelries and silk stockings in “a beautiful autumn day” (Englund 554). She was a delicate, educated, beautiful woman who always lived in comfort, so the war was attempting to break her.
Richard Stumpf, young German High Seas Fleet seaman, was an avowed nationalist and a member of a Christian trade union. He was very glad when the war began, as it allowed God to punish envy and greedy England via the German forces. He was intelligent, musical, reading a lot, but chauvinistic and prejudiced person (Englund 318). Richard was influenced by powerful racist ideology that dominated his thought despite his intelligence and erudition. He views war from the position of young enthusiastic person, influenced by continuous propaganda. He was not cruel heartless man; however, destroying the enemy was a great virtue for Germans during wartime. Richard was not critical about the actions of his state and its enemies, since he knew that Germany was the greatest country selected by God to establish good on Earth. Therefore, he tried to do his best to help the Germans reach victory over the entire world, which seemed to be against Germany and Richard personally.
Michael Corday is a forty-five year old French civilian servant, who is “a friend of peace”, litterateur and a person, who disapproves the war and does not understand what is happening. He was a typical intellectual with a double life, who both needed his job and could not live alone. He believed in a progress and the greater happiness, however, these dreams did not help him to resist the horrors of war. This person faced numerous challenges working in the government. The stories, he had been told, were scaring him, he perceived the war to be unacceptable cruelty, reminding absurd.
Andrei Lobanov-Rostovsky is a young Russian army engineer, who loves French novels and history, but is made to be a lieutenant in the Guards. He was well-educated, hard-working and responsible person who was experiencing war in the age of twenty-two. When the author describes Andrei’s impressions, he uses metaphors and comparisons that demonstrate his rich vocabulary. Even when he was worried, exhausted and disoriented: “I had no maps and not the vaguest idea either of the country around me or of the spot where I actually was” (Englund 685). He is a responsible person, who is becoming even more accountable in critical moments of the war. He was so courageous that the war helped him to become even stronger, wiser and braver. He did not believe that the war was a best decision, but he did his job well and was as critical as he could.
Flourance Farmborough was a twenty-seven year old nurse from England in the army of Russia. Though she was a nurse, she did not witness death and severe illnesses until the war, since she was leading shelter and lived a quiet life. She was enthusiastic and inspired young woman, who wanted to contribute to the war via becoming a nurse (Englund 490). Florence felt unity and solidarity, she did her job with diligence and optimism: “the wounds will soon hill, the soldiers will soon be back in service, the war will be soon over” (Englund 501). The war was difficult but inspiring, and even though she could not communicate in Russian perfectly, she did her job well considering herself to be an “alien”.
It may be concluded that people perceived war according to their ideology, experience and intelligence. Some of them were improved by the war, more capable of surviving and responsible. However, intelligence and education do not determine people’s behaviors during the war, but their principles and values do.