Depiction of natives in heart of darkness: Among the most powerful and bizarre images in colonial discourse is that of the black cannibals. In Heart of Darkness the well-known theme is adopted in order to make the setting of the narrative more realistic. The best part of Marrows crew consists of cannibals who help him in his mission up the Congo River: I don t pretend to say that steamboat floated all the time. More than once she had to wade for a bit, with twenty cannibals splashing around and pushing.
We had enlisted some of these chaps on the way for a crew. Fine allows – cannibals – in their place. They were men one could work with, and I am grateful to them. And, after all, they did not eat each other before my face: they had brought along a provision Of hippo-meat, which went rotten, and made the mystery of the wilderness stink in my nostrils. (67) But how does Marrow know that these people are man-eaters in reality?
Surely he does not see them practicing cannibalism since “they did not eat each other before (his) face”. And in his whole journey he does not come across even a single instance of cannibalism. And when the boat has grounded to a halt on he bank and these “cannibals” are very hungry he wonders why do they not attack the whole crew: “l might be eaten by them before long” . He interprets their gestures, looks and murmurs as signs of their cannibalistic intentions, but this interpretation is not based on clear evidence.
It seems that cannibals are defined not by the practices and customs which they have been observed performing – not, then, by their own deeds – but by the representations of European travelers and colonists. Heart of Darkness is part of a colonial discourse in which the African is represented by the European as “savage”, exotic”, “cannibal”, “primitive” and so on. In Henry Stanley Through the Dark Continent, a similar line of representation and proof is followed.
In his account of the experiences in Congo the author writes: Evidences of cannibalism were numerous in the human and “shook” skulls that grinned on many poles, and the bones that were freely scattered in the neighborhood, near the village garbage heaps and the river banks, where one might suppose hungry canoe-men to have enjoyed a cold collation on an ancient matron’s arm. As the most positive and downright evidence, in my opinion, of this odious practice , was the thin forearm of a person that was picked up near a fire, with certain scorched ribs which might have been tossed into the fire after being gnawed.
It is true that it is but circumstantial evidence, yet we accepted them as indubitable proofs. Besides, we had been taunted with remarks that we would furnish them with meat supplies – for the words meat and to-day have but slight dialectic difference in many languages. Faculty indicates in The Archaeology of Knowledge that “madness” does not exist as an idea or concept until a discourse of madness is formed, and deadness is produced as the object of study. Cannibalism, in this way, is used by colonial discourse in order to define the native as savage and hence to justify the idea of European civilization, enlightenment and progress.
The native population and the landscape of the Congo are represented in the novel as projection of the European self, as a forgotten, prehistoric past, out of which the European man and civilization have emerged: We were wanderers on prehistoric earth, on an earth that wore the aspect of an unknown planet. We could have fancied ourselves the first of men taking secession of an accursed inheritance, to be subdued at the cost of profound anguish and excessive toil.
But suddenly, as we struggled round a bend, there would be a glimpse of rush walls, of peaked grass-roofs, a burst of yells, a whirl of black limbs, a mass of hands clapping, of feet stamping, of bodies swaying, of eyes rolling, under the droop of heavy and motionless foliage. The steamer toiled along slowly on the edge of a black and incomprehensible frenzy. The prehistoric man was cursing us, praying to us, welcoming us – who could tell? We were cut off from the comprehension of our surroundings; e glided past like phantoms, wondering and secretly appalled, as sane men would be before an enthusiastic outbreak in a madhouse.
We could not understand because we were too far and could not remember, because we were traveling in the night of first ages, of these ages that are gone, leaving hardly a sign -? and no memories. The black here is represented as contemporary ancestor, as physical animal, as barely human body without intellect, and as the landscape is anthropomorphic, its inhabitants become something less than human, a “living” part of the jungle. In this passage the dative is contained into a European representation, being Rupee’s prehistory, a part of an incomprehensible past from which the civilized European is cut off and which has forgotten.
He is the sane looking at “an enthusiastic outbreak in a madhouse” and he has the authority, the power to represent, to be himself only who speaks about the native, incorporating these representations into a colonial discourse which in turn produces the idea of the European being at a more advanced state of intelligence and ability than the African since the later has not emerged yet from prehistory. At the same mime, the primitive native symbolizes a past phase of the historical evolution of Western civilization and in a sense he can be seen as living evidence of the process of this evolution.
This section contains many instances of contradictory language, reflecting Marrows difficult and uncomfortable position. The steamer, for example, “tears slowly along” the riverbank: “to tear’ usually indicates great speed or haste, but the oxymoron addition of “slowly/’ immediately strips the phrase of any discernible meaning and makes it ridiculous. Marrow’s companions aboard the steamer prove equally radically. The “pilgrims” are rough and violent men. The “cannibals,” on the other hand, conduct themselves with quiet dignity: although they are malnourished, they perform their jobs without complaint.
Indeed, they even show flashes of humor, as when their leader teases Marrow by saying that they would like to eat the owners of the voices they hear coming from the shore. The combination of humane cannibals and bloodthirsty pilgrims, all overseen by a manager who manages clandestinely rather than openly, creates an atmosphere of the surreal and the absurd. Thus, it is not reprising when the ship is attacked by Stone Age weaponry (arrows and spears), and it is equally appropriate that the attack is not repelled with bullets but by manipulating the superstitions and fears of those ashore-?simply by blowing the steamers whistle.
The primitive weapons used by both sides in the attack reinforce Marrows notion that the trip up the river is a trip back in time. Marrows response to the helmsman’s death reflects the general atmosphere of contradiction and absurdity: rather than immediately mourning his right-hand man, Marrow changes his socks and shoes. As Marrow travels down the large unnamed river to his destination, he begins to see the effect of stasis on the African people: malnourished tribesmen march listlessly on the shores, “black shadows of disease and starvation. Conrad not so subtly insinuates that this is caused by progress, and that the success of Europe is founded on the blood and backs of those in the past. As Marrow heads up to the river, closer to his destination, he notices two main things: the signs of society and civilization in any form begin to dwindle (less roads, less people, more animals), and that people within his crew seem restless, as f they know something more than they’re letting on. After discovering an abandoned hut and a mysterious seaman’s book filled with cipher, Marrow moves even further into the wild, noting “the rest of the world was nowhere. When the crew hears an ” inhuman” shriek outside the flatboat, the rush outside and fights a small skirmish with tribesmen on the shore. Marrow’s crew, consisting mostly of starving natives, makes a not-so-funny joke about catching the offending tribesmen and eating them. Here Marrow begins to realize the laws Of man are just pieces Of paper, but they were formed in the diddle of rivers just like this – and can be rescinded just as quickly. After the skirmish, the assistant manager leading Marrow to Kurt laments that Kurt is probably gone now.
Conrad takes a moment to mock the Europeans method of handling the Africans – noting Kurt was hired by the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs to make a report on said customs. Marrow also learns the reason for the attack – the savages are afraid that he is there to forcibly remove Kurt. Finally, Marrow arrives at Quartz’s camp. Here, he meets the man – and in another excellent extended metaphor, we can see he difference between the Europeans distant representation and the real thing. Kurt is strong, stubborn, and obviously crazy.
He is very sick, just having gotten over yet another fever. We see that the world is physically changing him, as well as changing his mentality. “l had immense plans,” Kurt cries out. He seems to know that he was trapped in two worlds – the world where grasping what is yours is always approved, and the Inevitable shock of being out of one’s element. With his dying gasps, he mutters, “The horror, the horror” a cryptic remark, Concord’s epiphany of the history of man, the brutish ND short self-destruction of Hobbes fully realized in the world without order.
Marrow returns to the coast, but his experiences leave him forever stunted and suspicious of the motives of modern man. He equates the two together man in his natural state and in his tweed jacket – and he notes no real difference. Marrow also begins to hesitantly appreciate the sacrifices certain men have made in order to force progress on people. “This is the reason why affirm that Kurt was a remarkable man. He had something to say. He said it. ” Marrow (and perhaps Conrad) believe that control and domination are the only evolutionary ingredients for progress.
At the end, Conrad makes further parallels between Kurt and Jesus, with many of his tribal followers doubting that he is gone forever (“l cannot believe he will never be back again”) and claiming his death had been a sacrifice so that they may remember what they are living for. The first type of darkness that Kurt must conquer is one of ignorance that surrounds the Europeans in regard to the African natives. Prior to Quartz’s voyage, he is part of a society where traditional law prevails. When he penetrates deep down the Congo River, he enters an area where it appears that law is all but absent.
He observes people living under an entirely different code of ethics than the one he is accustomed. The Europeans that surrounds Kurt treat the natives very poorly. They instituted many programs such as slavery that exploit the natives and their land, using as an excuse that they are inferior. Kurt spends a great deal of time with the natives, and he learns that they are not inferior as the Europeans believe, but instead they are just not technologically advanced and have a different moral system.
Kurt even writes a book, “How to suppress savage customs,” explaining his feelings toward the Africans. Though he is partially successful in his goal of illuminating the darkness (ignorance) of the Europeans, he was never able to end many Of the savage Customs such as slavery that are still being carried on, long after his death. Black is used repeatedly to symbolize both the unexplored and the evil. At the beginning of the story, Marrow says of Europe, “… His also has been one of the dark places of the earth,” explaining that at one point, people knew no more about Europe than they do now about Africa. He sees Africa as a “blank space on the Earth,” blank meaning unknown. When he arrives, Marrow is shocked at the treatment of the natives. As he learns more, Marrow begins to realize that the darkness associated with Africa was not an evil darkness, but instead darkness based on prejudice and greed on the part of the Europeans who are unwilling to treat the natives as equals.
The most striking aspect of the story is when the reader realizes that the whites are the ones that are most “dark” and evil inside. They enslave the blacks and treat them as sub-human. When Marrow tells about the failure of the Loaded Expedition, he says, “… News came that all the donkeys were dead. Know nothing as to the fate of the less valuable animals,” referring, of course, to the blacks. Marrow is shocked to learn that his peers were attempting to impose their moral system on people who live under a different, but not necessarily inferior system.
Other than Kurt, the person who Marrow identified with most is his navigator, a black native. The second type of darkness that Kurt must fight is the darkness inside himself: The forces of selfishness and greed that are compelling him to take advantage of the African peoples. This form f darkness is more sinister and more difficult to fight than the first because instead of affecting others, one must change oneself. This darkness is apparent when the time comes for Kurt to leave the jungle and just as he is about to do so, he turns back.
Instead of taking what he learned about the natives to heart, he takes advantage of the fact that in the jungle, he will be treated as a god, and will be able to do all he wants forever. It is this lapse in judgment that causes Kurt to say at the end of the book, “The Horror, The Horror. ” When he says this, he is expressing the disappointment in himself hat instead of doing the correct thing and returning to Europe to enlighten the people, an action that would have made a real difference in the lives of the Africans, he took advantage of his perceived superiority and allowed himself to be dollied.
In addition, he is frustrated that he cannot explain to Marrow, or anyone else for that matter, the fundamental change that has occurred within him. The realization that is finally reached by Kurt at his moment of epiphany, and is relayed to Marrow, is the fact that “We live, as we dream- alone. “. It is this insight that Marrow receives from Kurt regarding the auteur of the human condition that changes his life and allows him to come from the jungle a different, stronger man.
The knowledge that even if one is as morally and emotionally strong as Kurt is, it is still immensely difficult to fight the greed and craving for power over others that can surround the heart with “darkness”. Before Marrow departs for Africa, he believes it to be surrounded with “darkness” because it is mostly unexplored. After he spends time there, he discovers that the metaphorical darkness is due to ignorance and blatant arrogance by European exploiters whose moral system is corrupt.