In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the author fiercely challenges imperialism. Through this challenge, he demonstrates the internal battles of good and evil. In his work, he also displays issues of personal morals and alienation. At the time the novella was written, Europe had established territories across the map. It holds true that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, especially when said power reigns over the fate of humans in society.
Conrad illustrates the corruption of power through the books’ motif of darkness and the renegade of Kurtz. Darkness makes a quick appearance in the literature because it’s in the title. Darkness is seen on the river. “And the river was there- fascinating— deadly—like a snake. ” (Conrad 7) Marlow used the river as his outlet from the darkness of the Congo, seeing it as a way to escape from the disappointments and hostility of the mainland. As an example of corruption of power, one may see how Marlow strives be looked up to, not by the natives, but by his peers.
He is willing to let power over take him and thrive as the main influence in his life, whether be it negative or positive. Recurring throughout the book, it makes a heavy appearance when reading descriptions of the barbaric ways of the natives. Their customs are in heavy contrast to the normal European civilization. For example, the Accountant, in his prim white suits, is much different from the Cannibals who are described as savage. The power the Accountant and the company have over the Africans leaves one to wonder whether to blame the system or the individuals within.
The attack on imperialism in this sense heavily insults the system, describing Belgium and London as the true hearts of darkness. Darkness is also seen in the character Kurtz, for he is a man in the place of power. Kurtz openly displayed his disgust for the ways of the natives, calling them ignorant savages. Although not a natural part of the Native’s society, he certainly made his impression among them, placing his status as a god- like figure. Marlow was more than impressed with Kurtz’s stature, though the audience sees Kurtz as more of a psychopath.
The standard in the Victorian era was the men were far away, while the women were morally supportive, but oblivious to the reality of the man’s work, although they economically benefitted from it. This proves the way power corrupts because Kurtz abused the opportunities given after falling from the edge of moral standards, even after his Intended attempts to show him the way. In 1902, when Conrad wrote the book, it was common to base culture off of superiority, therefore it was seen that Kurtz was in the Congo for the redemption of natives.
In the text, Joseph Conrad gives much respect to the native tribes, Mr. Kurtz, however, has none. “Exterminate all brutes! ” (Conrad 50) he says, claiming that if he cannot change the natives, they should be thrown out. He, and many people like him, introduced new cultures to societies that did not want it. The corruption of the spirituality found in some cultures is thus caused by the hunger for power from interference from separate societies. Power and happiness go hand in hand. When one abuses power it reveal their limitations and perhaps inability to maintain power to help the greater good.
One of these may be the differences in laws for those in a position in power and those who are not, and abuse occurs through moral differences in such society. “Everything belonged to him–but that was a trifle. The thing to know was what he belonged to, how many powers of darkness claimed him for their own. ” (Conrad 43) The corruption only occurs when one has morals that allow power to stray from neutrality, therefore a psychological issue. Conrad touches on all different sources of the abuse and corruption of power in Heart of Darkness, but the true root of it stems from moral abnormalities.