Morality in heart of darkness

The novella, Heart and soul of Darkness by Joseph Conrad has a strong theme of morality. Conrad's goal using morality is moral distress. The main identity Charlie Marlow places out on a trip with the Western european Ivory Trade to Africa. During this trip he discovers a dark dilemma of moral ethics. Being over considered by greed and imperialism, Marlow discovers precisely how easy it is to become inhuman without a structured society of civilization.

Greed can be an important part of the abandonment of morals in this novella. Ivory in this history is symbolic for greed and evil. The white European men come to Africa lustful for ivory, but also with a greed for vitality. One character in the novella named Kurtz gathered more ivory than the other channels. His power and greed transformed him into a thief and a murderer. All the greed had bought out him in a way where he presumed "my meant, my ivory, my train station, my river, my:" everything belonged to him. (Conrad 79). Ivory rules the characters in the book's activities; "You'll think these were praying to it" (Conrad 53). Greed damages the colonists' moral ideals and their only thought becomes making a income without acknowledging the injury they can be doing to the natives. They have selfishly put themselves and their own riches before the health and fitness and humanity of the folks they desire to benefit from. Conrad is convinced that "habit is effectively organized and censored by the policing mechanisms of civilization. " (Brown). Their stringent European principles and morals have been completely wiped out by greed.

The moral purpose of the Europeans coming into Africa was to civilize the natives, but instead they ended up colonizing their land and corrupting them. The Congo became sufferer to imperialism. They were "establishing epistemological superiority" that allows those in control of the "intellectual means of development to ontologize themselves as God's chosen people and also to ontologize the non-chosen other as sub-human. " (Lackey). However, imperialism in Center of Darkness is more centered on what it can to the Europeans as opposed to the people being colonized "thus perverting the West's image of itself as bearer of light and civilization. " (Dark brown). Imperialism degrades Europeans by detatching them from civilization and detaching them off their morals by appealing them into violent irrational patterns due to disorder of the surroundings. There are numerous problems of an exploratory real life "cold, fog, tempests, disease, exile, and fatality - fatality skulking in the air, in this particular, in the bush" (Conrad 11).

The main moral issue in this novella is of the lack of a stable moral system with a centre to carry moral decisions. Once the white colonists leave European countries with it's secure population, they leave their morals behind as soon as the restraints on tendencies set by way of a world are removed, people tend to become savages to get power and revenue. "When the darkness overtakes the colonialist" as in the case of Kurtz, "it is as a quality normally latent, lodged deep within him, but which irrupts due to intimate connection with the lawless wilderness. " (Dark brown). Kurtz has been take off from civilization for such a long time that he loses his id and allows himself to be worshiped as a god. With this, he's struggling to be fully real human again and is continually being dehumanized naturally. He is becoming "impressively bald" by the wicked wilderness which includes "consumed his flesh" and "sealed his soul". (Conrad 80). He has lost both physical and spiritual areas of a individual from being cut off from the others of humaneness leaving him "hollow at the key. " (Conrad 95)

When the Europeans kept society they truly became at the mercy of imperialism, greed, and the dark side of man. This all business lead to a abandonment of morals. I think that was what Conrad intended to do with Center of Darkness. He wanted to show how morals are only an imaginary set of rules created by a society and once someone is extracted from that "safe zone", they become savages and lose virtually all moral sense. In regards to a year before Conrad completed the novella, Conrad says: "There is no morality, no knowledge no hope; there is only the awareness of ourselves which drives us about a world that whether observed in a convex or a concave mirror is usually but a vain and fleeting appearance" (Lackey).


  • BROWN, TONY C. "CULTURAL PSYCHOSIS OVER THE FRONTIER: THE TASK OF THE DARKNESS IN JOSEPH CONRAD'S HEART OF DARKNESS. " Studies in the Novel 32. 1 (2000): 14. Literary Criticism. Web. 23 Nov. 2009. .
  • Lackey, Michael. "The moral conditions for genocide in Joseph Conrad's Center of Darkness (1). " College or university Books 32. 1 (2005): 20+. Literary Criticism. Web. 23 Nov. 2009. .
  • Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. NY: Penguin, 1999.

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