Discuss the theme of civilization versus barbarism in Heart of Darkness.

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Heart of Darkness addresses the incredibly racist assumptions held about the people of Africa and the African continent as a whole. Africans have been consistently framed as barbarians, and this framework has been a justification for horrific colonization and outright slavery. The irony of this, of course, is that the acts of colonization and enslaving people is certainly what could be considered "barbaric". However, that term itself has racist and xenophobic roots and should not be used. Considering the astronomical amount of violence Western European nations have committed against the rest of the world, one might consider creating a term like "Europic" to describe irrationally cruel and unsightly behavior. In Heart of Darkness, the European travelers are consistently the ones who show themselves to be dangerous and cruel. One may be tempted to say they were being "uncivilized", but that word also has ridiculous connotations, that state that having a centralized civilization is somehow better and more moral than the lives led by people who do not structure their society in this way. In keeping with your question however, the theme of "civilization versus barbarism" is certainly explored in the contradictory behaviors of the European travelers, who fancy themselves to be highly civilized and exemplary humans while committing cruel and unnecessary acts, as they travel through a diverse and varied land that has been consistently unfairly categorized.

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Ironically, the battle of civilization against barbarism in Heart of Darkness occurs within the moral fiber of the European characters, not between the Africans and the Europeans. Kurtz is the prime illustration of this battle between civilization and barbarism. He comes down to Africa from London and his beautiful Intended, then, in the wilds of the Congo, he becomes a cruel and barbarous task master who goes beyond every limit of civilized ethics and morality.

In contrast to him stand the native Africans who surround him. As Marlowe shows when he first enters the Congo River, the Africans are respectful and courteous without any designs of dangerous behavior toward their fellow European passengers. Even when food supplies run low, they show exemplary conduct putting to the lie the rumors and myths of their barbaric manners and ways. Conrad's most significant point is held within this battle between civilization and barbarism, which is that the light of Europe hides a heart of darkness that is not paralleled on the dark continent of Africa.

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