Discuss dehumanisation  in Heart of Darkness. Refer to Enlightenment philosophy  in your discussion.

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pnhancock eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the Belgian colony that serves as the setting of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, then called the Congo Free State, narrator Marlow consistently witnesses the dehumanization of the Congolese people. Belgian officials ruthlessly exploited and abused the people of the Congo in order to extract their natural resources for profit. For the Belgians who ruled in the Congo, the Congolese were merely tools to be used in the pursuit of profit; this is emphasized in the scene where Marlow discovers the place where Africans were left to die when they were deemed too sick to continue constructing the railroad. Another example of dehumanization is performed by Marlow himself, who does not interact with or personally acknowledge the Congolese people he sees. To him they are a foil that he projects his own philosophical struggles on; Marlow seems to view them and their suffering as a cause for personal contemplation, but doesn't  perceive them as being fully human.

Dehumanization in Heart of Darkness could be examined through the lens of Enlightenment philosophy with an emphasis on humanism. Humanism, a philosophical tenet of Enlightenment ideology, argued for the inherent value of humanity and promoted the use of uniquely human intellectual abilities, such as rationality. The dehumanization of the Congolese would be an affront to humanism, because it would deprive people the value inherent to their humanity. Denying humans access to their humanity through brutalization and slavery does not respect the inherent value of their humanity, so it is at odds with Enlightenment philosophy.

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Heart of Darkness

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