In Heart of Darkness, discuss how Conrad explores the idea of destruction for the sake of destruction—what are the implications of that attitude on imperialism as a whole?If possible, please...

In Heart of Darkness, discuss how Conrad explores the idea of destruction for the sake of destruction—what are the implications of that attitude on imperialism as a whole?

If possible, please include any points from Part 1.

Expert Answers
booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, we see how Marlow reacts to "destruction for the sake of destruction."

There is a segment in particular in Part One, when Marlow arrives at the Lower Station, that he begins to note that something is not quite right. This is where he first sees how horrifically the natives are being treated. He also sees the waste by the Company's white overseers—machinery, rusting and discarded, everywhere. It is here that he also makes note of blasting being done for no purpose. The thunderous explosions seem to be carried out simply for the sake of destruction.

A horn tooted to the right, and I saw the black people run. A heavy and dull detonation shook the ground, a puff of smoke came out of the cliff, and that was all. No change appeared on the face of the rock. They were building a railway. The cliff was not in the way or anything; but this objectless blasting was all the work going on.

Marlow notes that there is no reason for the blasting. Though they were building a railroad, the explosions were not taking place to further that objective: there seemed no reason for the detonations at all.

In terms of the relationship between a scene like this and its implications regarding imperialism, it is best to define imperialism.

Imperialism is a term used to describe the domination of one state over a number of others.

King Leopold II of Belgium made a decision to "control" parts of Africa. At the time, this section was called the Belgian Congo. One of the most profitable resources that Leopold stole from the natives (under the guise of "colonization") was ivory. The natives were treated horrifically, as Marlow observes on his trip. News of such atrocities, which Leopold ordered be stopped (while they continued, ignored) eventually prompted the Belgian government to take control of the Belgian Congo from Leopold.

Destruction is a form of waste, and this imperialist movement in Africa thought nothing of wasting...the people and materials were not seen as valuable to the men controlling the area. Wasting things, whether they were resources, machinery or lives, was a thoughtless gesture...nothing mattered but making a profit.

When Marlow arrives at the Lower Station, he notes:

I came upon a boiler wallowing in the grass...and undersized railway-truck lying there on its back with its wheels in the air...The thing looked as dead as the carcass of some animal. I came upon more pieces of decaying machinery, a stack of rusty rails.

Inhuman waste is seen in how the natives are treated:

Black shapes crouched, lay, sat between the trees leaning against the trunks, clinging to the all the attitudes of pain, abandonment and despair...

They were dying slowly—it was very clear. They were not enemies, they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now—nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation.

Without respect for the land the Belgians have "taken," there seems to be an endless supply of everything: dynamite, workers to abuse and kill, ivory to export, and money to be made on the backs of the natives. This is one of the major things that Conrad noticed during his time in Africa.


Read the study guide:
Heart of Darkness

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question