How is efficiency in the context of imperialism presented in Heart of Darkness?

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Besides condemning imperialism as a political system fueled by greed and characterized by unbelievable cruelty, the novel also shows it to be an exercise in stupidity and inefficiency. As Marlow journeys deep into ivory country, he observes the horrid effects of colonial policy and condemns them. He is filled with moral revulsion by the inhumanity he encounters, but sometimes he is simply filled with disbelief as he witnesses the logistics and application of imperialism in action. Soldiers and clerks placed ashore on the African coast seem to be flung into "nothingness." Clerks levy tolls, soldiers protect clerks, and the entire system becomes self-perpetuating.

Marlow sees a French man-of-war firing into the bush where apparently some natives are hiding. The imagery of the huge ship "firing into a continent" along a deserted coastline is very effective, suggesting the stupidity and waste of such great power being leveled at a few helpless natives. At a company station, Marlow encounters chaos and disorganization. When a shed full of cheap cotton and beads burns, he sees a man run to put out the fire, but there is a hole in his water bucket. This image is also effective, seeming to symbolize the stupidity and inefficiency of the European presence in Africa.

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