Heart of Darkness Questions and Answers
by Joseph Conrad

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How does Heart of Darkness address British imperialism in the 19th century?

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Heart of Darkness presents British imperialism as a cruel, exploitative system that destroys the lives of indigenous people for the benefit of their colonial overlords. At first, Marlow is incredibly enthusiastic about heading out to Africa. Unlike his aunt, however, he doesn't see the imperial project as a noble cause that brings the benefits of Western civilization to the poor, benighted natives of the so-called Dark Continent. He understands that this is largely a gigantic economic enterprise designed to enrich the mother country. But the further he travels up the Congo river, even cynical Marlow becomes more and more disillusioned by the whole project.

To be sure, the Congo was in Belgian, not British, hands. But the evils that Marlow discovers on his travels are equally applicable to his own country's vast empire. Here, as elsewhere, imperialism has a disastrous effect not only on the indigenous people, but also on the colonialists themselves. And Kurtz is the paradigm example of this.

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