Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

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How does Kurtz symbolize colonial powers in Heart of Darkness? Please explain with references.

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Kurtz is the symbol of colonialism in this novel. As Marlowe states:

All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz.

Colonialism involves the appropriation of another group of people and their territory in order to claim its resources as your own. In Europe in the nineteenth century, it also involved "civilizing" the "natives" and teaching them the superiority of white culture.

Kurtz symbolizes the greed of colonialism. One of Kurtz's jobs as a trading station manager in the Congo is to obtain ivory for the Belgians. He collects more ivory than any of the other managers. Yet the colonial mindset drives him beyond gathering ivory to believing that everything around him belongs to him as the representative of the supposedly superior white race. As Marlowe describes it:

You should have heard him say, 'My ivory.' Oh yes, I heard him. 'My Intended, my ivory, my station, my river, my—' everything belonged to him.

Kurtz also symbolizes the false civilizing influence that was the supposed reason for taking over other lands. Marlowe says:

I learned that, most appropriately, the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs had intrusted him with the making of a report, for its future guidance.

Kurtz does write this report, but as was often the case with the colonizers, his view of the natives became one of feeling superior and believing he had the right to determine life and death. For example, he says:

"Exterminate all the brutes!"

Kurtz goes insane in the Congo and learns to crave the uncontrolled god-like power he has assumed. The novel uses him to raise important questions about the corrupting and destructive influences of colonialism.

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