What is an example of the futility of the European expansion into Africa in Heart of Darkness?

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The European expansion into Africa in Heart of Darkness is focused on the gathering and selling of ivory, the bone and tusks of elephants and other large mammals. Because of the difficult nature of hunting those large mammals, the Company hires men who can lead expeditions into the African interior and return with success. However, they do not expect that the jungle will change their men so severely, and so they do not plan for the loss of their men and the resulting drain on their manpower. The futility of their plans can be seen in the ruined machinery that Marlow sees when he enters the Outer Station:

I came upon a boiler wallowing in the grass, then found a path leading up the hill. It turned aside for the boulders, and also for an undersized railway-truck lying there on its back with its wheels in the air. One was off. The thing looked as dead as the carcass of some animal. I came upon more pieces of decaying machinery, a stack of rusty rails.
(Conrad, Heart of Darkness, eNotes eText)

The Company seems to have determined that the mission in Africa is a lost cause, and so they are not focusing on repairing or replacing important items. Instead, they are draining Africa and their own men for as much ivory as possible, without a clear end-goal in sight. Marlow comments on this failure later; as he is stuck without rivets to repair his steamboat, he remembers that the Outer Station was littered with rivets which could be gathered and sent downriver. However, since the Company only cares about profit coming out, they take no preemptive measures to help their people, instead leaving them to survive as best as they can.

etotheeyepi | Student

When my grandfather was my age, almost all African countries were part of European empires.  Since that time, they have almost all become independent countries.  African governments must be the most despicably corrupt governments on the planet.  The futility of African government, which has been an attempt to apply European traditions to African society, must surely be on the list.

Where do tree huggers come from?  If they come from Europe, we could add environmentalists and their ban on DDT to the futility list. Millions of Africans die from malaria, which could be prevented with the use of DDT.  What could be more futile than that?

The World Health Organization could be the Futilitor in Chief.  It tried to apply European ideas about health care to Africa in a successful attempt to eliminate smallpox.  One must wonder how much that effort contributed to the spread of AIDS.

Seems like no good deed goes unpunished.



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Heart of Darkness

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