Western Civilization in Heart of Darkness

Topics: Western Culture

In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Mr. Kurtz represents the western civilization. Or, more specifically, he represents western civilizations attempt to spread its influence and civilize Africa. By showing him as a man turned mad, Conrad critiques Western civilization’s arrogance and views on their superiority and self-prescribed duty to civilize the African savage.

Mr. Kurtz has no doubt been driven mad by his escapades in the jungle. The jungle’s darkness has infected him. This fact is repeatedly and explicitly made clear to us by the narrator, Marlowe, multiple times.

He describes it as a “spell of the wilderness” that had come over Kurtz and “awak[ened] (…) his brutal instincts.” “His soul was mad.” Mr. Kurtz who, at the beginning of the work, had been given such promise fell victim to the inner savage of humanity in his quest for ivory.

Many white Europeans at the time were beginning to study and hypothesize evolution. A common thought in British society was that the human species had continued to evolve mentally and socially, leading to greatrer and greater heights of civilization in different parts of the world.

Of course, being the ones who discovered this, white Europeans thought themselves the top end of the evolutionary change and began to feel that it was their duty, the “white man’s burden”, to civilize and evolve other societies. One of these groups was the African.

If Kurtz can be taken as representative of this desire to conquer and civilize Africa, Conrad’s criticisms begins to reveal themselves.

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For all the glorious self-prescribed aspects of western white Europeans, they, like the savages they intend to civilize, harbor an inner brutality, an inner savage. This criticism is given more weight when one looks at the Western city of Brussels described as a “whited sepulchre.” A glorious and ornate tomb on the outside, but filled with nothing more than a rotting corpse, like any other coffin, on the inside.

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Western Civilization in Heart of Darkness. (2023, Jan 12). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/a-representation-of-the-western-civilization-through-the-character-of-mr-kurtz-in-heart-of-darkness-by-joseph-conrad/

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