"Heart of Darkness" by Joseph Conrad --Exploitation of the African Natives

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Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, is an intriguing and extremely disturbing portrayal of man's surrender to his carnal nature when all external trappings of 'civilization' are removed. This novel excellently portrays the shameful ways in which the Europeans exploited the Africans: physically, socially, economically, and spiritually.

Throughout the nineteenth century, Europeans treated their African counterparts savagely. They were beaten, driven from their homes, and enslaved. Heart of Darkness is no exception. In the first section of the novel, Marlow is disgusted by the condition of the Africans at the First Station. His encounter with the chain gang sickens him to the point where he is forced to wait for them to pass. He even takes a separate path to avoid encountering them again.

While avoiding the chain gang, Marlow stumbles upon the object of their work--'a vast artificial hole...the purpose of which I found it impossible to divine.'

Apparently, to keep them occupied and thus 'out of trouble,' the natives are forced to do meaningless, pointless exercises. Marlow is shocked by this total subjugation of the Africans and the completely pointless work which they are forced to perform.

Prior to 1807, the Europeans directly enslaved the Africans. After 1807, Britain, and eventually most European countries, banned the slave trade. However, this did not stop the Eldorado Exploring Expedition, whose members Marlow described as 'reckless without hardihood, greedy without audacity, and cruel without courage,' from using natives as forced labor for their benefit--the classic definition of slavery.

Europeans were also extremely distrustful of the natives. They were often accused of crimes because of the color of their skin. At the beginning of the novel, a French ship is firing blindly into the woods because '[apparently] the French had one of their wars going on thereabouts.' Later in the...