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Conrad's Critique of Imperialism in Heart of Darkness

Hunt Hawkins
PMLA
Vol. 94, No. 2 (Mar., 1979), pp. 286-299
DOI: 10.2307/461892
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/461892
Page Count: 14
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Conrad's Critique of Imperialism in Heart of Darkness
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Abstract

In Heart of Darkness Conrad explicitly selected two criteria-efficiency and the "idea" of the civilizing mission-to judge imperialism. Although he himself did not ultimately espouse these values (which social Darwinists used to justify European expansion), he chose them because they were popular and well-suited to condemning the peculiar exploitation of the Congo by King Leopold II. Unlike capital rich imperialism, which could seek long-term development, Leopold's capital-poor imperialism resulted in hasty exploitation of surface resources through forced labor. Conrad's story powerfully illustrated the special inefficiency and cruelty of such exploitation. As in his other colonial novels, Conrad went on to imply a further judgment against all types of imperialism, even England's, because of their complicity, belligerence, and arrogant disruption of indigenous cultures.

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