Skip to main content

Colonialism in “Heart of Darkness”

Read on to explore the theme of colonialism in Heart of Darkness.

Read on to explore the theme of colonialism in Heart of Darkness.

Joseph Conrad's Commentary on Colonialism

Joseph Conrad is one of the most famous novelists in the history of English literature. His famous novel Heart of Darkness (1902) is the exploration of complex human nature as well as colonialism. Romantic realism is the keynote of Conrad's novel. His novel contains mystical, natural, and imaginative elements. This novel had its origin in personal experience. Conrad wrote this novel in the context of colonialism, its nature, and its dark side.

SparkNotes: Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness

Colonialism in Heart of Darkness

Definition of Colonialism

Colonialism is the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically.

Colonialism in Heart of Darkness

In Heart of Darkness, the author, Joseph Conrad, explores the nature of colonialism. He reveals the horrors of colonialism and is cynical of the entire process. He uses several symbolic characters to accomplish this, including the shadowy and elusive Kurtz, who represents all of Europe.

Joseph Conrad shows that the very nature of colonialism has not changed much from Roman times to his day, except that the tools and weapons used have become more sophisticated. The main purpose and the results have stayed the same. Conrad illuminates the secret evils of colonialism and the European capitalist approach through Marlow’s journey up the Congo. A brief analysis of Colonialism is stated below.

Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness explores the impact of colonialism in Africa.

Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness explores the impact of colonialism in Africa.

Purposes of Colonialism

Joseph Conrad shows that one of the purposes of colonialism is the suppression of the Native’s beliefs and traditional way of life. Conrad begins with a focus on what the Company overtly tells the public: They are going into the Congo to civilize the Natives. The Europeans, on face level, seek to convert the inhabitants of the Congo to the European way of life.

Dominating Theme of Colonialism

White colonialism is the primary concern of Heart of Darkness. The novelist narrates the behavior of the white Europeans with very impressive and effective touches. In this story, he accurately depicts white Europeans and the natives of Congo under colonialism.

The Ancient Roman Conquest of Britain

In the story, Marlow speaks about the ancient Roman Conquerors of Britain. It is mentioned that the ancient Romans were brutal and inflicted many cruelties on the Britons.



Ivory: A Symbol of Colonialism

Ivory was a lucrative trade created by the Belgian company Abir Congo Company when Belgian King Leopold II governed the Congo. Ivory was useless to natives but a high-price commodity to the white men because of its usage in ornament manufacturing. Thus, the motive of white men was to indulge in exploitation and brutaly extract ivory from the native people.

Slaver and Colonizers

Slaver and Colonizers

Natives Are Considered Inhuman by the White Men

As a white man, Kurtz believes that the Natives need to be humanized, improved, and instructed in the European way of life. The Europeans believe that the Natives are beneath them and need to be cultured.

Natives Become Slaves of Colonizers

Joseph Conrad explains that colonialism is a brutal and savage process. The Natives are lulled into a false sense of security and then become slaves of the European colonizers. To the Europeans, the Natives were valuable if they were productive and supplied ivory and other goods.

Natives are neglected by European colonizers

Natives are neglected by European colonizers

Natives Are Neglected by European Colonizers

The Europeans do not care about the health and working conditions of the Natives as long as they are productive. They are left to fend for themselves and slowly waste away, starving, unable to find food. Members of the populace are beaten and hanged simply to serve as lessons to others around them to be obedient.

Greediness of European Colonizers

The Europeans who traveled to Africa to humanize the Natives treat the natives severely and inhumanely. Not only do the Europeans show cruelty and brutality towards the Natives, but it is also shown in the form of greed towards each other. The Europeans are only interested in advancing within the company, making the most money, and shipping the most ivory for their own profit.

Callous and Inhuman Attitudes of White Men

This story reveals the dirty and inhuman attitudes toward the native Congolese that the white men hold. During that time, the natives were mostly naked and were moving about like ants. Further, the were generally chained together in groups of half a dozen. They were punished when they violated the laws of white men. White men were quite indifferent to the criminals and tortured them mercilessly.

Selfishness of the White Men

In the story, the manager often talks of having someone hanged so that he will have no competition and be able to advance his career. All that is important to him is the acquisition of money and power. To the Europeans, it is imperative that they attain wealth, power, and prestige. They simply care about what works for them and the betterment of their positions.

Hypocrisy of the White Men

We see that, in the time of Colonialism, the white men were selfish and hypocritical. They were simply wasting time and effort to show they were rendering constructive works. They start a project aimlessly.

For example, they had planned a project to build a railway line in Congo. They blast the rock with gunpowder which is quite unnecessary for blasting the rocks as they were not causing any restriction to the railway.

White-men frightened people with weapons

White-men frightened people with weapons

White Men Frightened People With Weapons

Consequently, the brutality and savagery of colonialism and the Europeans caused the Natives to fear the colonizers. The Europeans used this fear to their advantage to get what they wanted. Through the actions of the Europeans, the Natives are made fearful, and to protect their lives and their families, they submit to the will of the foreigners. The Europeans wielded advanced weapon technology and forcefully frighten others to obtain ivory.

Mr. Kurtz's Failure to Uplift the Savages

Mr. Kurtz is a classic example of a white colonialist male. He went to Congo to civilize that region. However, the primary motive is really to collect ivory, not to civilize people. He tried to rule that region in his own way and finally realized he was a complete failure. He was in deep darkness on his deathbed and realized his misdeeds to the native people.

Truth About Colonialism

Finally, Conrad explores the true purpose of colonialism. Colonialism is about obtaining all of the land's natural resources for profit. The Europeans were far more interested in ivory than in civilizing the Natives. They would rather obtain the most ivory through whatever means necessary for the advancement of their company. The Europeans destroy the land to obtain every valuable object out of the ground.

Pretend Natural Resources to Be Their Own

Ivory is a natural resource that can be used by human beings, but it is not an anyone's god-given asset. But the white man, Kurtz, believes the ivory is only for him. He states:

“My ivory . . . My Intended, my ivory, my station, my river, my—’ everything belonged to him”.

Final Thoughts

In Heart of Darkness, the author, Joseph Conrad, is disdainful of colonialism and seeks to educate an immature and blinded society to the true nature and horrors of colonialism. Through Marlow’s journey up the Congo and into the heart of darkness, the horrifying tools of colonialism are laid bare, and the true purpose of colonialism and the European capitalist approach are exposed.

More Info on Colonialism in the Heart of Darkness

Sources and Further Reading


khalid on June 10, 2019:

thx,it is fruitfull

kawtar on May 28, 2019:

its a good work

sehrish on April 25, 2019:

wonderful work

Melissa Amrch on April 14, 2019:

great work i did numerous research about heart of darkness but i did not found something useful until i found your comments thank you !

Khan on March 18, 2019:

Its really helpfull material

Naila on March 10, 2019:

Thanks for good critical analysis plz provide colonialism in things fall a part

mayurakshmi on September 04, 2018:

its help me to understand the whole facts of colonialism.thank u so much..

Priyatosh Bhowmik on August 08, 2018:

Thank you for this.

Rabi perzada on April 18, 2018:

It's vaild thank you...

Randa Hamza on April 09, 2018:

ohhh thnx it helps me a lot in my work

great job .... thnx again

intisha on March 27, 2018:

very helpful....thnx

UMESH on November 30, 2017:


Sha on November 30, 2017:

Very helpful. Thanks

Sharmistha Das on November 11, 2017:

Great job brother.

Aqsa parvez on October 29, 2017:

Great material to read

mariam on October 27, 2017:

very easy and lucid tackling of the subject

Raheel on July 03, 2017:

Its a very good material about heart of darkness and it is very informative material

Sana Safina on May 08, 2017:

Very nice concept about colonialism

lovi on April 12, 2017:

good and helpful

sona on April 08, 2017:

Thanks it was helpful

Amira on March 07, 2017:

It is very helpful .

osama on November 08, 2015:

very very informative and helping