History

White Lies and Whited Sepulchres in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

It’s pointed out that Conrad, as a man who had endured many hardships in his life even before his eleventh birthday (Papke, 2000), was also aware of the hidden aspect of the hearts of men. Motives ranging from good to evil reside in the human heart, yet are not always visible on their faces. Hearts are very private and hidden places, and the heart of a continent is shown to be often as dark as the heart of the humans who seek to penetrate it.
Work is essential to life, and people spend so much time performing the actions of their life’s work that they are often inextricably tied to the job. Marlow shows the lengths to which people will go to get employed when he relates that after asking men for a job and they "said ‘My dear fellow,’ and did nothing. Then-would you believe it-I tried the women. I, Charlie Marlow, set the women to work to get a job" (Conrad, 72). His subsequent job with the Company demonstrates the power that Work can have over persons. It is depicted as a one-dimensional and overarching presence to which the men of the tale answer. It is connected with not just the men who travel on the steamers into the African territory, but also with the hearers of the tale, whose jobs are intimately connected with the operation of the Company’s machine. Work may also be seen as a machine that drives the darkness of the ivory business. The fact that so many persons must provide for both themselves and families makes popular what is essentially an inhumane practice of de-tusking elephants. The natives who work with the whites engage in this practice for the sake of having the income that work provides. This they do, though it encroaches upon the sanctity of animal life much in the same way that slavery has encroached upon the sanctity of human life. Yet, for the sake of work the natives become a party to something of inhumanity that is similar to those their kinsmen have faced within the past century. For seamen, the sea is synonymous with work, and Conrad has been quoted by Papke (2000) as saying, "men and sea interpenetrate, so to speak–the sea entering the life of most men and the men knowing something or everything about the sea." The work enters every part of a seaman’s life and is connected somehow with his actions, whether honorable or dark.
In Africa, the work that is done by the Europeans who enter the territory is as dark as the continent as it has been described throughout history. Though theft is frowned upon in European society, robbery is essentially the goal of these "reputable" merchants who enter that territory. Of this double standard, Conrad writes, "By heavens! there is something after all in the world allowing one man to steal a horse while another must not look at a halter" (98-99). The truth of these men’s dishonesty is substantiated in the text. As Marlow travels along the coast and then within the continent, he comes upon several instances in which the continent and its inhabitants are being robbed of their possessions. The animals whose tusks provide the ivory are in danger because the greed of those robbing seamen who want their tusks and would see them die in order to have the boon that they desire. Not only do the European seamen rob the elephants of their lives, but they also rob the Africans of the riches of their own territory. This type of robbery is especially perceptible in the character Kurtz, who under the guise of entering the African territory for trading purposes have resorted&nbsp.to underhand means to gain his ivory.

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