In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Imperialism takes on a double standard. The Company values its humanity to the natives and states that they are civilizing them. But not living on their moral values, the Company has actually driven the natives into slavery. Marlow, the skeptical narrator, discovers Kurtz’s openness about his torture to the natives recommending to “exterminate all the brutes!” (Conrad 128) Marlow believes that this makes him a great man in a way, for he is not a hypocrite. The story is evil with it’s suppression of nonwhites, even more than Kurt’s and the company’s cruelty.
Back in Europe, the people think that the Company is doing a great service to the world, including Marlow’s aunt who talks of ” ‘weaning those ignorant millions from their horrid ways'” (Conrad 77). This service to humanity is actually one great hypocrisy. Though Marlow does not admit it, he knows that the Company is in Belgian Congo for profit, not to serve humanity. He sees upon arrival slaves chained together and walking single-file. On his journey up the river, he learns of Kurtz, who Marlow believes is a great man for admitting to his actions.
Though Kurtz risks losing his reputation for his admittance of his brutal ways, Marlow finds him to be an admirable figure. Indeed, the natives treat him like a god, following him on his rampages of ivory. Kurtz has a distinct ability to lead others. His downfall is a mere denial of the white men’s hypocrisy, and soon the company comes to despise him. His last words, ” ‘the horror! The horror!'” (Conrad 154) reflect his standing against hypocritical values.
The narration of the story itself is more evil than the Company’s or Kurt’s actions to nonwhites. The nonwhites in the Hearth of Darkness are regarded merely as objects when Marlow observes ” ‘black shapes crouched, lay, sat between the trees leaning against the trunks, clinging to the earth, half coming out, half effaced with the dim light, in all the attitudes of pain, abandonment, and despair'” (Conrad 83). Additionally, the Congo River itself is a symbol of racism, for the waters “seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness” (Conrad 164).
To the readers, Marlow is a guide serving as the moderate between the extremes of Kurtz and the Company. Because Marlow is skeptical of imperialism, the readers can identify with him. The Congo River, an “immense snake uncoiled” (Conrad 71), leaves Marlow in despair with its memory. Indeed, Marlow almost dies from illness. After he recovers and returns to Europe, Kurtz’s last words, ” ‘The horror! The horror!'” continue to ring in his head.