Theme of Imperialism in Heart of Darkness

Introduction to Heart of Darkness

Blackwood’s Magazine published Heart of Darkness as a novella in the nineteenth century. It was finally published in 1942 in the booking form as the third work in a compilation by Conrad. Heart of Darkness is one of the intense stories that expose the horrifying depths of human corruption and social-psychological dysfunction in Africa’s continent.

Heart of Darkness, like most of the best early twentieth-century modernist writing, is a much about the exile, bewilderment, and profound doubt as it is about imperialism.

Marlow and Kurtz, two main characters in the novel, are at the center of the plot. Kurtz represents avarice and a commercial mindset, a desire for power, a repentant sinner, and the impact of barbarism on civilized people. Marlow, likewise, represents an adventurous spirit and a thirst for knowledge.

What is Imperialism?

Imperialism is a practice of extending power and dominion over distant territories, especially by direct acquisition or by gaining political and economic control of that territory. Generally, there are two sorts of imperialism: colonialism and land conquest. Marlow states they are distinct. Because of their efficiency and their selfless thinking, colonization is justifiable. Although, none of them are pardoned for the repercussions, because they are ultimately the same conclusion. The conqueror and the colonists destroy the country, the indigenous people, and their people.

Theme of Imperialism in Heart of Darkness:

Marlow witnesses imperialism’s fatal and dreadful effects, including the enslavement and excessive human avarice taking over part in Africa, and Marlow’s eyes are shown by such a novel. In some measure and indirectly, the newspaper accuses Marlow of advocating colonization when he sees the wild events alone. The book stands firmly against every sort of imperialism. Even the name, Heart of Darkness, points to a moral deterioration in the conscience of colonists into the dark when a story depicts the awful and filthy crimes of men, especially the colonist Kurtz, because of mental corruption and a lack of compassion.

“In the brilliant sunshine of this country, I would get to know the flabby, weakened demon of ravenous, pitying foolishness,” Marlow tells his audience on the Nellie. In this sense, the “devil” is the covetousness that prompted Leopold to continue ravaging the Congo and its people for more than 20 years.

Major Themes in Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness deals with various themes like imperialism and its effect on whites and nonwhites, a journey to self-discovery, order and disorder, deception, pretenses of colonialism, lack of truth, and the meaninglessness of evil.


One of the major themes of Heart of Darkness is imperialism. One prime theme of Conrad in Heart of Darkness is colonialism and its effect on the Whites and the nonwhites. In the narration of Marlow, Conrad mentions the Roman conquest and thereby establishes the truth that the colonialism existed since the early period of human civilization.

Theme of Imperialism in Heart of Darkness

In Marlow’s account of his travels in the Congo, he is highly skeptical of the European imperialist attitude that the colonization of Africa will improve it. He shows how colonization is no different from conquest, except in how it is presented to the European public. Evidence for this view includes Marlow’s introduction to the tale, wherein he remarks that, “It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind—as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness.”

This blunt indictment of imperialism, veiled in a reference to the Roman conquest of Britain, lays the foundation for the reader to be equally critical of what is said versus what is happening. When Marlow enters the Congo and sees the slave men being led by another white man, he realizes that he is complicit in imperialism. He ironically notes that he “also was a part of the great cause of these high and just proceedings.”

Part of Marlow’s disgust towards imperialism stems from the disconnect he perceives between the alleged mission of the Europeans and their actual actions in the Congo. The Europeans believe that they are bringing order to Africa in the form of civilization, but when Marlow arrives at the European station, all he finds is chaos. The Chief Accountant ignores everything around him in lieu of making sure that the finances are always in order, but the work and supplies are not properly seen to. The Europeans claim civilized superiority, but their actions reveal only a chaotic desire for wealth through any means necessary.