Tag Archives: capitalism

The Survival of Capitalism and the “Heart of Darkness”

25 Jan

Conrad’s depiction of Africa as a place where “the earth seemed unearthly” (32), where the “stillness of life did not in the least resemble a peace” (30), and where “the steamer toiled along slowly on the edge of a black and incomprehensible frenzy” (32) portrays traditional African societies as unnatural – a place of constant motion and restlessness.  With motion come shadows and darkness that threaten to infect the “pure” European “civilization”, with what Chinua Achebe describes as the remembrance of its “forgotten darkness.”  In contrast, Europe’s social and economic order relies on consistence and control – an order that Conrad describes through Marlow as “‘accustomed to look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster,’” whether it be the earth itself or non-European societies.  European capitalism cannot exist without clearly defined ownership rights; a land that is simultaneously still, but not at peace, and frenzied cannot sustain this European system.

Kurtz tried to retain his European “light” of industry, civilization, and culture in the “heart of darkness”, but proved unable to sustain it without a solid base to build upon.  However, even though Kurtz’s civilizing mission succumbed to the “forgotten darkness,” the capitalist system that he introduced into the center of Africa survives, even though it is in a weakened form.  Despite Kurtz’s illness, he continued sending “in as much ivory as all the others put together” (16).  The “ivory” in this case represents both the economic motive of capitalism to exploit all the resources it can from the “conquered monster,” and acts as a symbol for the extraction of all light from Africa.  Towards the end of Marlow’s tale, company officials describe how Kurtz’s unconventional practices had set the company back, but had not completely ruined it.  Capitalism, like the “primeval forests” of Africa, is able to adapt to and overcome all the challenges it encounters because of its conflicting properties of creative destruction, where “innovation” can only occur with the destruction “inefficiencies.”