- Slides: 11
Heart of Darkness
Joseph Conrad • Of Polish descent, but born in Russia in 1857. • Polish was his first language. He later moved to France where French became his second language. He did not learn English until he was in his twenties. • Eventually he joined the British Merchant Marines and became a British citizen. He served sixteen years and sailed all around the world. • In 1890 he took a job as captain of a boat going up the Congo River in Central Africa. What he saw there became the basis for Heart of Darkness.
• Heart of Darkness is set in the late 1880’s when King Leopold II was king of Belgium. • Since Belgium was a constitutional monarchy, Leopold held little power.
• He persuaded Henry Stanley, who had already gained fame exploring Africa, to return to the Congo as his personal agent.
• Leopold claimed it was for scientific experiments and to combat slavery. • In reality, it was to establish control over the Ivory and rubber trade • Stanley signed more than 450 treaties with Congo chiefs giving Leopold their land labor of their people in exchange for alcohol, cloth, and trinkets.
• From King Leopold’s Ghost. • “The very word treaty is a euphemism, for many chiefs had no idea what they were signing. Few had seen the written word before, and they were being asked to mark their X’s to documents in a foreign language and in legalese. The idea of a treaty of friendship between two clans or villages was familiar; the idea of signing over one’s land to someone on the other side of the ocean was inconceivable. Did the chiefs of Ngombi and Mafela, for example, have any idea of what they agreed to on April 1, 1884? In return for ‘one piece of cloth per month to each of the undersigned chiefs’ they promised to ‘freely of their own accord, for themselves and theirs and successors for ever give up to the said Association the sovereignty and all sovereign and governing rights to all their territories and to assist by labour or otherwise, any works, improvements or expeditions with the said Association shall cause at any time to be carried out in any part of these territories. . . All roads and waterways running through this country, the right of collecting tolls on the same, and all game, fishing, mining and forest rights, are to be the absolute property of the said Association. ’ Stanley’s pieces of cloth bought not just land, but manpower. It was an even worse trade than the Indians made for Manhattan. ”
• The entire Congo region did not become a colony of Belgium, but became the personal property of Leopold. • It was an area as large as The United States east of the Mississippi. • Villages that refused to provide labor were burned down or their wives and children were held hostage until they did. • The population was halved with estimates going as high as 8 -10 million deaths as a result of violence, forced labor, and starvation. • The first nation to recognize Leopold’s claim to the Congo was the U. S.