Time and the Other in the Imperialist Discourse of Kipling and Conrad

Scientific Study, 2009

10 Pages



The reinforcement of the colonial contact between the Western powers and the non-Western world in the nineteenth century was accompanied with a large literary canon that represented this encounter. Some of the most pertinent works provided an ideological support for the expansion of the former to the latter. Rudyard Kipling and Joseph Conrad, among others, are considered by many as the canonical examples of this accompaniment. The emergence of this literature has also generated some seminal works in postcolonial theory like Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978) and Culture and Imperialism (1993). In recent years, there has been a large bulk of criticism that has studied these two writers, their colonial discourses and the way they represent the ‘Other’ in relation to the colonial Self.

To start with Rudyard Kipling, Harris (1992) hints at Kipling’s attitude towards the encounter between the British colonists and the Indians. For Harris, Kipling’s Kim presents India “as a mysterious land in which people believe in magic and witchcraft and in which astrology is widely practiced and used in most important social ceremonies” (Harris, 1992: 20). Besides, Lane (1995) compares the Orient to a child who is unable to take care of himself, hence his need for the authority of the father, who is analogous to Britain.

As for Conrad’s interests in the colonial encounter, Griffith (1995) insists on the impact of the exotic environment on the European subjects. Griffith foregrounds the idea that the European subject, once in an exotic land, loses restraint in the face of the unknown and his supposed retreat from ‘civilisation’. For instance, he observes that “the theme of the degeneration of the European colonist in the East” (Griffith, 1995: 145) is recurrent in Conrad’s fiction. Besides, the fear of the Malayan ‘Other’ is expressed through his disdain for sexual relationships with native people, which would mean the idea of “going native” (Ibid. 146). Most recently, Hampson (2000) studies Conrad’s Malay fiction under the perspective that it is engaged with describing the encounter between the West and the Malay world and showing what it means to be a Westerner in the Malay Archipelago. Some of the most pertinent works by Joseph Conrad and Rudyard Kipling inspire from the writings of other disciplines to provide this support to empire. Not only do they weave with the political theory of the epoch but they inspire from the ethnological and anthropological studies, as well. All of Harris (1992), Lane (1995), Griffith (1995) and Hampson (2000) make reference to issues like the writers’ appropriation of Darwinian thought to justify the nineteenth century imperial project. Much has been said about the aspects of their works which make the contrast between the superiority of the Westerner and the inferiority of the non-Western ‘Other’. However, the writers’ use of time is granted no specific attention. Yet, according to Fabian (1983), time has played a significant role in the justification of the imperial project.

Issue and Working Hypothesis

It is the purpose of this paper to explore the issue of time and the ‘Other’ in the writings of Rudyard Kipling and Joseph Conrad. It aims at showing that both writers use time in such a way as to justify the imperial project and the expansion of the European powers to the territory of the ‘Other’. The idea is that they use time from a Darwinian or evolutionary perspective and distinguish between a Western conception of time and a non-Western one. One is evolutionary and the other is static or primitive, to use Fabian’s terms. (Fabian, 2002: 17, 18) These opposed conceptions provide a necessary support for imperial expansion. This idea is all the more interesting to explore in the sense that it inspires from the intellectual and geopolitical discourse of the colonial period in relation to India, the Dark Continent and other conquered parts of the world.

Indeed, in the nineteenth century, some ideas emphasized that the people of India needed to be governed by a superior race. For instance, John Stuart Mill in his essay Considerations on Representative Government points out that there exists a hierarchy of societies in the world. At the bottom are societies like India that are “backward”, “savage” or “barbaric”. These ‘backward’ societies cannot govern themselves properly (Mill, 1904: 321). This goes without saying that the doctrine of paternalism, which states that the so-called “backward and primitive” societies need the Western world, was contemporary to Kipling’s and Conrad’s works. In this period, “the ‘civilised/ ‘savage’ (‘primitive’, ‘backward’) contrast became a standard element” (Federeci, 1995: 66), a period that is known for its prevalent ideas of the superiority of European civilisation and the “inferiority” of other races. This was reinforced by the ethnographic studies that provided basic argument for the superiority of Western civilisation and the inferiority of other races. Besides, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and its basic concepts of “natural selection” and the “survival of the fittest” are significant tenets of the era of European imperialism. Along with this intellectual atmosphere, there emerged what Edward Said coins the consolidating literature of empire, which provides ideological support for the imperial enterprise, adding to the existing Orientalist discourse. In the meantime, the nineteenth century Western people started to grant much importance to time so that their conception of time became linear and evolutionary. This was the result of the evolutions and revolutions that occurred in different fields like science and industry.


Excerpt out of 10 pages


Time and the Other in the Imperialist Discourse of Kipling and Conrad
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
389 KB
Time, Other, Imperialist, Discourse, Kipling, Conrad
Quote paper
Maitre Assistant Mouloud Siber (Author), 2009, Time and the Other in the Imperialist Discourse of Kipling and Conrad , Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/137241


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Time and the Other in the Imperialist Discourse of Kipling and Conrad

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free