Joseph Conrad’s "An Outpost of Progress" and "Heart of Darkness". Influences on the Colonizer


Term Paper, 2008

15 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Excerpt

Contents

1. Preface

2. “An Outpost of Progress” – Analysis
2.1 Characterization of the Protagonists and their Development
2.2 Progress and its Victims

3. “Heart of Darkness” and “An Outpost of Progress” – Comparison

4. Synopsis

5. Bibliography

1. Preface

Ever since the rise of the Roman Empire, colonialism has been an important part of the history of mankind. The wealth and power of many an empire was based on the suppression and exploitation of foreign nations. An always perceptible feeling of superiority, of contempt for the particular culture legitimated its conquest and almost obligated the colonialists to force their own cultural and moral concepts on its people. The persuasion of improving the lives of the “barbarians” or “savages” by bringing them the blessings of their own culture justified, in the colonialists’ eyes, the exploitation of the “savages’” country in return.

Cultural suppression therefore naturally forms one of the main topics of Post-colonial literature. The influence of colonial rule on a country and its people, the tension between traditional and colonial values has been addressed by colonialist and native writers alike. However, most of this literature exclusively treats the changes inflicted upon the colonialized country and its inhabitants, whether they are glorified or condemned, whether they are described from the perspective of the natives or the intruder.

A today rather seldom dealt-with aspect of colonialism, for its very existence is rarely acknowledged, is the influence exerted by the colony upon the colonizer himself.

The emergence of anthropology in the Victorian era stimulated interest in primitive cultures and their development, and inevitably arose questions regarding its opposite, their degradation. Scientific and artistic literature alike was cast in the spell of the newborn science.[1] Joseph Conrad was one writer, whose first-hand experiences in the colonies awakened his interest in anthropology and encounters with foreign cultures. “Conrad’s early writings reflect the prevalent Victorian anxiety that such cross-cultural contacts would prove dangerous to the members of each society. Degeneration and atavism inevitably accompanied colonization, many Victorians argued.”[2]

On the basis of two of these early writings, this paper tries to examine the effects of colonialism on the Westerner, as Conrad depicted them. The first object of my analysis will be one of his most underestimated works, namely the short story “An Outpost of Progress”. Questions that will be addressed are the origin of the influences, their nature and their results as well as the depiction of the protagonists, their environment and their interaction. Secondly, this paper will attempt to compare the occurring patterns of the short story to Conrad’s most prominent work, the novel “Heart of Darkness”. The question whether the short story can actually be compared to the novel at all, and finally the reconsideration of the popular thesis that “An Outpost of Progress” merely represents a sketch for “Heart of Darkness” will form the latter part of my analysis.

2. “An Outpost of Progress” – Analysis

The foundation of such an analysis obviously has to be constituted of a general characterization of the novel’s protagonists. Any influence exerted on the colonialists, whether of external or internal nature, must become apparent in a change in the status quo. Therefore the aim of the first paragraph will be to detect and describe the characterization of the Protagonists, and to trace their development respectively their regress throughout the story.

2.1 Characterization of the Protagonists and their Development

In the beginning of the story, two white men are left in charge of an isolated trading station in the Belgian Congo.

Kayerts, who is appointed chief, is described as being “[…] short and fat”[3], whereas Carlier, his assistant, is described as being “[…] tall, with a large head and a very broad trunk perched upon a long pair of thin legs.”3 Their physical description already leaves an amusing, let alone derogatory impression of the protagonists, evoking the popular cliché of the obese chief and his tall idiot-assistant, like Hardy and Laurel for example.

Kayerts had worked in the Administration of the Telegraphs, Carlier was an “[…] ex-non-commissioned officer of cavalry in an army guaranteed from harm by several European Powers […]”[4]. Their former occupations do not label them definite “adventurers”, but the director of the trading company allays even the slightest doubt as to their incompetence. Although the director tries to motivate them with a speech, not even he believes in their success, stating to a servant upon departure from the station:

“Look at those two imbeciles. They must be mad at home to send me such specimens. […] I always thought the station on this river useless, and they just fit the station!”[5]

The narrator goes even further and attributes the very possibility of their existence to the shelter of civilization:

“They were two perfectly insignificant and incapable individuals, whose existence is only rendered possible through the high organization of civilized crowds. Few men realize that their life, the very essence of their character, their capabilities and their audacities, are only the expression of their belief in the safety of their surroundings.”[6]

Kayerts and Carlier quickly become aware of the absence of this “safety of their surroundings”, since as soon as the steamer has departed, they “[…] walked arm in arm, drawing close to one another as children do in the dark; and they had the same, not altogether unpleasant, sense of danger which one half suspects to be imaginary.”[7] In private thought, both are already concerned about the other’s health, but only because of their fear of having to face the wilderness alone. As both men miss their familiar surroundings, and are forced to live and work in the Congo by external obligations (in Kayerts’ case the marriage of his daughter, in Carlier’s case his utter lack of means since he quit the army), they quickly grow accustomed to each other:

“But the two men got on well together in the fellowship of their stupidity and laziness. Together they did nothing, absolutely nothing, and enjoyed the sense of idleness for which they were paid. And in time they came to feel something resembling affection for one another.”[8]

When they discover books left by their predecessor, one print especially catches their attention, namely a paper discussing the colonial expansion. Formerly content with earning money by their mere presence in the Congo, they are now confronted with the ideology of colonialism:

“Carlier and Kayerts read, wondered, and began to think better of themselves.”[9]

However, like in every other aspect, they fail to grasp any meaning, as Carlier’s statement illustrates:

“In a hundred years, there will be perhaps a town here. […] Civilization, my boy, and virtue – and all.”[10]

The vague “…and all” particularly demonstrates their lack of understanding, yet they are enthusiastic about the colonial propaganda, for it fills their dull existence with meaning, and attaches some importance to it which does not exist. In their almost innocent foolishness, they are deluded into believing themselves actual pioneers of trade and civilization, without realizing their complete insignificance.

They are able to provision the station through trade with the natives, yet slowly their health deteriorates, a fact that escapes them in their utter ignorance:

“Now and then one of them had a bout of fever, and the other nursed him with gentle devotion. They did not think much of it. It left them weaker, and their appearance changed for the worse.”[11]

The first event which demonstrates Carlier’s and Kayerts’ complete helplessness and irrelevance is the arrival of the armed foreign tribesmen, which later turn out to be slave traders. They entirely depend on Makola, who actually runs the station, to deal with the foreign men. After Makola has sold the station workers for ivory, to which both whites had consented unconsciously in their greed, they are outraged at his deed. Makola’s answer to Kayerts’ threat of dismissing him and reporting the incident to the director sounds like a threat itself:

“You very red, Mr. Kayerts. If you are so irritable in the sun, you will get fever and die – like the first chief!”[12]

Once more, the actual leadership of the station is made clear. The whites can do nothing but consent. Their reluctance to accept the “tainted” ivory lasts until the next morning. The fear of losing profit wins over their moral doubts about slave trade, but with the reservation to tell the director of the ivory’s origin, to let him bear the weight of decision, a “judgment of Solomon” absolutely characteristic of the protagonists.

[...]


[1] John W. Griffith, Joseph Conrad and the Anthropological Dilemma: ‘Bewildered Traveller’, Oxford 1995: 1-12.

[2] John W. Griffith, Joseph Conrad and the Anthropological Dilemma: ‘Bewildered Traveller’, Oxford 1995: 5.

[3] Joseph Conrad, „An Outpost of Progress“, in Caught Between Cultures: Colonial and postcolonial short stories, Stuttgart 2005: 8-35, here: 8.

3

[4] Joseph Conrad, „An Outpost of Progress“, in Caught Between Cultures: Colonial and postcolonial short stories, Stuttgart 2005: 8-35, here: 10.

[5] Joseph Conrad, „An Outpost of Progress“, in Caught Between Cultures: Colonial and postcolonial short stories, Stuttgart 2005: 8-35, here: 10.

[6] Joseph Conrad, „An Outpost of Progress“, in Caught Between Cultures: Colonial and postcolonial short stories, Stuttgart 2005: 8-35, here: 10-11.

[7] Joseph Conrad, „An Outpost of Progress“, in Caught Between Cultures: Colonial and postcolonial short stories, Stuttgart 2005: 8-35, here: 11.

[8] Joseph Conrad, „An Outpost of Progress“, in Caught Between Cultures: Colonial and postcolonial short stories, Stuttgart 2005: 8-35, here: 13.

[9] Joseph Conrad, „An Outpost of Progress“, in Caught Between Cultures: Colonial and postcolonial short stories, Stuttgart 2005: 8-35, here: 16.

[10] Joseph Conrad, „An Outpost of Progress“, in Caught Between Cultures: Colonial and postcolonial short stories, Stuttgart 2005: 8-35, here: 16.

[11] Joseph Conrad, „An Outpost of Progress“, in Caught Between Cultures: Colonial and postcolonial short stories, Stuttgart 2005: 8-35, here: 17.

[12] Joseph Conrad, „An Outpost of Progress“, in Caught Between Cultures: Colonial and postcolonial short stories, Stuttgart 2005: 8-35, here: 23.

Excerpt out of 15 pages

Details

Title
Joseph Conrad’s "An Outpost of Progress" and "Heart of Darkness". Influences on the Colonizer
College
University of Constance
Course
Post-colonial Short Stories
Grade
1,3
Author
Year
2008
Pages
15
Catalog Number
V281410
ISBN (eBook)
9783656749196
ISBN (Book)
9783656749219
File size
546 KB
Language
English
Tags
Conrad, Apocalypse now, heart of darkness, an outpost of progress, post-colonial, colonial
Quote paper
Sebastian Langner (Author), 2008, Joseph Conrad’s "An Outpost of Progress" and "Heart of Darkness". Influences on the Colonizer, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/281410

Comments

  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Joseph Conrad’s "An Outpost of Progress" and "Heart of Darkness". Influences on the Colonizer



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