The empire- a hollow machine

Whilst reading the heart of darkness, i was amused to find that descriptions about the steam engine which Marlow is the captain of  greatly resembles that of  those which we may apply to the empire. The invention of the steam engine is (if i remember correctly) closely tied to the rise of capitalism and the colonial enterprise is itself a capitalistic venture in many ways.  Marlow himself is always concerned with work and productivity and strangely enough, it is ambiguous if his judgments of the agents of empire arises out of an outraged morality or rather the ineffectuality of the actions, albeit cruel in nature.

While on board the ship, dense fog surrounds it and Marlow is uncertain as to where it is heading, which parallels his confusion concerning to the supposedly savage cannibals who showed great restraint (by not dishonouring their contract and eating the people on board), which is in great contrast to the pilgrims who seemed only able to show a surface restraint. Thus, it is unclear what the empire’s civilising mission is supposed to accomplish and where it would lead both the ‘savages’ and pilgrims to, much akin to navigating in a fog of confusion. 

In another section of the novel, the steam ship is described as hollow, very much like the characters who represent the colonial powers who are a ‘papier-mache mephistopheles'( two dimensional and without depth) or otherwise all appearances without substance like the company’s chief accountant.  Thus, the ’empire machine’ is always in danger of breaking down and in need of repair.

Chinua Achebe’s article on how the heart of darkness should not be included in the canon of literary works is quite extreme as when read in the context of a course which addresses racism and the effects of colonialism, it could provide us with a deeper insight into the depth of prejudice which permeates the novel on all levels.  However, i do agree that if this text were to read solely as a great work without addressing its flaws , it would not be fair.

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