Heart of Darkness

In what ways are Marlow’s own ideological assumptions exposed within the passage? What is the effect of this exposure?


Ideology can be defined as ‘a conscious or unconscious way of perceiving things or phenomena; a set of beliefs or assumptions’.

With the above definition in mind, the questions below will ask you to identify instances in which ideology is exposed in the following passage:

‘One thing more remained to do—say good-bye to my excellent aunt. I found her triumphant. I had a cup of tea—the last decent cup of tea for many days—and in a room that most soothingly looked just as you would expect a lady's drawing-room to look, we had a long quiet chat by the fireside. In the course of these confidences it became quite plain to me I had been represented to the wife of the high dignitary, and goodness knows to how many more people besides, as an exceptional and gifted creature—a piece of good fortune for the Company—a man you don't get hold of every day. Good heavens! and I was going to take charge of a two-penny-half-penny river-steamboat with a penny whistle attached! It appeared, however, I was also one of the Workers, with a capital—you know. Something like an emissary of light, something like a lower sort of apostle. There had been a lot of such rot let loose in print and talk just about that time, and the excellent woman, living right in the rush of all that humbug, got carried off her feet. She talked about ‘weaning those ignorant millions from their horrid ways,’ till, upon my word, she made me quite uncomfortable. I ventured to hint that the Company was run for profit.

“‘You forget, dear Charlie, that the labourer is worthy of his hire,’ she said, brightly. It's queer how out of touch with truth women are. They live in a world of their own, and there has never been anything like it, and never can be. It is too beautiful altogether, and if they were to set it up it would go to pieces before the first sunset. Some confounded fact we men have been living contentedly with ever since the day of creation would start up and knock the whole thing over.

“After this I got embraced, told to wear flannel, be sure to write often, and so on—and I left. In the street—I don't know why—a queer feeling came to me that I was an imposter’

(Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, pt. I.)

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Marlow feels a sense of hypocrisy in this whole venture. While his aunt represents "civilized" corporate interests that will light the way for the "ignorant millions" in Africa, Marlow can't help feeling life a fraud. He knows very well he is not "special". He is merely another white man shuttling a "two-penny-half-penny river-steamboat " down a river to extract resources that don't belong to him.