King Leopold's Ghost Literary Elements

King Leopold's Ghost Literary Elements


Historical nonfiction

Setting and Context

The timeframe is King Leopold’s reign, in the 18th and 19th century. The action described takes place in Belgium, America and Congo.

Narrator and Point of View

The events are narrated from a third person objective and omniscient point of view.

Tone and Mood

Tragic, sad, remorseful

Protagonist and Antagonist

The antagonist is King Leopold and his racist ideas and the protagonists are various people mentioned such as George William Washington who tried to fight against the regime installed in Congo by King Leopold.

Major Conflict

The major conflict is between King Leopold who tried to profit as much as he could from the work of the people in Congo and the ones who tried to free them and make Congo a country free of slavery and exploitation.


The book has no climax since it presents historical events.


King Affonso’s death foreshadows the conflicts that will affect his country years after his death.


The African men and women that worked for Belgium in Congo were often called volunteer workers. They were however slaves and the term used to refer to them had the only purpose of convincing the other countries that slavery was abolished in the country.


In the introduction it is alluded that European countries and not only got involved more than once in African affairs, orchestrating everything from the sidelines and controlling who ended up on the throne and who had positions of power. It is however worth noting that the countries that got involved caused more than often more damage than good because they started numerous conflicts that ended up affecting the African countries and hindering their growth.


It is mentioned that before the 15th century, the Europeans had a somehow romantic idea about how African countries and those living there looked life and the conditions they lived in. For a long time, the Europeans envisioned the southern land as rich, with eccentric people and strong Kings that ruled with an iron fist their people. It became a dream for many to reach the African land to see for themselves if what they believed was true or not and this fascination made the African continent appear even more mysterious and alluring. For Europe, Africa was the place where fairytales were made and it became necessary for them to visit it themselves.


In the Prologue, it is mentioned a King named Affonso I who agreed to trade with Portugal and who extended the slave trade. His purpose was to advance his country by taking advantage of the knowledge the Europeans had, not to make his name associated with the slave trade. Paradoxically, even though he had good intentions, he ended up doing more damage than good because he tarnished the country’s reputation and changed forever the life of a slave.


The author draws a parallel between the way slaves were perceived in Africa and how they ended up being portrayed after the Europeans came to show just how much the African society was influenced in a negative way. Before the Europeans, the Africans had a slave trade but they usually released their slaves after a few years of service. The slaves were then free to marry whoever they wanted and to live a life just like any other normal person in the country would live. With the slaves taken by the Europeans, the situation changes completely. The slaves were forced to remain slaves for life and they were barely considered humans. Their masters could kill them if they wanted to and no one would have said anything. They had no hopes of being released or of living a normal life and their children born into slavery would then grow up to become slaves as well. What the author wanted to stress through this is that the European countries ended up influencing the African society for the worst in this case and instead of helping it grow it only hindered its progression.

Metonymy and Synecdoche



In the prologue ‘’they saw the continent as faceless, blank, empty a place on the map waiting to be explored’’.

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