King Leopold's Ghost Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

King Leopold's Ghost Symbols, Allegory and Motifs


A motif found in the novel is the idea that both the Europeans and the Congolese harbored misconceptions about the other country and believed the others to be cruel and inhuman. The Congolese used to believe that the Europeans were cannibals and they even feared them when they first came to their country. In return, the Europeans believed that the African kings were cruel and ruthless with their people.

Symbol for wealth

For the European countries in the 19th century, being wealthy meant having vast lands that could be exploited. The most powerful and rich countries were the ones that had many colonies from which they imported raw materials that could not be found in their own country. Thus, having vast amounts of lands meant having power and wealth so the lands a country owned can be considered a symbol for wealth.

Ivory as a symbol for social status

One of the reasons that King Leopold wanted to claim the land near the Congo River was because he wanted to have a place from where he could bring to his own country ivory and rubber. Ivory especially was an important material that could not be found in any European country and was extremely expensive, becoming thus an expensive material only the ruling class could have. Thus ivory became a symbol for wealth and abundance and in order to establish themselves as being wealthy they must possess great quantities of ivory.

Empty land

A common motif found in the novel is the belief that before the Europeans arrived, Africa was an empty land. In order to argue their claims of the land they took in an abusive way from the Native Africans, the European explorers claimed that what they found were empty lands or people in need of help because they were exploited by other nations such as the Arabs. This allowed them to steal the land from already existing nations and to lie to themselves claiming that their actions were not that deplorable.

A country of their own

Another motif found in the novel is the idea that many American politicians and not only wanted to send their former slaves back to Africa. Their idea was to create an independent state where the former slaves could live in peace away from the American society that was still biased against them. In an effort to do just that, black people were sent to Liberia and there were also some who believed that sending them to Congo was a good idea.

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