King Leopold's Ghost Themes

King Leopold's Ghost Themes

The slave trade and racism

A major theme analyzed in the novel is the idea of racism, how it develops and how it can become extremely dangerous. The time period analyzed in the novel is characterized by the slave trade that existed all over the world. In America, there were efforts made to abolish it but there were still many who maintained their racist views. The Europeans made a point of condemning the slave trade and many countries founded campaigns and tried to stop those who still used Africa as their personal cheap-labor supply. King Leopold was among the last to be discovered using slaves to enrich himself and his country and the fact that he made them slaves on their own land is even more disturbing. Even though the European countries tried to convince the other that they were interested in the fate of the Africans the truth was far from what it was presented. People of color were still considered inferior to the white ones and so even those who were against the slave trade seemed to accept the unjustified violence the Africans were treated with. Things started to change for the better at the beginning of the 19th century but it will take many more years until the black race (as then conceived) would end up seen as equal with the white one.

Truth and deception

From the beginning, King Leopold distinguishes himself as a man capable of making those around him believe what he wants them to believe. As a result, he is able to convince governments, religious leaders and the aristocracy that he wants to help the African people develop and reach the same level of advancement as the Europeans. In reality, King Leopold used the funds he gathered to pay a private army of mercenaries and obtain for himself lands in a country already populated. King Leopold managed to hide the truth from the rest of the world for a long period of time and when rumors regarding the conditions inside Congo emerged many people asked themselves what was true and what was a lie. Time and time, those who had a good social status were believed in the detriment of those who did not had the privilege to be born in a wealthy family thus proving that sometimes it doesn’t matter is something is true, what matters is the social status a person has when making a statement.

Power and wealth

Another major theme in the novel is linked with power and wealth, namely how people define the two terms. Nowadays-, the way society defines power is different form the way it was defined 200 years ago when a country was considered powerful when it had many lands. In the 19th and 18th century, when the Europeans started traveling to lands they could not reach before, power became synonym with having a colony in a distant land from which raw materials could be imported. Because of this, for Leopold who was an ambitious man, became necessary to have lands in places like Africa.

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