The novel Heart of Darkness is a montage of many political and social themes appropriate to Joseph Conrad's era. Imperialism is one of these key themes, believed by Europeans to be the solution to the "White Man's Burden-. In a thoughtful narrative, Marlow recounts a previous journey into the jungle in search of a man named Kurtz, chief of the Interior Station and a large supplier of ivory. Along his journey, he encounters a number of hypocritical and exasperating Europeans, pitiable natives, and a jungle that takes on a life force of its own. Conrad himself had personal experiences in Africa and states that the novel is "experience pushed a little (and only very little) beyond the actual facts of the case for the perfectly legitimate- (Conrad 11) in his notes. Due to the largely proimperialistic audience Conrad was writing for, he had to carefully conceal his criticism so that only the right kind of eye could discover his true meaning. According to Robert Hampson, "The narrative strategies of both Conrad and Marlow work to subvert many of the assumptions accepted by their audience- (Hampson XXXiii). Using satirical characters and a poignant description of the destruction caused by imperialism, Conrad condemns the movement and its supporters, making a huge statement as the time and opening the wicked truth of imperialism to the public eye.
Joseph Conrad's depiction of the common European male exposes the extent of the denial involved with Imperialism. Europeans were wasteful and unprepared to assert control over Africa. Conrad comments on their inefficiency several times throughout his novel, the most obvious of which is " when the stout man with mustaches came tearing down to the river, a tin pail in his hand, assured that everybody was behaving splendidly, splendidly', dipped about a quart of water and tore back again. I noticed there was a hole in the bottom of his pail- (Conrad 20).