Scientists of the nineteenth century speculated that humans were on an evolutionary scale that ran from savage to civilized. The Europeans were considered to be at the highest point yet achieved by humanity -- the civilized. Peoples and races not yet encountered by the Europeans were placed further down the list, and were referred to as savages. Although the Europeans believed they had reached the height of civilization, remnants remained of their own savagery. Throughout the novel Heart of Darkness there is reference to the idea of civility versus savagery - this is also true of the movie Apocalypse Now.
Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness shows the disparity between the European ideal of civilization and the reality of it, displayed by the domination, torture, exploitation and dehumanization of the African people. Conrad often emphasizes the idea of what is civilized versus what is primitive or savage. While reading the novel, the reader can picture how savage the Europeans seem. They are cruel and devious towards the very people they are supposed to be helping. .
Marlow, the main character in Heart of Darkness, often recognizes the Europeans' dehumanization of the Africans. As Marlow approaches the company offices at the Outer Station he sees "a scene of inhabited devastation" (Conrad 24). He catches sight of a chain gang of half starved, animal-like Africans. Trying to rationalize the situation, Marlow tells himself that these Africans are criminals, and somehow deserve their fate. As He descends further down the hill he comes to a gloomy place--what he calls the "Grove of Death" (Conrad 30). Many Africans lie dying, their bodies frail and starved. He then turns and quickly removes himself from this horrible place. When Marlow reaches the main building he encounters the Accountant, dressed in nicely starched and ironed clothes, a complete contrast from the dying Africans outside.