Sie sind auf Seite 1von 12


The Anxiety of Confluence

Downloaded from at New York University on May 31, 2015

Evolution, Ecology, and
Imperialism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness
It is a century now since Darwin gave us the first glimpse of the origin of
species. We know now what was unknown to all the preceding caravans
of generations: that men are only fellow-voyagers with other creatures in
this odyssey of evolution. This new knowledge should have given us, by
this time, a sense of kinship with fellow-creatures; a wish to live and let
live; a sense of wonder over the magnitude and duration of the biotic
enterprise. . . . These things, I say, should have come to us. I fear they
have not come to many.
Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

In an often-quoted remark, Joseph Conrad writes in A Personal Record

(1912) that as a nine-year-old boy, he placed his finger on a map of
sub-Saharan Africa and determined, "When I grow up I shall go
there"to "that blankest of blank spaces on the earth's figured sur-
face" (33). In the twenty-five years since the appearance of Chinua
Achebe's influential essay, "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's
Heart of Darkness," much criticism has focused on the way Conrad
fills that "blank space" in western culture with the image of Africa he
presents in Heart of Darkness (1902), and how that work reinforces the
racist and imperialist ideology of Conrad's time, with repercussions
up to the present. Edward Said says in Culture and Imperialism, for
instance, that "Kurtz's looting adventure, Marlow's journey up the
river, and the narrative itself all share a common theme: Europeans
performing acts of mastery and will in (or about) Africa" (23). Justifi-
ably, Achebe and Said have focused on the work's complicity in re-
producing racist stereotypes of African peoples and the exploitation

Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment 8.2 (Summer 2001)

Copyright 2001 by the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment

of Africans to produce the material culture of the West. What I would

like to address in this article is the European self that attempts these
"acts of mastery," not only over other peoples but over the ecology of
Africa as a whole. I raise the issue not only because an ecocritical dis-
cussion of the way Heart of Darkness treats the environmental destruc-
tion of Africa is warranted in and of itself, but also because the west-
ern metaphysical construction of the self over and against the "Other"
that characterizes the oppressive stance of the colonizer towards the
colonized has at its root the alienation of that self from the natural

Downloaded from at New York University on May 31, 2015

worldand no work imagines this alienation as vividly as Heart of
Darkness. And just as colonial "mastery" over colonized people has
hadeven beyond the brutal atrocities committed at the timefar-
reaching consequences in the postcolonial world, so too has the "con-
quering of nature" continued to affect the human relationship with
the environment up to the present time. I would like to look at Conrad's
story from an ecocritical point of view that adds to postcolonial criti-
cism of the work, in order to explore how the Eurocentric bias inscribed
in the text is the narrow point of a broader anthropocentric bias, one
that gains its particular strength as a reaction to the rise of Darwin's
theory of evolution in the half-century leading up to the publication
of Heart of Darkness.
Central to an understanding of the conflict in Heart of Darkness is what
Neil Evernden refers to as the "overarching dualism" in the European
conception of nature (xii), a Cartesian separation of the "self" from the
natural world1coinciding with a valorization of the human over other
species and the "civilized" over the "savage"that Conrad could see
evolutionary theory would make irrelevant. In a modern biological view
of the universe, the "self" of autonomous consciousness, separate from
the human body and the body of nature"the Voice" that Marlow con-
stantly speaks of in reference to Kurtzloses its primacy. A number of
ecological perspectives, dating back at least as far as Conrad's composi-
tion of Heart of Darkness, each in their different ways accommodate them-
selves to the fallacy of human superiority or reconcile themselves to this
erasure of personal subjectivity. Conrad's American contemporary John
Muir, for example, wandering in the Sierra Nevada and Alaska in the
same decades that Conrad journeyed in the South Pacific and Africa,
would ask "Why should man value himself as more than a small part of
the one great unit of creation?" (317). Within England during Conrad's
time, groups such as the Humanitarian League supported vegetarianism
and anti-vivisection at least partly on the grounds that evolution called
into question the right of humanity to dispose of animals as they wished
(Morton 2). By the mid-twentieth century, Aldo Leopold, as in the epi-
graph quoted above, would espouse an evolution-based land ethic of
The Anxiety of Confluence 99

mutuality between humanity and other elements of the natural world.

More recently, the deep ecology of Arne Naess would allow for a "wider
identification" of the self with the natural world,2 while ecofeminism
would see "the world as a community of beings with which one has com-
passionate, caring relationships" (Merchant, "Introduction" 13). These
approaches may differ widely and at times even conflict with one an-
other, but they share, in their ecocentricity, a lack of anxiety toward the
displacement of humanity from the center of the natural world. But what
happens when the superioritymuch less the separate autonomyof

Downloaded from at New York University on May 31, 2015

the individual consciousness is revealed as illusory by someone like
Conrad's Kurtz, without the compensation of some ecocentric philosophi-
cal framework such as those outlined above? Would he not conceive of
this realization as "the horror"?
The erasure of their personal subjectivity and anxiety over
reincorporation into the body of nature drive the seemingly motive-
less atrocities that Kurtz and others commit. And it is Kurtzthe char-
acter who comes closest to the realization of the illusory nature of
subjectivity and the irrelevance of his individual consciousness to the
non-human worldwho lashes out the most viciously, in a desperate
bid to define and substantiate his own being. Kurtz goes mad, not
because the restraining influences of European civilization can no
longer act as a check to some darker atavistic side, but because Kurtz
comes to understand that European civilization and its prevailing con-
struction of human subjectivity over and against the otherness of the
natural world are ecologically and evolutionarily irrelevant. The force
behind this realization by Kurtza realization at which Marlow also
arrives but attempts to elideis the theory of evolution and its
decentering of the European man as universal cynosure and final prod-
uct of a teleological and historical progression. Allan Hunter demon-
strates Conrad's awareness of the misuse of evolutionary theory as
"an excuse for rapine" by imperialist forces who portrayed as "natu-
ral" or "the laws of the jungle" the domination of native Africans by
Europeans.3 Such an awareness is clear in Conrad's portrayal, not only
of Kurtz, but of the whole machinery of imperialism in the Congo;
however, a great deal of anxiety about evolutionary theory's effect on
the human relationship with nature remains unresolved in the text.
What creates such anxiety is not only that evolution takes such an
immensity of time; not only that humans share a common ancestry
with "lower" life forms; and not only that the randomness of natural
selection makes humanity's place at the top of the hierarchy so peril-
ous and a deity unnecessary4 It is the realization that humanity in
general and the self in particular are not separate from nature and
that the positioning of humans (let alone European male humans) at
100 ISLE

the apex, is in itself a fiction, a misapprehension of evolutionary theory.

As Stephen Jay Gould says, speaking of the ultimate difficulty that
Darwin's peers had with this aspect of his theory: "Natural selection
is a theory of local adaptation to changing environments. It proposes
no perfecting principles, no guarantee of general improvement; in
short, no reason for general approbation in a political climate favor-
ing innate progress in nature" (45). Furthermore, it should be obvious
that all species extant at any given time are equally the end products
of evolutionary forces. There is no straight, hierarchical line from

Downloaded from at New York University on May 31, 2015

amoeba to Anglican, from paramecium to Parisian. Rather, there ex-
ists a practically infinite number of branchings, producing millions of
species, all adapted to the niches which they inhabit, a fact that would
become all the more apparent to a European in the tropics, with the
tropical forests' profusion of life forms.
That these evolutionary insights, without the deep ecological un-
derstanding of what they imply, are the source of Kurtz's madness
and the impetus for his atrocities against the human and non-human
inhabitants of the Congo is manifest throughout the text of Heart of
Darkness. As I continue, I would like to concentrate on three aspects.
First is the severed elephant tuskivoryas an emblem for the
commodification of the African landscape as well as the self's at-
tempted mastery over nature. Second is the figuring of, not only the
human inhabitants, but the "wilderness" itself as undifferentiated,
generalized "Other" against which the anthropocentric self takes its
identity. Third is the effect the narrative's structure (as a tale told on
the Thames about the Congo) has on Victorian notions of progress
along with what is implied about evolution and ecology in these riv-
ers' figurative confluence.

Kurtz's outpost is set, as the chief accountant tells Marlow, in the "true
ivory country" (22), and long before Marlow reaches Kurtz, he claims
that "the word 'ivory' rang in the air" (26), a phrase that is repeated
later in the book. Indeed, the word ivory rings in this text as a figure
for the commodification of the African landscape and as an emblem
for the European dominance of Africa in this period, after the slave
trade has ceased. One of the uses to which ivory was put in the nine-
teenth century was the fashioning of billiard balls. The word ivory,
repeated continually, functions as the cue ball which sets in motion
other conflicts in the text.
By the 1890s, the decade during which Conrad made his own jour-
ney to the Congo and wrote Heart of Darkness, ivory was the stuff of
The Anxiety of Confluence 101

Leopold IFs greedy dreams. It is not, of course, insignificant that

Marlow tells his tale to "the Lawyer," "the Accountant," and "the Di-
rector of Companies"all capitalized and with the definite article.
Ivory represented over half of the total export value from the Congo
Basin, and the total of ivory exported was as high as 76,000 kilos a
yeara staggering tonnage of severed elephant tusk (Nelson 55). Ironi-
cally, while ivory exports had largely replaced the traffic in slaves, the
ivory trade only increased oppression for most Africans on the conti-
nent in terms of forced laborand because the desire to eliminate the

Downloaded from at New York University on May 31, 2015

middleman brought European ivory merchants deeper into the inte-
rior, where they "bought" ivory at a tiny fraction of its value (42).
Not only does ivory function as a symbol for the commodification
of African ecology, it also functions as an emblem of European attempts
at mastery over nature, both European culture in general and indi-
vidual European identityKurtz's identityin particular. The earli-
est known European ivory carving from the middle ages is a small
casket depicting scenes from the Old and New Testaments, and reli-
gious imagery dominates European ivory carving up to the Renais-
sance (Randall 12), so the European metaphysical tradition has been
inscribed in ivory from the very beginning. After falling out of favor
as an art form, ivory regained popularity in the nineteenth century,
when it was used for secular items such as piano keys and the heads
of canes. To imagine an ivory figurine on a Victorian English hearth or
an ivory cane head leaning against the upholstered arm of a wing
chair (perhaps to the accompaniment of a Brahms piano concerto) is
to see and hear the artifacts of western civilization literally carved out
of the African ecosystem, during the colonial period in which Conrad
was writing.
Kurtz, of course, is the master of the Congo ivory trade: as the
chief accountant says, he "sends in as much ivory as all the others put
together" (22). The severed tusk, in addition to being the ivory of
material wealth, is also the elephant hunter's trophy, the symbol for
Kurtz of his mastery over nature and therefore the reification of his
personal subjective identity. As Gillian Beer, speaking of the dichotomy
between "anthropocentric language" and a "material world [that] is
not anthropocentric" puts it, "Only by giving up the will to dominate
the material world and to relate it to our own needs, conditions, and
sensibilities will it be possible for us to find a language that gives proper
attention to the nature of things" (50). Kurtzattached to the idea of
the primacy of his own voicehas no such language, and his "will to
dominate" only grows in proportion to his rising awareness of
humanity's unprivileged status in the natural world. But the pathos
of Kurtz's attempt to establish his own conscious identity by mastery
102 ISLE

over nature is revealed by his constant need for more ivory; there is
never enough to keep him from slipping into the abyss. In a descrip-
tion of the place where Marlow finds Kurtz that reinforces the magni-
tude of the elephant slaughter as well as Kurtz's obsession with the
ownership of ivory, Marlow says, "Ivory? I should think so. Heaps of
it, stacks of it. The old mud shanty was bursting with it. You would
think there was not a single tusk left either above or below ground in
the whole country" (49).
Having seemingly decimated the Congo Basin's entire elephant

Downloaded from at New York University on May 31, 2015

population, Kurtz in his desperation becomes increasingly destruc-
tive until, in his most desperate, spiteful, and atrociously violent act,
he turns for his trophy from the severed elephant tusk to the severed
human head, the seat of human consciousness. As Marlow describes
his first view of this grisly scene:
These round knobs were not ornamental but symbolic; they were expres-
sive and puzzling, striking and disturbingfood for thought and also for
vultures if there had been any looking down from the sky; but at all events
for such ants as were industrious enough to ascend the pole. (57)

Marlow says that the heads on the posts "were not ornamental but
symbolic," though of what precisely he does not say. Of course, the
hunter's trophy is both ornamental and symbolic, announcing his
mastery over that which is displayed. But in that same sentence an
ironic turn of phrase makes manifest the irrelevance of human con-
sciousness to non-human nature and the absurdity of human attempts
at mastery over it. He says the heads were "food for thought and also
for vultures." That is, that place we so value as the seat of our indi-
vidual subjectivity is only so much meat in the natural world. In the
next paragraph Marlow says that:
The wilderness . . . had whispered to [Kurtz] things about himself which
he did not know, things of which he had no conception till he took counsel
with this great solitudeand the whisper had proved irresistibly fascinat-
ing. It echoed loudly within him because he was hollow at the core. (57-58)

Indeed what Kurtz now knows, which Marlow either misses or is

unwilling to admit, is contained in Marlow's words: what Kurtz had
not known about himself until his encounter with "the wilderness"
was that heand indeed Marlow and everyone elseis "hollow at
the core." Ian Watt, writing about what effect Conrad's knowledge of
astronomy and physics (not, in this case, of evolution) had on his out-
look, contends he developed "a view of man's situation very close to
that of modern Existentialism: the individual consciousness is inevi-
tably separate from its environment..." (152). In fact, this separation,
The Anxiety of Confluence 103

pervasive in western culture and hardly limited to existentialism, is

just what Kurtz is attempting, but failing, to recover. But each attempt
at this recoveryno matter how high he piles up the tusks or heads
only increases his sense that the separation of his "consciousness" from
his "environment" is an illusion. The "horror" for Kurtz is that, not
only our bodies, but what we think of as our "selves" is ultimately
only part of the food chainvulture food.
This conflation of the human head and the severed tusk becomes
clear when Kurtz utters his emblematic final words, "The horror! The

Downloaded from at New York University on May 31, 2015

horror!" Marlow relates: "I saw on that ivory face the expression... of
an intense and hopeless despair" (68), making apparent the connec-
tion between the human head (here, Kurtz's face) and the elephant
tusk. He earlier makes this same connection in an especially signifi-
cant way: "The wilderness had patted him on the head, and, behold,
it was like a ballan ivory ball" (49). Not only is the severed elephant
tusk equated here with the human head, but it is done so in a way, as
I will discuss below, that figures the "wilderness," as it figures through-
out the book, as a conscious and malign force, rather than as the ran-
dom force implied by Darwin's idea of natural selection, where "varia-
tions, however slight and from whatever cause proceeding" result in
"beautiful adaptations everywhere and in every part of the organic
world" (88). At the end of the narrative, when Marlow meets Kurtz's
"Intended," he describes her as "all in black with a pale head" (72),
echoing the ivory head of Kurtz. Here, at the end, is the seat of con-
sciousness as western metaphysics sees it, seemingly separate, but
really of the same matter as the elephant's tusk and significant in eco-
logical terms as food for vultures or a colony of ants.

While "ivory" seems to be everywhere in this text, the elephants from

which the tusks are severed do not appear at all. This is significant
because, interestingly, except for one desultory reference to hippos
and alligators sunning themselves on a bank, the myriad species of
African wildlife do not appear in this narrative of Africa, not even
mosquitoes. For that matter, nor do plants or other features of the land-
scape except the Congo River itself. "Trees" appear"Trees, trees
millions of trees, massive, immense, running up high" (37)but these
are not individual species, just a solid undifferentiated mass. Just as
the inhabitants of the land are never identified as belonging to, say,
the Mbundu or Ndembu peoples (much less, of course, by individual
name) there are no acacias, no thorns, no raffia palms, just "trees."
Nor is there any sense of the actual changes in ecosystem that a thou-
104 ISLE

sand-mile trip up the Congo would reveal, ranging from open savanna
to cloud forest, from lowland delta to low mountains (Hilton 5). Just
as the African people are lumped together in this text as "savages,"
the animals, plants, rivers, and hills are lumped together as "wilder-
ness" (that this term also implies an uninhabited land is of course
significant, since it is certainly not "wilderness" to the people whose
home it is). They figure simultaneously and together as the "Other"
against which the European man delineates his identity.
An image that repeats in the text is that of the whites on the steamer

Downloaded from at New York University on May 31, 2015

shooting blindly into the forest with no evident target in sight: "The
pilgrims had opened fire with their Winchesters and were simply
squirting lead into that bush" (46). And later, "I saw a row of pilgrims
squirting lead in the air out of Winchesters held to the hip" (64). While
not mitigating their murderous intent toward the native people, that
they are shooting into "that bush", into "the air" rather than at people
reveals how in these instances "wilderness" is ultimately "the Other."
In fact, this image is rehearsed near the very start of the narrative,
before Marlow even reaches the Congo, when he relates seeing a French
man-o-war, anchored off the coast: "In the empty immensity of earth,
sky, and water, there she was, incomprehensible, firing into a conti-
nent" (17). Here, the word "continent" carries not only genocidal im-
portwhere "continent" stands for African nations and peoplesbut
ecocidal import as wellwhere "continent" stands for the land and
the image created is that of total ecological hegemony.
It is not surprising, then, that when the "pilgrims" actually shoot
people they can see at point-blank range, the people they target
include the character whom Marlow describes as embodying the
wilderness. It should also come as no surprise that this embodi-
ment of wilderness-as-Other should be not only an African, but an
African woman at that. The woman whom criticism identifies as
Kurtz's mistress Marlow describes as "like the wilderness itself"
(60). He says that the land itself, "the colossal body of the fecund
and mysterious life seemed to look at her, pensive, as though it
had been looking at the image of its own tenebrous and passionate
soul" (60). This characterization of her as the embodiment of the
wilderness suggests not only that she is Kurtz's lover pleading with
him not to leave, but that she represents the body of nature into
which, to his own horror, Kurtz has been incorporated, but outside
of which his identity no longer has any significance, since he real-
izes that heas well as his civilizationis "hollow at the core."
On the first occasion that she appears before the steamer, as a syn-
ecdoche for the wilderness, Marlow relates what is to him an in-
comprehensible gesture, one that seems to imply that she is beck-
The Anxiety of Confluence 105

oning only Kurtz as her lover, but which one can also interpret as
directed toward everyone on the boat: "Suddenly she opened her
bared arms and threw them up rigid above her head, as though in an
uncontrollable desire to touch the sky, and at the same time the swift
shadows darted out on the earth, swept around on the river, gather-
ing the steamer in a shadowy embrace" (60). It is a gesture that takes
in its embrace and attempts to connect everyone on the steamer with
the sky and the earth, a gesture which invites them all, as it has in-
vited Kurtz, to reincorporate themselves into the wilderness, to see

Downloaded from at New York University on May 31, 2015

the illusory nature of their separation. Significantly, her presence is
accompanied by a "hush that had fallen suddenly upon the sorrowful
land" (60), a silence that stands in sharp contrast to the ubiquitous
"Voice" of Kurtz's conscious self. When this silence is broken, it is by
one of the "pilgrims," ("the man of patches") who states, "If she had
offered to come aboard I really think I would have tried to shoot her"
(61). The steamer, icon of industrialism, is completely enveloped by
the surrounding "wilderness"the water below; the atmosphere
above; people, animals, and trees on all sides. With his position in the
steamer the only thing that separates him from the wilderness, the
"man of patches" fears that her coming aboard would dissolve this
barrier. Here the man's voice equates with violence against anything
that would expose the fear of nature, the hollowness that he has
patched over with his false sense of mastery.
That they later react with horror, attempting to kill this figure
for the earth itself, is no surprise; nor is her unflinching stance un-
expected, since ultimately the earth and all its parts are indifferent
to the human individual. That Marlow (along with the reader) does
not actually see her die reinforces the suggestion of her synecdochic
nature. As an African, as a woman, as an embodiment of wilder-
ness, she is triply "othered." As Vandana Shiva puts it, "The reduc-
tionist mind superimposes the roles and forms of power of West-
ern male-oriented concepts on women, all non-western peoples,
and even on nature, rendering all three 'deficient/ and in need of
development" (5). This character's attempt to embrace Kurtz is
therefore a threatMarlow calls the idea "something altogether
monstrous" (63)to a self that defines itself in terms of whiteness,
maleness, and mastery over nature. 5

That the setting of the novel is not the Congo but in fact the Thames,
with Marlow's tale a story within a story, is of course significant to
this ecocritical reading. At the very beginning the narrator describes
106 ISLE

the Thames as "like the beginning of an interminable waterway" (7),

one that stretches, as he says here and repeats at the very end, to "the
uttermost ends of the earth" (8, 76), making the connection between
Britain and Africa. And of course he says of Britain, that "this also ...
has been one of the dark places of the earth" (9). As Achebe suggests,
this lends itself to the reading (and the racist assumption) that only
the superior civilization of Europe stands between the western man
and the savage African. As Achebe puts it, referring to the Thames, "It
conquered its darkness, of course, and is now in daylight and peace.

Downloaded from at New York University on May 31, 2015

But if it were to visit its primordial relative, the Congo, it would run
the terrible risk of hearing grotesque echoes of its own forgotten dark-
ness, and falling victim to an avenging recrudescence of the mindless
frenzy of the first beginnings" (252). Of course, Achebe's criticism ex-
poses the idea of European superiority as racist in itself, a criticism
that dovetails with the fallacy of social Darwinism and the Victorian
misapplication of Darwin's theory as a progressive and historical
ideaa misprision that continues in some quarters todaythat justi-
fied imperialism on the grounds that Europeans had "evolved" be-
yond the savage state, as evidenced by European civilization.6 But the
two thousand years since Britain was "savage" are nothing against
the geological time scale in which evolution occurs (Hunter 18). That
Conrad chooses to phrase when Britain was one of "the dark places"
in the imperfect "has been" rather than the more definite past tense
"was" suggests an awareness of the proximity in time, as if England
"has been" civilized recently enough so that the difference is insig-
nificant. Indeed, the billions of years during which species have
evolved make the idea that the Thames would experience a "recru-
descence" of darkness by association with the Congo ludicrous, not
only for the reasons Achebe points out. Those "first beginnings" are
really never-ending; they encompass both Thames and Congo always,
through an ever-continuing process of evolution.
Both the Thames and the Congo flow into the Atlantic and there-
fore have a geographical confluence in a global ecology sensethe
Thames always does "visit its relative the Congo." There are infinite
confluences, too, in the branches of evolution connecting humans to
the rest of the species on the planet and confluence between the self
and the rest of the human and non-human world, in an intricate eco-
logical web. That this story recognizes all this confluence is its great
strength: a contemporary ecological consciousness may have needed
to face "the horror" before coming to terms with humanity's lack of
priority in the natural world. The work, however, lacks the ecological
consciousness that would allow Marlow to reconcile himself to hold-
ing an equal place with other beings in the natural worldand the
The Anxiety of Confluence 107

consequences are formidable. For although Conrad calls into ques-

tion the metaphysical underpinnings of human and ecological op-
pression, he nonetheless flinches from facing the implications of
this interrogation, which would entail his reimagining as benevo-
lent and liberating a reincorporation of the self into the "wilder-
ness"a reincorporation that this story imagines as powerfully
threatening. He thereby reinforces those underpinnings in Heart of
Darkness, a work that remains widely influential in a culture where
many still lack the ecological consciousness that would make such

Downloaded from at New York University on May 31, 2015

oppressive attitudes untenable.


1. Besides Evernden, see also George Sessions, "Deep Ecology and the An-
thropocentric Detour" for a critique of anthropocentrism in the western philo-
sophical tradition. Although I do not subscribe wholly to a deep ecology view-
point, Sessions' analysis of how Cartesian mind-body dualism privileges the self
to the detriment of the non-human world is a cogent one, as is a similar discus-
sion in Max Oelschlaeger, The Idea of Wilderness (80-89). Also influential here is
Lawrence Buell, The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature Writing, and the
Formation ofAmerican Culture for its tracing the development of an "aesthetics" of
"self-relinquishment" (143-79).
2. Michael Zimmerman, Contesting Earth's Future: Radical Ecology and
Postmodernity (19-56). Along with a thorough treatment of Naess's ideas,
Zimmerman also provides background on ecofeminism and social ecology, dis-
cussing areas of conflict between these latter two positions and deep ecology.
3. Allan Hunter, Joseph Conrad and the Ethics of Darwinism: The Challenges of
Science and Redmond O'Hanlon, Joseph Conrad and Charles Darwin: The Influence
of Scientific Thought on Conrad's Fiction are two full-length treatments of the Dar-
winian influence on Conrad. Where both explore mainly the effects of Darwin-
ian thought on race, class, and ethical relations among people in the late nine-
teenth century as reflected in Conrad's fiction, I am attempting here to bring this
exploration into a broader ecological context.
4. See Gillian Beer, Darwin's Plots: Evolutionary Narrative in Darwin, George
Eliot, and Nineteenth-Century Fiction for an excellent discussion of how Darwin-
ian theory affected Victorian thought, as well as for her use of "an ecological
rather than a patriarchal model... in studying [Darwin's] work" (10).
5. In addition to Shiva, Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development, I am
also drawing here, in a general way, on influential ecofeminist works, especially
Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolu-
tion, and Susan Griffin, Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her.
6. As Peter Morton points out, there were really a number of "competing
Social Darwinisms" (2), from the most viciously reactionary to those espoused
by moderately liberal groups such as the Fabian Society and the Humanitarian
League. I am referring here to the more reactionary strain, as espoused by Herbert
108 ISLE

Spencer, that would justify imperialism as well as racial and social hierarchies by
a spurious appeal to "survival of the fittest."


Achebe, Chinua. "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness."

Heart of Darkness. By Joseph Conrad. 3rd. ed. Ed. Robert Kimbrough. New
York: Norton, 1988.
Beer, Gillian. Darwin's Plots: Evolutionary Narrative in Darwin, George Eliot and

Downloaded from at New York University on May 31, 2015

Nineteenth-Century Fiction. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1983.
Buell, Lawrence. The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature Writing, and the
Formation of American Culture. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1995.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Ed. Robert Kimbrough. 3rd. ed. New York:
Norton, 1988.
. A Personal Record. New York: Harper, 1912.
Darwin, Charles. The Origin of Species. New York: Modern Library, 1998.
Evernden, Neil. The Social Creation of Nature. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1992.
Gould, Stephen J. Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History. New York:
Norton, 1977.
Hilton, Ann. The Kingdom of Kongo. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1985.
Hunter, Allen. Joseph Conrad and the Ethics of Darwinism: The Challenges of Science.
London: Croom Helm, 1983.
Griffin, Susan. Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her. New York: Harper and
Row, 1978
Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac. New York: Ballantine, 1966.
Merchant, Carolyn. The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolu-
tion. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1980.
. Introduction. Ecology. Ed. Carolyn Merchant. Atlantic Highlands: Hu-
manities P, 1994.
Morton, Peter. The Vital Science: Biology and the Literary Imagination, 1860-1900.
London: George Allen & Unwin, 1984.
Muir, John. The Wilderness World of John Muir. Ed. Edwin Way Teale. Boston:
Houghton Mifflin, 1954.
Nelson, Samuel H. Colonialism in the Congo: 1880-1940. Athens, OH: Center for
International Studies, 1994.
O'Hanlon, Redmond. Joseph Conrad and Charles Darwin: The Influence of Scientific
Thought on Conrad's Fiction. Atlantic Highlands: Humanities P, 1984.
Randall, Richard H., Jr. The Golden Age of Ivory: Gothic Carvings in North American
Collections. New York: Hudson Hills, 1993.
Said, Edward. Culture and Imperialism. New York: Random House, 1993.
Sessions, George. "Ecocentrism and the Anthropocentric Detour." Ecology. Ed.
Carolyn Merchant. Atlantic Heights: Humanities P, 1994.140-51.
Shiva, Vandana. Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development. London: Zed
Books, 1988.
Watt, Ian. Conrad in the Nineteenth Century. Berkeley: U of California P, 1979.
Zimmerman, Michael E. Contesting Earth's Future: Radical Ecology and Postmodernity.
Berkeley: U of California P, 1994.