“Civilization”, like “democracy” is something of a loaded term. For democracy there is a straightforward definition; a democracy is a society where the members of that society vote for their political leaders. “Democracy” can also refer to a set of social attitudes that individuals can possess. For instance, a snob possesses attitudes that can be described as “undemocratic” regardless of his or her participation in the political process of his or her own society. The term civilization literally means a society which has reached a high level of organization and development, which can be characterized by highly specified division of labor, monumental architecture, a redistributive economy, and a highly developed degree of literacy, among other things. The term “civilization” also refers to a set of attitudes and behavior that Western society has adopted as being consonant with the literal definition of civilization. A “civilized” individual is one who is well-educated, moral, virtuous, humanitarian, and possesses a degree of innate “nobility.” In today’s world these terms, and therefore the term “civilization”, are understood throughout the world according to their European definitions, and therefore they are, to a certain degree, ethno-centric. This is because of the predominant role European civilization has played in shaping world civilization. With the exception of Japan, every place on earth has been occupied and administered by a European power for a significant period of time during the last five hundred years. Today the world’s understanding of how nations should govern themselves is with constitutions patterned after European models, w…
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…ion”, and that sense of loss is “the horror.” For them the Apocalypse, the end of civilization had come, and when Kurtz meets his mortal end, it’s not with a bang but a whimper.
Western Civilization has risen to produce what are arguably some of the highest, most virtuous ideals of mankind. The message that The Hollow Men and Apocalypse Now give is that in Western Civilization’s quest for self-aggrandizement, those ideals get lost. What is left is but the empty façade, the hollow men, and in the hearts and minds of the hollow men, the apocalypse descends and “civilization” ends not with a bang but a whimper.
Conrad, James. Heart of Darkness and Other Tales. Great Britain,
BPC paperbacks ltd. 1990.
Eliot, Thomas Stearns. “The Hollow Men.” The Complete Poems and Plays: 1909-1950.
New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1971.
Colonialism and Imperialism – European Ideals in Heart of Darkness and The Hollow Men
Hollowness of European Ideals Exposed in Heart of Darkness and The Hollow Men
Kurtz occupies a peculiar position in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men.” “Mr. Kurtz, he dead” is the epigraph to “The Hollow Men.” Eliot draws an obvious allusion to Kurtz, the morally hollow man in Heart of Darkness. Left to his own devices, Kurtz commits appalling acts such as shrinking human heads and performing terrible sacrifices. Kurtz is armed with only the dubious sense of moral superiority of his culture and the desire to civilize the natives (Dahl 34). This front quickly crumbles when faced with the noble yet savage ways offered by Africa. The crumbling front only leaves a hollow void of desired ideas and morals. This hollowness is what Eliot builds on to develop his own idea of hollowness. Kurtz is an apt example of the hollowness of European ideals that Eliot wanted to expose. T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” uses Conrad’s Kurtz to enforce the idea of hollowness found in contemporary Western thought, because Kurtz is a “model European” and represents the ideas of the modern Western Everyman.
Kurtz is a prototypal European thinker and citizen. He is the product of idealistic, progressive, and optimistic thought (Dahl 34). Kurtz is a Renaissance man, being a musician, a painter, a journalist, and a “universal genius” (71). So well does Kurtz perform all his duties, Marlow never figures out Kurtz’s true occupation. Marlow can envision Kurtz as a “painter who wrote for the papers” as well as a “journalist who could paint” (71). Kurtz’s universal talent extends to the field of politics, where he could have been a “splendid leader of an extreme party,” in fact of any party (71). Kurtz was highly respected…
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…rmany and later in Vietnam and Cambodia (Anderson 404). In all likelihood, Heart of Darkness was just a prelude to the atrocities that could be committed with the continuance of European thought as it was. Eliot explicitly says one of the themes to Part V is “the present decay of Eastern Europe” (Roessel 55). Eliot built on this theme of moral hollowness in “The Hollow Men,” by having Kurtz and his actions be representative of contemporary European thought.
Anderson, Walter E. “Heart of Darkness: The Sublime Spectacle. University of Toronto Quarterly 57(3) (1998): 404-421.
Dahl, James C. “Kurtz, Marlow, Conrad and the Human Heart of Darkness”. Studies in the Literary Imagination 1(2) (1968): 33-40.
Roessel, David. “Guy Fawkes Day and the Versailles Peace in ‘The Hollow Men’. English Language Notes 28(1) (1990): 52-58.