Ben Eder
AP Comm.
HorD essay

Choose one of Conrad’s philosophical passages and discuss it in terms of both the book and life.

“It’s queer how out of touch with truth women are, they live in a world of their own. . . it is too beautiful. . . “ page 19

At first a reader might find this quote to be offensive and false without fully considering what Conrad was saying and the world in which he lived. I do not consider this to be a comment on the relative understanding of life based on sex, but an observation of the differences in thought and perspective between the producers and consumers of the world. In Conrad’s time it was typical for the man to work and accomplish things and the women to stay at home to raise children and benefit from the work of man. Of course, this was a chauvinistic view but describes how Conrad viewed the situation. For the purpose of discussing the quote this will be the premise I hold as fact. Relative to the book, the men traveled into the unknown to gather a product of little practical application, but extremely desirable to women. Horrible atrocities were committed by the men in their quest to satisfy the desire of the women, from the consumer of the desired good. Conrad meant all those who benefited and used the ivory, but did nothing to collect it, when he referred to women.
Today similar situations exist, but they have little to do with sex. All of the human race can be divided between producers and consumers; those who use what others create or collect, and those who create or collect. Today, just as in the 1800’s, the people gaining from exploitation and the ills of productions live in a world of their own, rarely seeing the truth resulting from their desires. When they do see the horrors behind the wishes, they do not like what they see, protesting, but never hitting the true source of the problem: people’s basic greed and unquenchable material appetite.
We all want nice, inexpensive shoes and in the American economy these are impossible. When companies go overseas and exploit cheap, effective labor, we try to look other way. When exploitation is brought to our attention, insufficient and ascetically pleasing action takes place. We may impose sanctions against countries who allow child labor or pressure them to change laws, and we may boycott particularly abusive companies. However, capitalistic markets will satisfy our desires no matter what the humanitarian or ecological cost. “Feel-good” reforms do little but temporarily ease the overall problem of the greed and willful ignorance of the industrialized world. Our behavior is also rationalized by consumers, just as the women in The Heart of Darkness rationalized the ivory industry as “bringing culture and religion to savages.” Today we are “encouraging growth” or “providing employment” to the oppressed.
People don’t want pollution or the destruction of the environment, but we do want the products that cause these problems. Consumers buy millions of hamburgers, at the lowest price possible, yet are horrified when these hamburgers are produced in the cheapest and most efficient manner possible, by raising cattle in cleared rainforest. Hamburger consumers are out of touch with the basic forces at work. You can’t have it both ways. Our desires and money will not necessarily do the right thing. Production knows no morals; only results and profit.
At all levels of the work-benefit chain, the people benefiting from a particular action naturally look the other way from a wrong that may be committed on their behalf. This is why Conrad refered to these people as “out of touch” and in a “world of their own.” It was not just the women at home in Europe who were ignorant. It was also the accountant who believed the man was actually clearing the trails and not shooting lagging slaves, or the station manager who ordered that the cannibals be provided for, but did not concern himself with the fact that they are starving and very unhappy.
Marlow was more than just some character in a book bashing women. He made a profound social comment that described how the consumers of the world ignore the truth and live in a world of fantasy and falsehoods. In some way we are all consumers and have to look the other way in order to avoid disillusionment and utter disgust for our current “way of life.”