Marxist Theory, Realism and Liberalism

Marxist Theory in Fiction

Various works of fiction examine Marxist notions related to ideology, historical materialism, and the concepts of dystopia/utopia. Karl Marx’s philosophy profoundly impacted the literature of the twentieth century, including Joseph Conrad’s literary work. Dialectical materialism, for instance, posits that material conditions shape a society’s order and subsequent development. Therefore, the only way of understanding societal transformations is by exploring the primary mode of production. Marxist teachings examine the intricate relationships between the oppressors (bourgeoisie) and the oppressed (proletariat). Conrad writes a story about Charles Marlow, who recounts his adventures as a ferry boat captain working for an ivory trading company. In his novella Heart of Darkness, the author explores the imperialistic realities of nineteenth-century Africa, where humans became the commodity of ivory mass production.

There is a clear distinction between classes since the story reflects the realities of corruptive English colonialism. When Marlow first visits the Company’s station, he immediately notes that African laborers look like they are “in some picture of a massacre or pestilence” (Conrad 1990, p. 14). These natives are forced into miserable working conditions as they appear sickly and thin. The exploited Africans become a commodity instead of ivory. Marlow states that “a lot of people, mostly black and naked, moved about like ants” (Conrad 1990, p. 12). While the natives are continuously exploited, the bourgeoisie seems to be unaffected by such atrocious acts. Marlow is surprised when he sees the Company’s chief accountant wearing white linens, which symbolizes the position of a white man compared to African laborers. The man exudes “unexpected elegance” and appears as a vision to Marlow, pristine and immaculate (Conrad 1990, p. 15). The main character’s story represents the Marxist notions of social hierarchy and dialectical materialism as it portrays the inhuman acts of brutality and violence British colonizers are willing to commit to controlling the indigenous populations.

Europeans would consider the trade company’s existence as an example of utopia since they gained much from such an exchange and brought civilization to Africa. There was no hierarchy or classism in Congo before the arrival of Europeans, which is why the realities described in Heart of Darkness may be considered a dystopia since Englishmen pose as conquerors but not liberators. The oppressors gradually push their ideology on the inferior classes, who are ignorant of their rights, and there is no revolt or uprising even as Africans are chained and abused. Not only does race factor into the power struggle but the socioeconomic status of some European workers as well should be defined. Conrad tells the stories of a Swedish man hanging himself out of despair and the mental struggle of Kurtz, a proletarian working for the Company to save up for marriage. The novella exceeds at creating an authentic image of a dystopian society, where the value of human life is immensely low as the elite struggles to amplify their power.

Heart of Darkness portrays a man on a journey to the center of imperialism itself, a place where people are exploited for the sake of power and control. Marxism explains the glorification of colonialism and the subsequent creation of a dystopian order, which pushes an oppressive ideology on the proletariat in the novella. Conrad manages to demonstrate the social hierarchy criticized by Marx and its effects on the oppressed, both physical and mental. The glorification of manual labor at the ivory trading company represents the concept of dialectic materialism. Conrad’s novella serves as a fictional example of colonial criticism, as well as the harmful ideology associated with it.

Realism and Liberalism

The situation the analysis is ambiguous, and a significant resonance both in the mass media and among the country’s population prove this. Shah (2020) describes the case of Georgia: a young black man was shot dead by two white men. However, according to human rights activists, the murdered person was jogging and did not take any aggressive actions, and the public release of the two accused caused a massive disagreement with the biased justice system.

The concept of realism implies assessing any events occurring in the state from the position of simple and long-established norms. All the institutions of power have the authority to regulate lifestyles, and laws that have developed over the years are unbreakable. As a result, any decisions at the national level follow the interests of maintaining balance.

About the case under consideration, the bias of the judicial system may be due to the established order of racial ambiguities. The ethnic origin of the murdered may be one of the factors explaining the authorities’ reluctance to conduct a detailed investigation. The proof of power through judicial institutions may be another justification.

Liberalism is a more flexible concept and allows for multiple opinions. Different parties have the right to vote, and the authority of the government is not unconditional. Through various social and cultural institutions, citizens can express their positions, including criticism regarding specific norms and violations.

When applying liberalism to the case in question, one can note that the public outcry is one of the manifestations of freedom. Nevertheless, the fact of the murder itself is also the result of a liberal approach to human freedoms, including the right to own weapons. Making decisions by personal beliefs could be a prerequisite for the killing of the African American young man by white men.

The assessment of the tragedy in Georgia allows concluding that the concept of realism describes the case better. The unwillingness of the officials to conduct a thorough investigation is explained by the traditional foundations of the justice system and the interaction of its parties. As a result, even an obvious crime may be interpreted illogically if maintaining order is a priority for the authorities.


  1. Conrad, Joseph. 1990. Heart of Darkness. New York: Dover Publications.
  2. Shah, Khushbu. 2020. “” The Guardian. Web.

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