The Devil of Colonialism

Text and Wordlist

Excerpt from Heart of Darkness

by Joseph Conrad

(Penguin, 1995)


  'At last we opened a reach. A rocky cliff appeared, mounds of turned-up earth by the shore, houses on the hill, others, with iron roofs, amongst a waste of excavations, or hanging to the declivity. A continuous noise of the rapids above hovered over this scene of inhabited devastation. A lot of people, mostly black and naked, moved about like ants. A jetty projected into the river. A blinding sunlight drowned all this at times in a sudden recrudescence of glare. "There's your Company station,"said the Swede, pointing to three wooden barrack-like structures on the rocky slope. "I will send you things up. Four boxes did you say? So. Farewell. " 

'I came upon a boiler wallowing in the grass, then found a path leading up the hill. It turned aside for the boulders, and also for undersized railway-truck lying there on its back with its wheels in the air. One was off. The thing looked as dead as the carcass of some animal. I came upon more pieces of decaying machinery, a stack of rusty rails. To the left a clump of trees made a shady spot, where dark things seemed to stir feebly. I blinked, the path was steep. The horn tooted to the right, and I saw the black people run. A heavy and dull detonation shook the ground, a puff of smoke came out of the cliff, and that was all. No change appeared on the face of the rock. They were building a railway. The cliff was not in the way or anything; but this objectless blasting was all the work going on. 

'A slight clinging behind me made me turn my head. Six black men advanced in a file, toiling up the path. They walked direct and slow, balancing small baskets full of earth on their heads, and the clink kept time with their footsteps. Black rags were warned round the irloins, and the short ends behind wagged to and fro like tails. I could see every rib, the joints of the limbs were like nuts in a rope; each had an iron collar on his neck, and all were connected together with a chain whose bights swung between them rhythmically clinging. Another report from the cliff made me think suddenly of that ship of war I had seen firing into a continent. It was the same kind of ominous voice; but these men could by no stretch of imagination be called enemies. They were called criminals, and the outraged law, like the bursting shells, had come to them, an insoluble mystery from over the sea. All the meagre breasts panted together, the violently dilated nostrils quivered, the eyes stared stonily up-hill. They passed me within six inches, without a glance, with that complete, death like indifference of unhappy savages. [...] 

'Black shapes crouched, lay, sat between the trees, leaning against the trunks, clinging to the earth, half coming out, half effaced within the dim light, in all the attitudes of pain, abandonment, and despair. Another mine on the cliff went off, followed by a slight shudder of the soil under my feet. The work was going on. The work! And this was the place where some of the helpers had withdrawn to die. 

'They were dying slowly - it was clear. They were not enemies, they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now, - nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation, lying confusedly in the greenish gloom. Brought from all the recesses of the coast in all the legality of time contracts, lost in uncongenial surroundings, fed on unfamiliar food, they sickened, became inefficient, and wee then allowed to crawl away and rest. These moribund shapes were free as air - and nearly as thin. [...] 


amongst:   among

excavation:   digging job

declivity:   downward slope

hovered over:   floated over/closely watched

devastation:   destruction

blinding:   very bright/extreme

recrudesce:   (break out into activity again after being quiet for a while)

glare:   angry stare

farewell:   goodbye

wallowing:   rolling around on the ground

boulders:   giant rocks

carcass:   dead body

decaying:   (rotting/becoming ruined/worsening)

feebly:   weakly

detonation:   explosion (of a bomb)

slight: small/short

to and fro:   back and forth

bights:   (rope loops)/(shoreline curves)

rhythmically:   (musically/with a regular beat)

ominous:   scary

outraged:   very angry

insoluble: (unable to be dissolved in something)

meagre:    poor/not enough

dilated:   expanded/widened

nostrils:   (openings at the bottom of the nose)

quivered:   shook (in fear)

glance:   quick look

indifference:   (not caring one way or the other)

savages:   violent people

crouched:   bent down

effaced:   destroyed

abandonment:   (being left alone, with no help)

despair:   feelings that there is no hope

shudder:   body-shake (from being upset)

gloom:   sadness/darkness

the recesses of:   the almost-hidden areas of

legality:   lawfulness

uncongenial:   disagreeing

surroundings:   (things that are near and around something)

moribund:   (almost) dead