Written By: Kelsey Cook
May 12, 2014
The world is filled with a substantial amount of events that can change you and your out look. In the novel King Leopold's Ghost, Adam Hochschild writes to show the influences and aspects that occurred during this dark time throughout the Congo. An endless amount of travelers, missionaries, workers, and adventurers went in to the Congo only to be changed as they unexpectedly discovered a world completely horrid and scaring, while reading this novel the reader experiences this change as well, I know I did. The events and the actions that people witnessed when they came to the Congo were greatly unforgettable.
One man in particular that Adam Hochschild wrote about was Joseph Conrad, the author of "one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century, Heart of Darkness." Conrad like many who had visited the Congo was corrupted and immensely influenced by the ways of the Congo. He relayed his experiences to the completion of this great novel. While reading both the Heart of Darkness and King Leopold's Ghost you begin to see how much the Congo effects those who spend time there and how much an awful place like that can seriously change you. King Leopold II saw an opportunity and took over the Congo. He was ultimately responsible for diminishing the Congo's population by ten million, where even in doing so Leopold was able to obtain and uphold his reputation of being a "great humanitarian". The story continuously brings up the question "is human nature inherently good or evil?"
Looking at Conrad's experience throughout his time in the Congo you become witness to a vast difference in his human nature. There was only two possibilities that could occur if you went into the Congo, you were either completely desensitized to the actions you heard about of witnessed or you were forever scared with an impact that the horrid events impressed upon you. Conrad was forever scared. In his work of literature in the title "Heart of Darkness" alone you see the impression the Congo had laid upon him. There is a consistent battle occurring regarding human nature, good against evil, right verses wrong. On a regular basis your integrity and human nature is put to the test.
George Washington Williams was significantly altered much like Conrad after the events he had witnessed in the Congo. George Washington Williams was "a lawyer, journalist, minister, and historian, wrote the first full expose of Leopold's reign of terror in the Congo." ( This quote was found in the middle of the book, in the image section, next to a picture of George Washington Williams.) He saw these events and wanted the world to know of the horridness taking place under King Leopold. Mr. Krutz a character from the "Heart of Darkness" was from Conrad a representation on various men from the Congo, men like, "Guillaume Van Kerckhoven, who cheerfully told a fellow traveler that he paid his black soldiers 5 brass rods per human head they brought him during the time of any military operations he conducted." ( This quote was found in the middle of the book, in the image section, next to a picture of Guillaume Van Kerckhoven ) This only fractionally shows how intense the Congo was and how, like many this man became desensitized with the happenings in the Congo, so much so that he wasn't just killing men but bribing and suggesting that his soldier cut off and bring him the head of men they have killed.
The Congo was a horrible evil place with an endless supply of crime and brutality, the perfect ingredients needed to test human nature. The Congo was just a deep dark place with not even the smallest sliver of light or hope. It was like a dark evil heart from which there was no return. Everything about the these two readings induces me with chills. The pure facts that all these unspeakable events could take place and nothing be done or changed is unbelievable. I strongly feel that the pictures in King Leopold's Ghost impacted me the most. I can't even fathom what it would have been like in the Congo and to be a first hand witness to the ghastly and down right appalling incidents that were always present in the Congo. Women were treated like dogs, they had chains around their necks To be completely honest reading the accounts of these true events petrifies me, to know that the occurrences in the Congo can happen directly under the nose of some many, but still continue is absolutely astonishing. Historical readings such as these and those of the holocaust produce a feeling of hopelessness for our society and that of human nature.