Conrad’s challenge against the hypocrisy of imperialism is seen where notions of progress and supposed civilisation are interrogated in the grove of death and mechanical graveyard scenes. Conrad has challenged the imperialist reign of the king Leopold II of Belgium and how European presence in Africa was centred on the three C’s and white man’s burden. A scene of decay rather than progress is shown in the mechanical graveyard, the chain gang and the grove of death.
The mechanical graveyard shows the lack of progress and static nature of the company. In the line: “an undersized railway truck lying there on it’s back with its wheels in the air. One was off. The thing looked as dead as the carcass of some animal”, the personification of the truck shows the hypocrisy of western notions of progress, ultimately underlining the inefficiency in imperialism. The simile “looked as dead as the carcass of some animal” highlights the image of decay and lack of progress. Marlow’s verbal irony here also shows how Conrad interrogates notions of imperialism and its supposed civilisation and progress (the emissaries of light). The useless nature of the empire is also shown where Marlow is observing the demolition of the cliff: “the cliff was not in the way of anything; but this objectless blasting was all the work going on”. The objectification of the people as a cliff “was all the work going on” showing that all the work here is pointless. Here the empire has objectified the people into nothing, and ultimately has taken their vitality. In the chain gang, humans are likened to animals: “Black rags were wound round their loins, ad the short ends behind wagged to and fro like tails. I could see every rib, the joints of their limbs were like knots in a rope; each had an iron collar on his neck”. The zoomorphism here “iron collars” “wagged to and fro like tails” reflects the brutality and cruelty of empire. Conrad’s use of synecdoche of “ribs”, likening “joints” to worn knots show an image of captivity and decay: “black rags”. Here Conrad challenges the notions of white man’s burden, as here the company is not “helping” the natives rather they are harming. Also here the bringers of the three C’s are challenged, reflecting the brutality of the King: the “reign of terror”. Ultimately the Grove of death is likened to Dante’s “Inferno”, or hell a place where death achieves nothing. Heavy irony is present in the description of the scene as Marlow is trying to make sense of such an inhumane place, its so ‘amazing’ that he cannot find proper words for the things he is seeing. Ultimately though this Conrad paints an image of empire that is likened to hell and full of death and inefficiency.
Coppola on the other hand, spotlights the ironies that accompanied the Vietnam War in particular and western imperialism in general. Even though the film is not completely antiwar, it does reveal the atrocities of a war fought by the United Sates in the name of democracy and freedom. In the napalm air strike, the sampan and the bridge chaos scenes, in