An Analysis of Adam Hochschild's Novel King Leopold's Ghost

Categories: Literature

Adam Hochschild, is an author who is politically known for his evolvement in the civil rights movements. He is most recognized for the novel; King Leopold’s Ghost is a story of greed, terror, and heroism. This novel gives readers incite and whole new different perspective about the story of Africa’s exploration. In the introduction of the novel, Adam Hochild makes his objective clear about his story to his readers. “This is the story of that movement, of the savage crime that was target, of the long period of exploration and conquest that preceded it, and of the way the world has forgotten one of the great mass killings of recent history (p.

2)”. He successfully re tells the forgotten tale by using secondary resources to display King Leopold as a man who manipulated people in believing he was a humanitarian, but in reality he used clever tactics to colonize the Congo for his personal interest and as a result it led to him to exploit resources and commit gruesome crimes against humanity.

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The structure of the novel itself is broken down into two sections. The first section of the novel, Adam Hochchild refers to the historical texts of Henry Morton Stanley, the relationship he had with King Leopold and the tactics that both men used to colonise the Congo. Henry Morton Stanley was famously known for his writings when travelling in the Congo. King Leopold, followed Henry Morton Stanley’s work. After reading Stanley’s long daily telegraphs, the King had seen an opportunity to gain power which he could not resist “Leopold was now certain that this vast territory in the middle of Africa, miraculously still unclaimed by any European power, could become the colony he craved (p.

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57) King Leopold knew if he could get his hands on the Congo, he would have total control of the resources and this would not only make him wealthy but also powerful. “I’m sure if I quite openly charged Stanley with the task of taking possession in my name of some part of Africa, the English will stop me… So I think I’ll just give Stanley some job of exploration which would offend no one, and will give us the bases and headquarters which we can take over later on.” (p58). King Leopold arranged a meeting with Stanley Morgan and both came to an agreement that Stanley would go back to the Congo and help lay the ground work for King Leopold to take over the Congo. With Stanley Morgan on his side Leopold knew that both men can achieve their personal goals. Author displays that both men believed that “Africa was a chance to gain upward mobility towards wealth and glory” (p.63).

It is evident, that King Leopold seen Congo, as a land of opportunity because of the resources it had such as Ivory and rubber. Ivory was very popular at the time for trading. “Ivory dealers preferred African elephant tusks to Indian, and the elephants of equatorial Africa, which included the Congo basin, tended to have the largest rusks of all (p.64)”. He knew that because African elephant tusks are at a high demand, this unclimbed land is where he could exploit ivory for his personal gain. The author portrays Stanley Morgan, as an individual who is very angry.

He shows the little interests Stanley Morgan has about Africa even with his the natives who helped him. He found them lazy, thieves, savages and beasts. But in reality without Africa, Stanley Morgan is truly nothing and by working with King Leopold, Stanley Morgan seen the opportunity of him continuing his legacy being a famous historian. On May, 29, 1885 with the help of Stanley Morgan, King Leopold had the colony he had long dream of (p.87).

The second half the novel, the author displays the challenges King Leopold faced and makes numerous references from the historical texts of Joseph Conrad “Heart of darkness”.

George Washington Williams was the first individual to question King Leopold’s intentions, in regards to the Congo. He was an African American journalist and historian who wrote about the injustice acts that were taking place in the Congo State. He also spoke about the effects that King Leopold and Stanley Mortan brought to the African people in Congo. The author uses George Washington Williams experiences to explain and show the readers a different side of Stanley who was once considered a hero.“ Far from being a great hero, “Stanley had been a tyrant, his “name” produces a shudder among this simple folk when mentioned; they remember his broken promises, his copious profanity, his hot temper, his heavy blows, his severe and rigorous measure by which they were mulcted of their land.” (p.110), the author notes that, most other “white” contemporaries would have a hard time believing this, yet he was the first person to actually question Stanley’s relationship with the Africans. George Washington Williams was very disgusted, and believed that the Congo state was committing “crimes against humanity “(p.112). But because of his early death, not much could have been done and his story was forgotten.

Adam Hochild continues to tell his forgotten story about the mass killings that took place in the Congo and makes numerous references to the novel “Heart of darkness”. In chapter 9, the author makes compelling arguments and questions how the novel is taught as a fictional story in today’s school institutions. “High school teachers and college professors who have discussed this book in thousands of classrooms over the years tend to do so in terms of Freud, Jung, and Nietzche; of classical myth, Victorian innocence, and original sin; of postmodernism, post colonialism, and poststructuralist. European and American readers, not comfortable acknowledging the genocide scale of the killing in Africa at the turn of the century, have cast Heart of Darkness loose from its historical moorings. (pg. 143)” “But Conrad himself wrote,’ Heart of Darkness is experience … pushed a little (and only very little) beyond the actual facts of the case’.” (p143). The author emphasizes the idea that the characters that Josephs Conrad wrote about are closely linked to real life people in the Congo and how school board systems fail to acknowledge the genocide that took place in Africa centuries ago. Adam Hochild makes a comparison between Heart of Darkness which is portrayed fictional novel and Joseph Conrad’s journal entries that he wrote during the time he was staying in Africa. It is revelled that Marlow the character Joseph Conrad created in Heart of Darkness, is really Joseph Conrad speaking about the experiences he had in African and the gruesome acts he witnessed. An example of this relationship between fiction and reality is shown. Conrad writes, “A slight clinking behind me made me turn my head. Six black men advanced in a file toiling up the path. They walked erect and slow, balancing small baskets full of earth on their heads, and the clink kept time with their footsteps… I could see every rib, the joints of their limbs were like knots 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 clinking.” (p.143). Adam comments that what Marlow was actually witnessing was that, these six black men were labourers who were starting on Leopold’s railway.

He concludes by stating “Heart of darkness is one of the most scratching indictments of imperialism in all literature.” (p. 146).

Near the end of the novel, the author focuses on the role that rubber played in the Congo and the people who begun to oppose King Leopold’s authority and the disgusting regime that he created. It is already established that King Leopold’s main source of wealth and power derives from the resources such as rubber and ivory. The rubber plantation was used to harvest rubber and Leopold as the cruel man he was created a quota from that Africans to fulfil. If this quota was not completed, punishments were imposed, such as murder. William Sheppard, who was the first African American missionary in the Congo, was the one who stumbled against Leopold rubber plantation. “During my time in the Congo I was the first commissioner of the Equator district.” “As soon as it was a question of rubber, I wrote to the government, “to gather rubber in this district… one must cut off hands, noses and ears.” (p. 165). Edward Dene Morel and Roger Casement also joined Williams Sheppard and rebelled against the cruel regime that King Leopold created. Edward Dene Morel and Roger Casement were the first men who caught the attention of Europeans about the genocide that was taking place in central Africa by showing the images of burned villages and mutilated bodies. This resulted to the creation of the Congo Reform Association and many campaigns were done to and the realities of the Congo begun to spread. Towards the end of his rule, Leopold tried to do anything in his power to make sure the information did not travel to the West. This resulted to King Leopold retreating and the colony he long fought for was finally sold to the Belgian government. King Leopold on May 10th 1904 passed away leaving behind his forgotten legacy.

After analyzing the works of Stanley, Joseph Conrad and Adam Hochschild one can see that it is essential to understand how racial attitudes has helped reinforce and shape the imperialism that took place in Congo. Both historian writers Stanley and Joseph Conrad came to Congo already having racial ideas and had background information about racial differences. For example, by looking at the jungle and the Congo itself they seen a Continent of Darkness. This title displays the imagery of darkness, pain, suffering, terror and isolation. It is evident that there was a split between the divisions of power based on skin color, the common theme of good vs.

bad which was very popular during that era. The “whites” saw themselves as being better and at a higher rank of hierarchy in contrast to the Africans. The Europeans took it upon to selves as seeing it as the white man’s burden and begun to exploit the Congo. They felt it was the Europeans and Americans duty to uplift or destroy the savage. When stepping foot into the Congo, they see a land of equality but actually a land of savages and lack of machinery such as rail ways which allows an individual to get from one place to another. The Europeans most recognized for their ability in the area of industrialization. Now linking this concept back to the story of King Leopold, one can see that he too seen Africa as a Dark Continent and knew that because of these racial ideologies European has a great tolerance for violence against the Africans. By hiring Stanley to represent King Leopold at the Berlin Conference benefited King Leopold because it convinced Europe and America that it made sense to give equitable Africa because King Leopold would be able to tame the jungle. King Leopold made it seem like he had missionary plans and promised free trade to end the Arab slave trade would make that the Congo a better area. In reality he introduced a regime that was claimed to himself and not Belgium.

King Leopold became one of the richest men in Europe during that particular era. He colonized the Congo and begun to exploit resources. Resources brought money which meant mobilizing of rubber and began to build rail road’s plantations at a vast rate. As a result one can see that Imperial industrialization that did not lead to the improvement of Africa but in reality used racial ideologies to exploit Africans citizens and their resources to build a colony of their own.

Adamn Hoschild used various secondary sources to make his reasoning for his arguments factual. He uses sources such as novels, documents, diary’s, biographies, historical texts and statistics to support his arguments. The type of reasoning that is employed in this novel is inductive. The author provides a strong argument that helps provide reasons supporting the probable truth of the conclusion that he makes.

In conclusion, through the usage of secondary sources and by making compelling arguments, Adam Hochhild does an outstanding job of telling the forgotten story of the mass killings that took place in the Congo centuries ago. He successfully accomplished the objective of his novel, which was stated in the introduction. He does by taking readers back to a period of time, where wealth, power and torture was significant in the process of building a colony. He tells a story of a man who left behind a legacy of manipulating his way to achieving his own colony and as a result ended up taking the lives of many innocent people in his conquest for further wealth and power.


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An Analysis of Adam Hochschild's Novel King Leopold's Ghost. (2022, Apr 13). Retrieved from

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