This study guide will help you analyze the short story “An Outpost of Progress” (1897) by Joseph Conrad. You can also find a summary of the text, as well as inspiration for interpreting it and putting it into perspective.
Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) was a Polish-British writer. His writings are modernist and often deal with aspects of colonialism. Conrad’s most famous novel is Heart of Darkness, which was published and translated into many languages. However, the novel did not enjoy much success during Conrad’s lifetime.
Here, you can read an extract from our study guide:
The social setting mainly looks at racial differences between European colonists and African natives.
Kayerts and Carlier, who are two white European men, see themselves as superior to the African natives. First, they are racist when they talk about black natives, making offensive comments about their physical appearance: “ ‘Here, look! look at that fellow there—and that other one, to the left. Did you ever see such a face? Oh, the funny brute!’ ”. Secondly, the white men indulge in more comfort than the natives, as they live in a larger building and have access to more goods. Then, they hold a superior position at the trading station, even if they are lazy and Makola is the one doing all the work: “Together they did nothing, absolutely nothing, and enjoyed the sense of idleness for which they were well paid”.
While their job titles make them superior to Makola, he is the one who has power over them. Makola is scheming and manipulative, which makes him initiate questionable trades without his superiors’ permission. In the end, Makola betrays his people when he initiates a slave trade in exchange for ivory. The armed natives also overlook Kayerts’ and Carlier’s authority. Moreover, Gobila’s kindness and affection help Kayerts and Carlier obtain more goods and live better.