Joshua D.

Second Place Winner

Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness is one of the most intriguing and controversial novels of the 20th century. It also happens to be my favorite book as I am drawn to Joseph Conrad's social commentary on imperialist Europe. The book left me questioning many of the founding tenants of the modern world. Conrad draws a distinction between the "white man's burden" and the complete economic exploitation of Africans.

Nevertheless, this exploitation is not what disturbs me most—it is the devastating ignorance of the Europeans that frightens me. Marlow's aunt—who represents the European people—is depicted as horribly ignorant of the realities of life through her dialogue when she babbles about "weaning those ignorant millions from their horrid ways." The ability for people to deduce imperialism to being a just social endeavor is appalling beyond words. This shows the power of bureaucracy and their ability to influence mankind. The truths in Heart of Darkness are still valid today; people prefer to live their comfortable lives without being interrupted by the inconveniences of reality. People prefer complacency to action.

There is hope for this human condition of ignorance and complacency, and ironically, it lies in the same structure that allows mankind to be "stuffed" with ideas: the hollow nature (as represented in T.S. Eliot's poem, "The Hollow Men"). This cavity has the capacity to change. It is this accommodation that gives me hope. If mankind can recognize its faults and strive for true enlightenment, there is hope for the future. If we learn to think for ourselves, perhaps we will understand what is truly happening in the world, and we will avoid the conclusion mentioned in T.S. Eliot's poem, "this is the way the world ends; not with a bang but a whimper."

Although the modern world is incredibly diverse, technologically advanced, and ever changing, I believe somewhere in recent history the brilliance of innovation has been tainted by the frailty of mankind. We live in a world where it is a mere paradox to say "ethical businessman" or "honest politician." In a time of get rich quick schemes and compromising leaders, the value of hard work and fortitude has been repudiated. Virtue has become cliché. Bureaucracy has become corrupt. This audacious rejection of what has made America great is the reason I desire to work in a field of law or government.

I want to be the change I desire for the world. Thus, I do not ask why I would like to play a part in the restoration of an honest work ethic; I ask how and on what stage. Just as Shakespeare understood, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts," I realize that in my future I will have the opportunity to play many parts, and I must be intentional to make a difference in the world.