57 pages 1 hour read

Joseph Conrad

An Outpost Of Progress

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1897

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more. For select classroom titles, we also provide Teaching Guides with discussion and quiz questions to prompt student engagement.

Story Analysis

Analysis: “An Outpost of Progress”

By contemporary standards, reading “An Outpost of Progress” can be uncomfortable, a kind of eye-rolling, even wincing experience. For a contemporary culture sensitive to the deep moral offense of slavery, any story that tells about the relationship between locals and white settlers who are intent on exploiting local resources (and their people) for financial gain would seem a simple, direct cautionary tale to tell: locals—good, innocent victims; white interlopers—bad, hypocritical Christian victimizers, who are greedy, ruthlessly mercenary, and prone to fits of anger and violence.

Conrad’s dark tale of Kayerts’s suicide and the entirely pointless shooting of Carlier is defiantly, deliberately, unapologetically politically incorrect. Not only does the text use the “n-word” repeatedly (true as that is to its era when the word was part of the popular parlance) but it tells the tragic story of the downfall of two very white Belgians, who arrive at this isolated outpost (more than 300 miles from the next outpost) to help build the economic base of the struggling Belgian Congo. They are there to assist in the development of a struggling quasi-nation still hopelessly mired within antiquated and unworkable economic structures. The two white men are there at the behest of the grandly named Great Trading Company to help the locals to create an outpost of progress, a model of civilization, in what they believe is an “uncivilized” country.