An Outpost of Progress

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"An Outpost of Progress" is a short story written in July 1897 by Joseph Conrad, drawing on his own experience at Congo. It was published in the magazine Cosmopolis in 1897 and was later collected in Tales of Unrest in 1898. Often compared with Heart of Darkness, Conrad considered it his best tale, owing to its "scrupulousness of tone" and "severity of discipline".

Plot summary[edit]

The story deals with two European men, named Kayerts and Carlier, who are assigned to a trading post in a remote part of the African Jungle. There they take part in ivory trading, hoping to financially benefit the company as well as themselves. With no specific tasks or important things to be done, they both become increasingly isolated and demoralized as the time goes by. At one point in the story, the native Makola, serving as Kayerts's and Carlier's bookkeeper, initiates an exchange of slaves for ivory. Initially Kayerts and Carlier are stunned and scandalized by the idea, yet eventually they accept the deal and aid Makola for his huge profit. Both men are continuously plagued by diseases and grow very weak physically towards the end of the story. Finally, a seemingly trivial matter – sugar – sparks an irrational, uncontrolled and violent conflict between them, and ends tragically as Kayerts accidentally shoots and kills Carlier. At the end of the story, just when the company steamboat approaches the station two months later than it should have, Kayerts hangs himself out of desperation.


  • Kayerts
  • Carlier
  • Makola – clerk, assistant, bookkeeper of Kayerts and Carlier (calls himself Henry Price)
  • Gobila (father Gobila)
  • Gobila's people
  • Natives (involved in ivory deal)


The story can also be read at a symbolic level. It focuses on the colonial situation in Africa towards the end of the nineteenth century and challenges readers to examine the ethical questions raised by the policy of colonialism. From the very beginning it becomes clear that the title Outpost of Progress is ironic, for the two white men are lazy and incompetent. The theme of incompetence, destructiveness and cruelty of colonialism is developed as a story of progresses. The gradual physical and moral deterioration of the two colonial administrators, leading to their death, can be interpreted as a reflection of the general state of colonialism.


  • Peters, John G. (14 September 2006). The Cambridge Introduction to Joseph Conrad (1st ed.). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521548670. 

External links[edit]

The full text can be found at Gutenberg