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Prejudice, Racism and Power in Heart of Darkness Essays

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Race and Power in Heart of Darkness

 
   In Joseph Conrad's novella, Heart of Darkness, the socially constructed differences of African and European cultures are effective in representing the power sites of the time. The alleged `superiority' of the European culture can be recognized by comparing their ideologies to those of the primitive, `inferior' `savages.' Conrad's personal experiences in the Belgian Congo, in the 1890s, influenced the compilation of Heart of Darkness, reflecting the waste and inefficiency of British Colonialism. Conrad referred to the colonization of Africa as, "the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience and geographical exploration."(Joffe, 78) The cultural differentiation between the two races is utilized as a mechanism for the European society to justify the cruelty, suppression and alienation towards the African people.

 

Contrasts between white and black throughout the text, encourage the reader to identify the marginalized and the dominating race. The European society being `white' is presented as `greater' against which the `black' African society is judged as `lesser.' Marlow refers to the city of Brussels as a "whited sepulchre"(p24), which represents the splendor and glory of the city, hiding the corruption and darkness beneath. This ostentatious image of Brussels is then contrasted to the calamity visited upon an African village. "The village was deserted, the huts gaped black, rotting, all askew within the fallen enclosures."(p24). This austere image of death and desolation, confronts the reader with the power and callousness of the European society. The horrific scene of dying natives, "in every pose of contorted collapse...


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...ds the Africans and positions them to challenge the power structures in their own society. As a modern reader, I bring my knowledge of aboriginal racism in Australia to the text, to acquire an enhanced understanding of the unequal power relationships in Conrad's Eurocentric society. The text has confronted me with the reality of the discrimination in my own society, which is inherent throughout the ideologies surrounding race, gender and class.

 

Works Consulted:

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Editor Robert Kimbrough. New York: Norton, 1988.

Guetti, James. 'Heart of Darkness and the Failure of the Imagination', Sewanee Review LXXIII, No. 3 (Summer 1965), pp. 488-502. Ed. C. B. Cox.

Ruthven, K. K. 'The Savage God: Power in Heart of Darkness,' Critical Quarterly, x, nos 1& 2 (Spring and Summer 1988), pp. 41-6. Ed. C. B. Cox.

 

 


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