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Essay on Misleading Interpretations of Conrad's Heart of Darkness

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Misleading Interpretations of Conrad's Heart of Darkness


Chinua Achebe, a well-known writer, once gave a lecture at the University of Massachusetts about Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, entitled "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness." Throughout his essay, Achebe notes how Conrad used Africa as a background only, and how he "set Africa up as a foil to Europe,"(Achebe, p.251) while he also "projects the image of Africa as 'the other world,' the antithesis of Europe and therefore of civilization."(Achebe, p.252) By his own interpretations of the text, Achebe shows that Conrad eliminates "the African as a human factor," thereby "reducing Africa to the role of props."(Achebe, p.257)

In supporting these accusations against Conrad, Achebe cites specific examples from the text, while also, pointing out that there is a lack of certain characteristics among the characters. Achebe then compares the descriptions of the Intended and the native woman. Explaining that the savage "fulfills a structural requirement of the story: a savage counterpart to the refined European woman," and also that the biggest "difference is the one implied in the author's bestowal of human expression to the one and the withholding of it from the other."(Achebe, p.255) This lack of human expression and human characteristics is what Achebe says contributes to the overflowing amount of racism within Conrad's novella. Human expression, is one of few things that make us different from animals, along with such things as communication and reason. This of course, being that without human expression, the native woman is considered more of a "savage...wild-eyed and magnificent," (Achebe quoting Conrad, p. 255), possibly even "bestial."

In an...


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... what I say to be the truth, then you are lost). The individual must decide for himself and only himself. Both Chinua Achebe and C.P. Sarvan did just that. Each read something that he did not like and wrote about what he thought to be true. When Achebe found Conrad to be a racist, he said so. When Sarvan found Achebe to be misleading, he said so. I found both to be misleading to the reader, and I said so.

Works Cited

Achebe, Chinua, "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness," in Robert Kimbrough, ed., Heart of Darkness: An Authoritative Text-Backgrounds and Sources of Criticism, 3rd Edition, Norton & Co. (New York:1988), pp. 251-262.

Sarvan, C.P., "Racism and the Heart of Darkness," in Robert Kimbrough, ed., Heart of Darkness: An Authoritative Text-Backgrounds and Sources of Criticism, 3rd Edition, Norton & Co. (New York: 1988), pp. 280-285.


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