In his famous critical essay, “An Image of Africa” (1975), Chinua Achebe takes a strong stance against Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. He asserts that Conrad was a racist and his novella is a product of his racism. A following quote that is good to show Achebe opinion for Conrad is: The point of my observations should be quite clear by now, namely that Joseph Conrad was a thoroughgoing racist. That this simple truth is glossed over in criticisms of his work is due to the fact that white racism against Africa is such a normal way of thinking that its manifestations go completely unremarked. (An Image of Africa, Achebe, 1975) Achebe comments on Conrad’s work as a hidden product of racism because criticisms for Heart of Darkness mask the racism and it is now the way we [critics and readers] see the novella.
Conrad followed in the footsteps of infamous racist in figures, King Leopold II in particular for his barbaric treatment of Africans in the Congo. Achebe also accused Conrad of being “a thoroughgoing racist,” which I do not agree with. While I do think that Conrad certainly was a racist, he did not take that racism to the extremity that others, such as King Leopold II, did. In Heart of Darkness, Conrad made it clear that he was a racist, but did not carry that racism out to the fullest extent possible.
Heart of Darkness: Racist or not? Many critics, including Chinua Achebe in his essay "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness", have made the claim that Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness, despite the insights which it offers into the human condition, ought to be removed from the canon of Western literature. This claim is based on the supposition that the novel is racist, more so than other novels of its time. While it can be read in this way, it is possible to look under the surface and create an interpretation of Conrad's novel that does not require the supposition of extreme racism on the part of Conrad. Furthermore, we must keep in mind that Conrad was a product of a rather racist period in history, and it seems unfair to penalize him for not being able to transcend his contemporaries in this respect.
Racism is cleverly hidden within the text, but imperialism is innocently depicted as the civilization of the Congolese people. Conrad’s writing can be interpreted two different ways. One approach is the reader might interpret his writing as an attack on the Europeans as the imperialists trying to help the Congolese, but the African people refuse their help. In contrast, the other approach might be that they feel sympathetic to the Congolese people. They see the Europeans has cruel and heartless.
This lack of human expression and human characteristics is what Achebe says contributes to the overflowing amount of racism within Conrad's novel. Human expression, is one of few thi... ... middle of paper ... ... himself. It seems that Achebe was closed-minded in his essay regarding racism. He did not propose any other possibilities regarding the novel, only to say that a conceivable reason for this is that "it is the desire in Western psychology to set African up as a foil to Europe" (Achebe, p.251). Achebe only set forth his views and did not take into account other interpretations of the same passage, as did Saravan.
It is also partially the narrator's story, because his record of what he heard Marlow say is his sole experience. Therefore, faced by a situation where we should not fully ascribe to either Conrad or Marlow, the assumptions of the intent of the novel is based on the reader. This writing style raises the question, which is truly racist, the author or character? By creating a writing style of the point of view from a character, and not the insertion of a authorial perspective, racism seems subjective to the reader. However, For Achebe, Heart of Darkness is racist because it projects the image of Africa as "the other world, the antithesis of Europe .
Joseph Conrad’s novella explores the concept of imperialism and makes reference to the exploration and colonization of Africa. The text itself, which is narrated in a third-person perspective (to subdue the demeaning nature), is bluntly degrading and disparaging toward the natives of Africa. The native African people are blatantly ostracized in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness with the author’s use of derogatory and condemning language throughout the text, the juxtaposition and hesitant comparison of the whites and the natives, and the idea presented of the European men being the saviors of Africa. Rather than display those of Africa as beings, Conrad uses belittling language to not only present the native people as beasts, but to also establish the theme of savagery in the novella. When describing the natives, Joseph Conrad has no hesitation to condemn the people.
Additionally, conceptual examples of white negligence regarding black people provided by Toni Morrison will be used to further the argument of Twain’s racist views. Mark Twain is loose and irresponsible in his excessive use of the word “nigger”. It appears as if Twain has no regard for black people regarding the derogatory nature of the word. To him, it seems as if it is just some other ordinary word to describe people of color. He, based on his numerous uses, is negligent and possibly oblivious to what offense the use of the word might have toward black people.
In Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad reveals that in reality the Europeans are truly more savage than the more civilized Africans, showing that all is not what meets the eye. In the novel, there is a distinct disagreement among readers weather or not the native Africans are in reality more savage than the Europeans who are intruding in their land. The meaning of civilization is useless without first thinking about wha... ... middle of paper ... ... Works Cited Achebe, Chinua. “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness” Massachusetts Review 18 (1977): 251-61. Print.
Patrick Brantlinger, a literary critic, agrees with Achebe’s point and he supports this idea by stating in “A Cultural Perspective” that “certainly Conrad had a problem with niggers…sometimes his fixation on blackness is overwhelming,” I agree, Conrad does have racial bias (285). The comparison of the two men, one black and the other white, is significantly different and the white Englishman is clearly preferred. Cleopatra Anthony, another blogger, wrote in her blog “Was Joseph Conrad a racist?” that “since the word (darkness) is used not only when Marlow is in Africa but also used in the story to describe England” it can’t be used as an argument to say when Conrad uses the word darkness its racist. She believes labeling him a racist because he uses the word darkness isn’t a fair label. She has a valid point there.