King Leopold II of Belgium is known for being one of the most brutal racists in history. His inhumane treatment of Africans in the Congo was revealed in photographs that surfaced and that were taken to emphasize his cruel behavior over the Africans in the Congo. His motive for this inhumanity was pure greed. Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, although does not embody the vicious behavior of King Leopold II, contributes to the racism of that period in other ways. Because of this, the novel can be interpreted in different ways from a racism standpoint. In my opinion, I both agree and disagree with Chinua Achebe’s statements concerning Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and feel that it can be viewed in some ways as both racist or not racist. Conrad shows racism against Africans in many ways throughout his novel. “Black figures strolled about listlessly...steam ascended in the moonlight, the beaten nigger groaned somewhere (Conrad, 30).” The most clear and obvious instance of racism is the use of the word “nigger”. It is a word that is viewed as extremely negative and demeaning towards Africans by many. Conrad uses this word many times to address the Africans throughout his work. “Nigger” has come to be extremely frowned upon in cultures across the world and has come to be unacceptable to be used in people’s vocabulary for its derogatory meaning that it has come to have, originating from racism and prejudice against Africans in the nineteenth and twentieth century. As Marlow, the main character of the novel, comes across Africans along his journey, his racism shows through his reflections on what he observes. When Conrad refers to Africans through his characters, it seems as if he views them as animals. “Mostly black and nake... ... middle of paper ... ...have grown to the powerhouse that it was. I am not condoning it and saying the treatment of blacks was ok, but Conrad’s novel is a work of its time, and always will be in history. Achebe stated that Conrad’s work was “an offensive and deplorable book.” I believe this view of Heart of Darkness to be true through his inhumane depiction of blacks throughout his novel. 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.
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Conrad’s main character Marlow is the narrator for most of the story in Heart of Darkness. He is presented as a well-intentioned person, and along his travels he is shocked by the cruelties that he sees inflicted on the native people. Though he is seemingly benevolent and kindly, Marlow shows the racism and ignorance of Conrad and in fact of the majority of white people in his era, in a more subtle way. Marlow uses words to describe the blacks that, though generally accepted in his time, were slanderous and crude. He recalls that some of the first natives he saw in the Congo looked at him “with that complete, deathlike indifference of unhappy savages” (80; part 1). Marlow casually refers to the Africans with the most offensive of language: “Strings of dusty niggers arrived and departed…” (83; part 1). To Marlow, and thus to Conrad, the Africans are savages, dogs, devils, and criminals. Even the stories that Conrad creates for Marlow to narrate are twisted and false. The natives that Marlow deals with in the book are described as cannibals, and they are even given dialogue that affirms th...
As far as china Achebe's article of Heart of Darkness is considered, I disagree with his narrow approach towards Joseph Conrad's novel. Achebe does not take into account that Heart of Darkness is narrated from the perspective of the main characters Marlow who has never been exposed to the African culture before. As a result, Marlow does not aware of the African's way of living and also their traditions. The book contains several racist thoughts towards the Africans, but it also provides a deep sharp criticism towards the Europeans as well. Although the discrimination towards the Africana is obvious in the novel, but the readers must be aware of the historical text in which the novel was written.
Achebe, Chinua. "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness." The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: Norton, 2001. 1783-1794.
Conrad begins his novel by confirming the stereotypical view of Africans, but then turning the public’s perception of them upside down. As Marlow travels down to the Congo in the French steamer, he sees a band of Africans rowing a boat along the shore of Africa. The men sang, shouted, and moved with a “wild vitality, an intense energy of movement, that was as natural and true as the surf along their coast” (11). Marlow watches these men with comfort, confirming his own beliefs and the European’s beliefs that Africans were savage and strong. Afterwards, Marlow arrives at the Congo and sees six black men trudging like starved prisoners; “they were dying slowly… nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation” (14). The chain gang also supports the preconceptions of an African. Before Marlow leaves for the Congo, he visits his aunt who praises him as a worker who will help the poor, starving savages of Africa. The image of the blacks, who were all connected together with a ch...
Conrad’s descriptions of the Africans are inherently racist. The text is full of demeaning descriptions and negative thoughts about the blacks. “The thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. Ugly" (Conrad 32) Conrad refers to the natives as niggers and compares their looks to animals. “He was there below me, and, upon my word, to look at him was as edifying as seeing a dog in a parody of breeches and a feather hat, walking on his hind legs.” (Conrad 33) These passages and attitudes toward the natives promote the view of the natives during colonialism of Africa in the way that Achebe’s district commissioner sees it, “He had already chosen the title of the book, after much thought: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.
Achebe, Chinua. "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness." Ed. Robert Kimbrough. New York: Norton, 1963. 251-62.
"I don't want to bother you much with what happened to me personally,' [Conrad] began, showing in this remark the weakness of many tellers of tales who seem so often unaware of what their audience would most like to hear" (Conrad, 9). Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad's best-known work, has been examined on many bases more than I can possibly list here, but including imperialism, colonialism, and racism. I would reason that all bases of analysis are perfectly acceptable through which to critique Conrad's novella, or any piece of writing. I would reason this, were some of these bases mainly, racism not taken to an extreme level. In arguing racism, many critics seem to take Heart of Darkness as Conrad's unwavering view on Africa, Africans, life, or whatever else one may please to take it as. I, therefore, propose that Heart of Darkness be taken for what it truly is: a work of fiction set in late 19th century Europe and Africa.
1. Does Conrad really "otherize," or impose racist ideology upon, the Africans in Heart of Darkness, or does Achebe merely see Conrad from the point of view of an African? Is it merely a matter of view point, or does there exist greater underlying meaning in the definition of racism?
The novella Heart of Darkness has, since it's publication in 1899, caused much controversy and invited much criticism. While some have hailed it's author, Joseph Conrad as producing a work ahead of it's time in it's treatment and criticism of colonialist practices in the Congo, others, most notably Chinua Achebe, have criticized it for it's racist and sexist construction of cultural identity. Heart of Darkness can therefore be described as a text of it's time, as the cultural identity of the dominant society, that is, the European male is constructed in opposition to "the other", "the other" in Heart of Darkness being defined as black and/or female. Notions of cultural identity are largely constructed through language and setting and are essential to the reader's understanding of the text.
When questioning whether or not Joseph Conrad was an imperialist, a racist or both for that matter, the answer should be quite obvious after reading some of his works, such as, Heart of Darkness. Everywhere you look in this book, there is both imperialism and racism illustrated. Through Kurtz, Conrad's imperialist side breaks through and likewise, through Marlow Conrad's racist views come to life.
Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness is heralded by many as a classic, but over the years has presented many problems of interpretation. One of the most notable misinterpretations is Chinua Achebe's An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness. In it, Achebe points to various passages in the book that supposedly prove that Conrad and his book are racist, and that the book should be cast out of the canon of classic literature. This is a false and inaccurate interpretation, and Achebe's objectivity is hindered by his anti-western bias.
Heart of Darkness is a well known novel written by an important writer, and is read, studied and discussed in classrooms. Although the book was praised by some; there was some controversy among others. In some part I do believe that Achebe is over analyzing the novel, and is just assuming based on what he has read like Wilson Harris and C.P. Sarvan have stated in their piece. But the other part of me believes that Achebe does make a point, I don’t agree that Conrad is a racist; but there must have been a motive for his writing of this book.
Heart of Darkness is a story in which racism presents itself so deliberately that, for many, the dilemma of race must be tackled before anything else in the book may be dealt with. Conrad used derogatory, outdated and offensive terminology for devaluation of people’s color as savages. This use of language disturbs many readers who read this book.
Achebe argues that the racist observed in the Heart of Darkness is expressed due to the western psychology or as Achebe states “desire,” this being to show Africa as an antithesis to Europe. He first states Conrad as “one of the great stylists of modern fiction.” [pg.1] He praises Conrad’s talents in writing but believes Conrad’s obvious racism has not been addressed. He later describes in more detail that Conrad’s “methods amount to no more than a steady, ponderous, fake-ritualistic repetition of two antithetical sentences.”
Achebe, Chinua. "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness." Heart of Darkness: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Sources, Essays in Criticism. 3rd ed. Ed. Robert Kimbrough. New York: W.W. Norton, 1988. 251-262.