Importance of the Natives in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness

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The Importance of the Natives in Heart Of Darkness

Conrad has been accused of racism because of the way he portrays the natives in his novel, Heart of Darkness. It has been argued that the natives cannot be an essential part of Heart of Darkness due to the manner in which they are depicted. However, a careful reading reveals that the story would be incomplete without the natives. Marlow develops a relationship with one of the natives - perhaps the first time in his life that Marlow creates a bond with someone outside of his own race.

Without the natives, there could be no Kurtz. The natives are his "people" and his followers:

Suddenly round the corner of the house a group of men appeared, as though they had come up from the ground. They waded waist-deep in the grass in a compact body bearing an improvised stretcher in their midst. Instantly in the emptiness of the landscape a cry arose whose shrillness pierced the still air...And is if by enchantment streams of human beings - of naked human beings - with spears in their hands, with bows, with shields, with wild glances and savage movements, were poured into the clearing by the dark-faced and pensive forest.(Conrad 58-59)

The first time Marlow meets Kurtz is in this scene. It shows Kurtz not only depends on the natives for physical support but also for protection. Conrad's portrayal of the natives as "human beings with wild glances and savage movements" is ironic because Conrad does not think they have the right to be put on the same level as the white man even though Kurtz could not exist without them. The natives are Kurtz's followers and worship him like a god and yet they are seen as only a part of the jungle that is "dark" and "undiscov...

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Works Cited and Consulted

Adelman, Gary. Heart of Darkness: Search for the Unconscious. Boston: Little & Brown, 1987.

Bradley, Candice. "Africa and Africans in Conrad's Heart of Darkness." (24 Jan. 1996). Online Internet. 3 October 1998.


Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Ed. Robert Kimbrough. 17th ed. New York: Norton, 1988.

Levenson, Michael. "The Value of Facts in the Heart of Darkness." Nineteenth-Century Fiction 40 (1985):351-80.

Rosmarin, Adena. "Darkening the Reader: Reader Response Criticism and Heart of Darkness." Joseph Conrad Heart of Darkness:

A Case Study in Contemporary Criticism. Ed. Ross C. Murfin. New York: St. Martin's, 1989.

Watt, Ian. Conrad in the Nineteenth Century. San Diego: U. of California P, 1979. 168-200, 249-53.
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