Prejudice in Heart of Darkness: Racism is a Relative Term

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Heart of Darkness: Racism is a Relative Term

Racism is a relative term. While many people argue that Conrad's novel, Heart of Darkness, contains the theme of racism, they tend to ignore the fact that this novel was written around the turn of the century. During this time period it was accepted practice to think of a black man as savage because that was how the popular culture viewed the African American race. If someone called a black man "savage" today, that someone would be considered a racist. Of course, this turn of the century view of blacks is inexcusable but it was the accepted norm of the time. The problem is that modern critics tend to apply modern thinking to all novels, including those written in a specific time period with beliefs different from today. These critics do not incorporate the context of the novel and simply rage forward with a directed, ignorant viewpoint, arguing from a more civilized stance. The definition of a racist has changed a great deal since the early 1900s, and we must consider this when analyzing any piece of literature. The problem arises when modern thinkers assume that we must continue to build on our ever-expanding knowledge instead of looking into the past and trying to relate to the accepted views of the time.

To try to see racist tendencies in a text we need to know the definition of racism. The definition we use today is as follows:

A racist apprehends that th...

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...), Heart of Darkness. London. Penguin Popular Classics (1994).

Nationalencyklopedin 15 PAS-ROJ (1994), Engström, Christer (red.). Höganäs. Bokförlaget Bra Böcker.

Works Consulted

Cox, C. B. Conrad: Heart of Darkness, Nostromo, and Under Western Eyes. London: Macmillan Education Ltd., 1987.

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.

Watts, Cedric. A Preface to Conrad. Essex: Longman Group UK Limited, 1993.


1 Nationalencyklopedin 15 PAS-ROJ (1994), p. 431

2 Conrad, Joseph, Heart of Darkness (1902), p. 7

3 Conrad, Joseph, (1902), p.25

4 ibid, p. 73

5 ibid, p. 51

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