Summary Of Racism In Joseph Conrad's Heart Of Darkness

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Few pieces of literature have received as much acclaim and criticism as Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. In his essay “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’”, Chinua Achebe attacks Conrad and brands him a racist for his dehumanizing descriptions of Africans. When responding to the argument that it is the protagonist Marlow, rather than Conrad, from which the novel’s racism stems, Achebe argues that Conrad’s failure to provide “an alternative frame of reference by which [to] judge the actions and opinions of his characters” is an indication that Conrad shares the same bigotry as Marlow (Achebe). However, Conrad’s diction, as well as his depiction of Marlow, indicates that much of the blatant racism throughout Marlow’s…show more content…
On numerous occasions, Conrad goes out of his way to make Marlow as unlikable as possible. In addition to his frequent racism, while likely socially acceptable during the turn of the 20th century was probably not viewed favorably, Marlow mocks women and contradicts himself. After unsuccessfully attempting to find employment through his interactions with men, Marlow tells his fellow sailors “would you believe it? I tried the women. I Charlie Marlow, set the women to work to get a job. Heavens!” (Conrad 60). By presenting Marlow as someone who disrespects women, his opinions lose credibility among those in favor of equal rights for women. As Heart of Darkness was published in 1899, near the turning point of civil rights for women, it is likely that many readers at the time of its release were critical of Marlow’s anti-feminist sentiment. Additionally, Conrad dedicates nearly half a page of text establishing Marlow as someone who “hate[s], detest[s], and can’t bear a lie” (Conrad 85). Marlow rants about how “there is a taint of death, a flavor of morality in lies”, yet in the concluding paragraphs of Heart of Darkness Marlow lies to Kurtz’s fiancé regarding his final words. Although one could defend Marlow’s lie and argue that he spared Kurtz’s fiancé the grief of knowing his true last words, this is irrelevant. What is relevant is that…show more content…
Achebe makes note that “it would not have been beyond Conrad’s power to [hint at an alternative frame of reference] if he had thought it necessary.” As Heart of Darkness subliminally guides the reader to oppose Marlow’s racist beliefs, an alternative frame of reference is not required. While Conrad could have been politically correct and protected himself from criticism by inserting a contradicting argument through the narrator or one of the sailors aboard the Nellie, doing so would be counterproductive. By depicting Marlow as a narrow-minded bigot who tends to contradicts himself and disrespect women, Conrad vilifies his protagonist. Consequently, the reader is naturally inclined to disagree with Marlow’s outlandish and prejudicial remarks and conclude that racism is inherently wrong. A conclusion that the reader comes to on their own is likely to be stronger than a conclusion force-fed to them by the
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