The Two Societies of Africa

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In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, there are instances where readers would argue that he is racist. Conrad’s book is exceptionally challenging and he intentionally made it perplexing for the reader so that his attitude toward the racial issues in the book would be difficult to determine. Overall, though, the book is ironic in how cannibals are interpreted as pleasant and pilgrims as evil, and the contrast of language shows both Conrad and his narrator Marlow are not racist. Conrad takes sides with the oppressed cannibals in the story to indicate that they have some power over the pilgrims, which verifies that he is not racist. The opposition is presented through the white “pilgrims” and the black “cannibals.” The cannibals in the book are illustrated as quiet men who have control and restraint. These cannibals who were the Africans can be seen as those who were oppressed by the pilgrims. This oppression was made apparent when Conrad said: “he whacked the old nigger mercilessly, while a big crowd of his people watched him, thunderstruck…”(23). This callous handling of the cannibals illustrates that the pilgrims didn’t care about the detriment of the native’s lives. Yet, some of the cannibals in the story took vengeance by persecuting their oppressor. In Patrick Brantlingers’ essay “Heart of Darkness: Anti-Imperialism, Racism, or Impressionism?” in the book Heart of Darkness, he discusses the cannibals power in the story, saying: “sometimes the natives are so persecuted that they [take revenge] by killing and eating their tormentors”(Brantlinger, 310). So that they have fewer oppressors to deal with, the cannibals take vengeance through killing and eating the pilgrims. This taking revenge on the pilgrims gives the cannibals a s... ... middle of paper ... when Conrad traveled to the Congo is not known. By Conrad favoring the cannibals and degrading the pilgrims, there is no escaping the premeditated attempts by Conrad to illustrate these two separate societies of the oppressed and oppressors. Through portraying the cannibals as respectable and the pilgrims as evil, Conrad reveals his empathy for the Africans. Through a description of kinship with the cannibals in Africa and a contrast of language, Conrad disproves the racism that some readers believe he portrays. Works Cited Brantlinger, Patrick. "Heart of Darkness: Anti-Imperialism, Racism, or Impressionism?" Heart of Darkness. New York: Knopf, 1993. 303-22. Print. Clendinnen, I. "PREEMPTING POSTCOLONIAL CRITIQUE: Europeans in the Heart of Darkness." Common Knowledge 13.1 (2007): 1-17. Print. Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York: Knopf, 1993. Print

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