In Defense Of Heart Of Darkness

In Defense Of Heart Of Darkness

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In Defense of "Heart of Darkness", and in Attack of Those Who Attack it on the Basis of Racism

"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.

When writing books, many authors like to research their topic rather than writing blindly about it. Joseph Conrad was, most likely, no different, though he did his research – traveling through the Congo on a steamship – before writing his book. We say, quite often, that Conrad's work is representative of his travels in the Congo. I do not disagree with this statement, but I stress the wording: Conrad's work is representative of his travels through the Congo; it is not a journal of his travels through the Congo. This point needs no backing; it is fact: Conrad never traveled to places called the "Outer Station", "Central Station", or "Inner Station", though these places may represent true places where Conrad did travel; similarly, Conrad never met a man named Mr. Kurtz, though Kurtz may represent a real person who Conrad did meet. Those who are currently distraught from their entire thesis being discredited from this point should refer to The Congo Diary, excerpts from Conrad's true journal of his travels through the Congo, for solace or more disappointment, depending on the thesis.

Following the line of thought that Heart of Darkness is fiction, many would eventually come to the question, "What is Conrad's primary objective through this book?" Those examining it in terms of racism would soon come to, "Is Conrad's primary objective in Heart of Darkness to promote racism?

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" I would argue two things: no, and it doesn't matter anyway. Due to the latter, I will not waste my time arguing the former. However, for the sake of those with the fervent necessity to argue the wrong point, I will diverge for a minute, to show those who vehemently believe that yes, Conrad's primary objective is to promote racism, that it doesn't matter anyway. Therefore, assume that Conrad was a vicious racist, hated by everyone for a treatment of Africans so preposterous that it disgusted even those of his time, whose only goal in life was to prove to the world how vile Africans are. It follows that Heart of Darkness would have been written for this purpose. Now, take such well-known pieces as Adolph Hitler's Mein Kempf or Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto. These pieces, though they have been banned from sale in many places, have not been censored entirely anywhere (i.e. they can be found as part of historical research); anyone can read them at will. However, reading Mein Kempf will not cause people to run around the world shouting, "Sieg heil", and reading the Communist Manifesto will not cause people to mourn the loss of the USSR; those who do not believe these ideologies will not be converted by reading these pieces, and those who already believe these ideologies will not be aided further in whatever course of action they choose to take by reading these pieces. People read these books to become more enlightened as to others' views (such as those depicted above), and through reading them, some may even end up more fervently opposed to the point of view being forced on the reader. Similarly, were Heart of Darkness devoted entirely to proving Africans to be vile sub-humans (though I maintain that it is not devoted to this purpose), those who are racist would already believe in racism before reading it, and those who are not racist would not have their opinions changed by reading it. Heart of Darkness has no "subtle racism" about it; no seed is planted in people who read this work that could develop into full-fledged racism. Therefore, even if Conrad's sole aim was to show people how terrible Africans are, it would not pose a threat to our current, anti-racist views.

One may wonder how I can get this far without referring to such critics' works as Chinua Achebe's "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness", Francis B. Singh's "The Colonialistic Bias of Heart of Darkness", and Sarvan's "Racism and the Heart of Darkness". The answer: simply. The three aforementioned authors defend their views of Conrad's racism well; however, I would refer anyone who whole-heartedly agrees with their points back to my thesis. All three of these authors take Conrad's work too literally, rather than as a work of fiction. Therefore, their theses lie at the feet of mine, discredited in their failure to grasp a key point, and I will not devote any more time to them.

In treating Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness as a true story, rather than a work of fiction, many critics sully their arguments before beginning them. Whether or not the racism in Heart of Darkness is a product of Conrad's time or Conrad's true belief that Africans are repugnant idiots, and whether or not Conrad seeks to impose the view that Africans are repugnant idiots on his readers, the racism in his book is blatant, and therefore does not pose the threat that readers will subconsciously begin to believe that Africans are, in fact, repugnant idiots. Heart of Darkness can be considered a good work of literature, should the reader enjoy it, and proposing that it is not one, based not on the basis of writing style or plot, but on that of an "underlying" racism on the part of Joseph Conrad, is irrational.
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