Depiction of Africa in Heart of Darkness

Depiction of Africa in Heart of Darkness

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Depiction of Africa in Heart of Darkness

 

      Chinua Achebe believes that Joseph Conrad's Heart Of Darkness is

racist based on Conrad's descriptions of Africa and it's people.  Achebe,

author of Things Fall Apart, stresses Conrad's depiction of Africa as the

antithesis of Europe and civilization, and the animal imagery present

throughout the novella.

 

      Heart of Darkness, written in 1899 during the period of British

Imperialism, concerns a British trading company and their expedition into

the Congo for ivory.  The African natives are treated brutally by the

Europeans, and despite Conrad's casual condescension towards the Africans,

one cannot help feeling resentment at the unnecessary cruelty they must

endure.  The novella stands as a document against the imperialist practices

-- Conrad was quite liberal for the time.

 

      The natives are referred to as "savages" several times throughout

the story, but Conrad is not using any particularly strong words for the

time.  The European audiences who would be reading would not find anything

racist about it.  By today's more sensitive standards, such deference is

more serious, but turn-of-the-century England was sure to expect far

harsher.  Educated people reading Conrad's novel should understand the

differences between the past and the present, and be forgiving of his

language.

 

      The deeper the expedition progressed into the center of the

continent, the more isolation was felt by the crew.  In a sense, Central

Africa IS the antithesis of Western Europe -- it lacks not only the hectic

urban structures but also the Social Darwinist attitudes of the time.  It

is in this remote environment that man must face his true self without any

illusions, and the darkness of the human soul is apparent.  The uncivilized

environment may mock western civilization's refinement, but this is not

derogatory towards the jungle, but rather an eye-opener to the European

audience.

 

      By exhibiting the deeds of the Europeans, their portrayal becomes

so negative that they become the savages.  Conrad clearly is sympathetic to

the plight of the Africans, and any racial epithets, if not accepted by

progressives of the time,  are not meant as attacks directed at the natives.

 It should be obvious that Conrad is on their side -- or is this

"undermined by the mindlessness of its context and the pretty explicit

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animal imagery surrounding it"?   I think not.  Conrad's animal imagery is

used as a metaphor for the human spiritual being, not as a comparison to

the natives.

 

      Heart of Darkness is not intended to be a portrait of the African

people at all.  It is a story of what was inflicted upon them.  It is a

story of man's introspective into himself when there is nowhere else to

turn.  It is a story of an obsessed man named Kurtz and what he did for his

own gain.  It is a strikingly accurate account of a historical period past,

and it should not be regarded today as a hateful spew of racism.

 
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