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I find no elements of racism in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. I will admit that I began reading this with a little hesitation based on the fact that I do not like to read about human cruelty. However, after reading the story, I did not feel any negative feelings toward the story or author.
I feel one must realize that the occurrences of this story were really happening. I do not feel that by the virtue of performing a task that one is hired to do makes one a racist. Many times social problems are so overwhelming that one individual does not know where to begin in correcting the problem. Marlow was described as unemployed with a childhood dream to go to the uncharted Africa. I feel Marlow went to the Congo with no real knowledge of what was truly happening in the Congo. In addition to this thought, people really do not have the capabilities to know the severity of a problem until one experiences it first hand. I believe that injustices towards another human race are intolerable. However, social change takes time from many people experiencing the issue. In my opinion, there were several incidents within the story that indicated to me that Conrad's character, Marlow, was not a racist.
For example, when Marlow is first at the station, he spies a big shade tree in the distance and decides to investigate. Marlow goes under the tree and finds many African people moaning and waiting to die. Marlow is stunned at what he encounters. This encounter stays with him throughout his time in the Congo.
Marlow was never cruel to his black crewmembers. After his helmsman died in the attack ordered by Kurtz, Marlow was quite shaken. He later describes that he will never forget the look on his face. I also feel he did a service to the deceased man by throwing him overboard as opposed to letting him possibly be eaten by the rumored cannibals that were part of the crew.
In another incident, Marlow saw the pilgrims poising themselves to shoot the natives that had lined up along the river after retrieving Kurtz. As opposed to allowing them to shoot them unmercifully, Marlow blows the steamers horn knowing it would scare the natives back into the forest and saving them from the guns.
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Marlow made the comment comparing the death of Kurtz to his helmsman, "I am not prepared to affirm the fellow was exactly worth the life lost in getting to him." This to me says Marlow did have feelings toward a black man.
I also feel that by using the term, "nigger," does not make one a racist. I refer and agree with Candace Bradley's opinion that Conrad only uses the term when referring to a negative action performed by another toward the black man.
In all the references to women in this story, Conrad suggests that women are in a different world. He really does not much appeal to women, but is taken with the black women who emerge out of the forest. Marlow goes into great detail in describing her appearance and her movements. I feel she makes an impact on him as no other female has done before.
In my opinion, after all the incidents I have cited, Joseph Conrad appears not to be a racist. I see him as a man caught in a time of some terrible injustices, but not a man who exploited a race for his benefit.