Heart Of Darkness Essay, Research Paper
Achebe, Chinua. “An image of Africa: racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness”. Heart of darkness: an authoritative text, backgrounds and sources, criticism / Joseph Conrad. 3rd Ed. Robert Kimbrough. New York: Norton, 1988. 252-258.
Sighn, Frances B. “The colonialistic bias of Heart of Darkness”. Heart of Darkness: an authoritative text, backgrounds and sources, criticism / Joseph Conrad. 3rd Ed. Robert Kimbrough. New York: Norton, 1988. 269-278.
Conrad, Joseph. “Heart of Darkness”. Heart of Darkness: an authoritative text, backgrounds and sources, criticism / Joseph Conrad 3rd Ed. Robert Kimbrough. New York: Norton, 1988. 19-47
Bender, Todd K. A concordance to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. New York & London: Garland publishing Inc, 1979.
The Heart of A Bloody Racist-by Cris Ohama
-Sec 003, Dec.08/99
Dr. Karen Manarin.
Joseph Conrad develops themes of personal power, individual responsibility, and social justice in his book Heart of Darkness. His book has all the trappings of the conventional adventure tale – mystery, exotic setting, escape, suspense, and unexpected attack. Chinua Achebe concluded: “Conrad?is undoubtedly one of the great stylists of modern fiction and a good story-teller into the bargain” (Achebe 252). Yet, despite Conrad’s great story telling, he has also been viewed as a racist by some of his critics; Chinua Achebe, and Frances Singh, although their criticisms differ, are to name. One must acknowledge that back in the eighteen hundreds society conformed to racism. Conrad probably would have been criticized as being soft hearted rather than a racist back in his time. So then are Conrad and Heart of Darkness soft hearted or racist? Chinua Achebe argues that both are ‘bloody racist’. Racism, due to ignorance, is portrayed through Conrad and if you were to reach deep down into the heart of his book it would revel the truth, that his story is ‘bloody racist’.
Most average readers usually are good at detecting racism in a book, but in Heart of Darkness the racism is hidden within. Achebe acknowledges Conrad camouflaged racist remarks, saying, “But Conrad choose his subject well – one which was guaranteed not to put him in conflict with psychological pre-disposition” (Achebe, 253). When going back and rereading Heart of Darkness, but this time reading between the lines, one can discover some racism Conrad felt toward the natives that one may have not discovered the first time reading the book.
Conrad uses Marlow, the main character in the book, as a narrator, so he himself can enter the story and tell it through his own beliefs and own words. Conrad uses “double speak” throughout his book, and because of this it hints to us that we may judge the actions and opinions of his character to mirror himself. Achebe concludes this coexistence of Conrad and Marlow in a unique frame of mind when he states, “Marlow seems?to enjoy Conrad’s complete confidence” (Achebe, 257). Upon arriving at the first station, Marlow commented on what he observed, ” They were dying slowly – it was very clear. They were not enemies, they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now, nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation lying confusedly in the greenish gloom” (Conrad, 20). Marlow felt pity toward the natives, yet when he met the station’s bookkeeper he changed his views of the natives when he states to himself: “Moreover I respected the fellow. Yes. I respected his collars, his vast cuffs, his brushed hair. His appearance was certainly great demoralization of the land he kept up his appearance” (Conrad, 21). Marlow praised the bookkeeper as if he felt it’s the natives’ fault for living in such a waste. The Europeans only cared about how he looked and not how he felt. Marlow did not care for the natives who were suffering less than fifty feet from him. He stated the natives were not criminals but were being treated as if they were, but at the same time he respected the bookkeeper on his looks instead of despising him for his indifference. Conrad considered the Africans inferior and doomed people.
Conrad constantly referred to the natives, in his book, as black savages, niggers, brutes, and “them”, displaying ignorance towards the African history and racism towards the African people. Conrad wrote, “They passed me with six inches, without a glance, with the complete, deathlike indifference of unhappy savages” (Conrad, 19). Achebe, also, detected Conrad’s frequent use of unorthodox name-calling: “Certainly Conrad had a problem with niggers. His in ordinate love of that word itself should be of interest to psychoanalysts” (Achebe, 258). To be precise, Conrad used the form of the word ‘nigger’ exactly nine times within Heart of Darkness: ” Strings of dusty niggers with splay feet arrived and departed; a stream of manufactured goods, rubbishy cottons, beads, and brass wire set into the depths of darkness, and in return came a precious trickle of ivory?Well, if a lot of mysterious niggers armed with all kinds of fearful weapons?A quarrelsome band of footsore sulky niggers trod on the heels of the donkey?It appears these niggers do bury the tusks sometimes-but evidently they couldn’t bury this parcel deep enough to save the gifted Mr. Kurtz from his fate?I had, even like the niggers, to invoke him-himself-his own exalted and incredible degradation?He whacked the old nigger mercilessly, while a big crowd of his people watched him?A nigger was being beaten near by?the beaten nigger groaned somewhere.?The hurt nigger moaned feebly somewhere nearby, and then fetched a deep sigh that made me mend my pace away from there” (Bender, 299). The word ‘nigger’ was used by Conrad in his book to describe the natives as subordinate than most people and was also used as an excuse for the Europeans thinking that the natives could not have known better because they were ‘niggers’ (that they were not intelligent). Not only did Conrad use the word ‘nigger’ many times to describe the African natives but he also used that word at inappropriate times. He would call the natives ‘niggers’ out of pity sometimes even though he, and the rest of the colonized Europeans in Africa, brought the problems upon the natives in the first place. His use of the single word ‘nigger’ automatically puts Conrad in the seat of a racist.
Frances B. Singh, author of The Colonialistic Bias of Heart of Darkness said, “The African natives, victims of Belgian exploitation, are described as ’shapes’, ’shadows’ and ‘bundles of acute angles’, so as to show the dehumanizing effect of colonialist rule on the ruled” (269-270). Also when Marlow found out about some of the natives being cannibals he became filled with disgust towards the Africians. He did not want to understand why they were cannibals but rather just looked down upon the natives for that reason. He surely did not think they were humans. Singh looks into this oddity by stating, “The reason of course, is because he (Marlow) never completely grants them (natives) human status: at the best they are a species of superior hyena” (Singh 273).
As mentioned before, Conrad was not only racist but also ignorant. He would often mix ignorance with racism when he described the natives: “They howled and leaped and spun and made horrid faces, but what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity – like yours – the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. Ugly” (Conrad, 35). He would describe his ignorant and racist thoughts, even when he most likely wouldn’t notice, through Marlow: “The prehistoric man was cursing us, praying to us, welcoming us – who could tell?” (Conrad, 37). The end result of Conrad’s racism and ignorance of not knowing the behavior of African people concluded his division of the social world into two separate categories: “us”, the Europeans, and “them”, the Africans. Achebe concludes Conrad’s ignorance and racism towards the natives by stating “Heart of Darkness projects the image of Africa as the ‘other world’?a place where man’s vaunted intelligence and ferment are finally mocked by triumphant bestiality (Achebe, 252). The fact that Conrad was ignorant when talking about the natives, their culture, and their homeland (Africa) tells us that he is either very naive and doesn’t want to truly understand them because of what they are. Or he is acting on his racist belief and discriminates the natives any chance he can get.
Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness “was written, consciously or unconsciously, from a colonialistic point of view” (Singh, 278). Conrad didn’t write his book to the extreme of racism, but he did write a book that was racist. Overall, the natives appeared better humans than the Europeans in Heart of Darkness. Conrad’s ignorance led to his conformity to racism. His ignorance of not completely granting the natives human status leads him to have a discriminative generalization of all African natives. In a forceful attack on Conrad as ‘a bloody racist’, the Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe argues that Conrad is not really interested in Africa or Africans; he uses the country “as a setting and backdrop which eliminates the African as a human factor?as a metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognizable humanity, into which the wandering European enters at his peril”(Achebe, 257). I also believe the same as Achebe stated. Conrad made the African natives seem as though they were not even human at all, but were at the least mere animals. They were treated, thought of, and referred to that of by a racist and for that Conrad is no better than an animal himself.