Views of Racism in Heart of Darkness


Eng 23-12


Instructor


Time- 8:00-9:15 A.M.


What is the meaning of racism? According to the American Heritage Dictionary, it means hatred or intolerance of another race or other races. Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, is a treasure for criticism on the authors stand on racism. Many believed him to be a racist writer, and many others believed that the novel only implicated the beliefs of his time. He was not only believed to be a racist but also ignorant. All the critics accusing him for being racist and others defending him present very strong arguments, but in the end, it is always up to the reader to decide from which point of view he/she wants to interpret the novella. If the novella is, infact, viewed under the lens of today’s beliefs, it appears to be a very racist work. The language of the story would strongly represent the racist views of the writer in today’s times.


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, unexpected attack. Chinua Achebe concluded, "Conrad, on the other hand, 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. Achebe, Singh, and Sarvan, although their criticisms differ, are a few to name.


Chinua Achebe, a well-known writer, once gave a lecture at the University of Massachusetts about Joseph Conrad\'s Heart of Darkness, entitled "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad\'s Heart of Darkness." Throughout his essay, Achebe notes how Conrad used Africa as a background only, and how he "set Africa up as a foil to Europe,"(Achebe, p.251) while he also "projects the image of Africa as \'the other world,\' the antithesis of Europe and therefore of civilization."(Achebe, p.252) By his own interpretations of the text, Achebe shows that Conrad eliminates "the African as a human factor," thereby "reducing Africa to the role of props."(Achebe, p.257) Normal readers usually are good at detecting racism in a book. Achebe acknowledges Conrad camouflaged racism remarks, saying, "But Conrad chose his subject well - one which was guaranteed not to put him in conflict with psychological pre-disposition..." (Achebe, 253). Having gone back and rereading Heart of Darkness, but this time reading between the lines, there are many elements in the book that seem racist that didn’t seem before. Racism is portrayed in Conrad\'s book, but one must acknowledge that back in the eighteen hundreds society conformed to it. Conrad probably would have been criticized as being soft hearted rather than a racist back in his time.


In supporting these accusations against Conrad, Achebe cites specific examples from the text, while also, pointing out that there is a lack of certain characteristics among the characters. Achebe then compares the descriptions of the Intended and the native woman. Explaining that the savage "fulfills a structural requirement of the story: a savage counterpart to the refined European woman," and also that the biggest "difference is the one implied in the author\'s bestowal of human expression to the one and the withholding of it from the other."(Achebe, p.255) This lack of human expression and human characteristics is what Achebe says contributes to the overflowing amount of racism within Conrad\'s novella. Human expression is one of few things that make us different from animals, along with such things as communication and reason. This of course, being that without human expression, the native woman is considered more of a "savage...wild-eyed and magnificent," (Achebe quoting Conrad, p. 255), possibly even "bestial."


Conrad constantly referred to the natives, in his book, as black savages, niggers, brutes, and "them", displaying ignorance toward the African history and racism towards the African people. Conrad wrote, "Black figures strolled out listlessly... the beaten nigger groaned somewhere" (Conrad 28). "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