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Essay/Term paper: Another heart of darkness

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Cliff Notes

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Ignorance and Racism

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 criticisim

differ, are a few to name. 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, I have

discovered some racism Conrad felt toward the natives that

I had not discovered the first time I read the book. 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. 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

should be of interest to psychoanalysts" (Achebe 258).

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 philosophical mind. Conrad used "double speak"

throughout his book. Upon arriving at the first station,

Marlow commented 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 book keeper he

changed his views of the natives. "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 book keeper as if he felt

it's the natives' fault for living in such waste. the bureaucracy

only cared about how he looked and felt. The bookeeper

did not care for the natives who were suffering less than fifty

feet from him. He stated the natives weren't criminals but

were being treated as if they were, but at the same time he

respected the book keeper on his looks instead of despising

him for his indifference. Conrad considered the Africans

inferior and doomed people. 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). Another similar incident of

"double speak" appeared on the death of Marlow's

helmsman. Marlow respected the helmsman, yet when the

native's blood poured into Marlow's shoes, "To tell you the

truth, I was morbidity anxious to change my shoes and

socks" (Conrad 47). How can someone respect yet feel

disgusted towards someone? Singh looks into this question

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 I

have 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). "The prehistoric man was cursing us, praying

to us, welcoming us - who could tell?" (Conrad 37). The

end result of Conrad's 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 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" (252). "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. 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 social categorization. C. P.

Sarvan wrote in his criticism, quoting Achebe, "Racism and

the Heart of Darkness," "Conrad sets up Africa 'as a foil to

Europe, a place of negations... in comparison with which

Europe's own state of spiritual grace will be manifest.' Africa

is 'the other world,'..." (281). Achebe, Chinua [An Image of

Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness.] Heart of

Darkness. By Joseph Conrad 3rd ed. Ed. Robert

Kimbrough. New York: Norton Critical 1988. Conrad,

Joseph Heart of Darkness 3rd ed. Ed. Robert Kimbrough.

New York: Norton Critical, 1988. Sarvan, C. P. [Racism

and the Heart of Darkness.] Heart of Darkness. By Joseph

Conrad 3rd ed. Ed. Robert Kimbrough. New York: Norton

Critical 1988. Singh, Frances B. [The Colonialistic Bias of

Heart of Darkness.] Heart of Darkness. By Joseph Conrad

3rd ed. Ed. Robert Kimbrough. New York: Norton Critical


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