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Racism in Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness

By reading the “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad, any keen reader will come across several instances of racism. We can decipher that in the thinking of Europeans, Africans were considered inferior people. For instance when he writes that he thought of their humanity compared to that of himself and other Europeans, he came to the conclusion that they were ugly.

This shows total racism which even though the book was written when most whites shuddered at the thought of having blacks as their equal is totally unacceptable (Sarvan, 2006). Further, when speaking about his encounter with a black man in Haiti, he refers to him as an enormous buck nigger who was of unreasonable rage and whose behavior Conrad compares to that manifested by animals (Conrad, 2006). Such words are obviously racist and biased owing to his perceived superiority over the blacks he came across.

According to celebrated author Chinua Achebe, the ‘Heart of Darkness is a totally deplorable and offensive book which should never be considered a work of art because according to him, it dehumanizes some portion of the human race using fickle prejudices (Achebe, 1977). We can see the cultural differentiation between the blacks and their white colleagues being utilized as means for the Europeans to justify their suppression, cruelty and alienation towards the people of African descent. Although it is possible that the views expressed by Marlow may not be necessarily those held by Conrad, racism is apparent where the Africans are reduced to limbs, glistening eyeballs and angles hence making them to appear like it is non-living things which are being described (Achebe, 1977).

Further, Marlow shudders at the prospect that he may have some kinship ties with the natives he comes across hence making him to exasperatingly sneer the word ugly in his description of the Africans. Disdain for Africa is also seen in Conrad’s description of some of its natural features.  While he adoringly describes River Thames as resting peacefully and having faithfully served the people who reside on its banks, he says that going up River Congo was akin to travelling back to the beginning of the world (Conrad, 2006).

This shows that if this river takes one back to the beginnings of earth, then the people are also as backward and savage. Further, his description of Mr. Kurtz’s mistress as superb and savage who stood looking at them without stirring and who had an air of brooding like wilderness serves to show that Conrad or at least his protagonist had little respect for natives (Achebe, 1977). The announcement of Mr. Kurtz’s death we are told is done by an insolent black head from the doorway. This amounts to a direct insult on the people of African descent. We see that Conrad is much more concerned with the deterioration of a fellow white due to sickness and solitude and not the general welfare of Africans. Therefore, I can confidently say that Conrad was in a way trying to ridicule the European mission to civilize Africa. Conrad ascribes to Africa the role of a mere back drop by denying it a human factor.

Therefore to him, any European entering Africa does so at his own peril (Achebe, 1977). To this end, Africa is used as a form of prop through which one European mind breaks. Conrad compares Africans to dogs wearing trousers and a feather hat and then walking on their hind legs. Comparing a human being to a dog however uncivilized the person in question is reeks of the worst form of racism (Sarvan, 2006). Further, Conrad refers to the fireman as a poor devil and has no sympathy to the man due to the scars on his cheeks.

Instead, he refers to these scars as being ornamental hence making one to conclude that despite the important service the fireman was rendering, to Conrad he was no more than a sculpture on whose cheeks scars had been carved. By referring to natives as the pre-historic man, it appears that to Conrad any way of life which fell short of European standards was backward and savage. Conrad describes the speech of natives as being just violent babbles made up of uncouth sounds (Conrad, 2006). By saying that these native’s main form of communication was through “short grunting phrases”   , he implies that just like animals, the African’s speech was rudimentary and yet to fully develop. When he attributes a language to natives, and English for that matter, is to portray them as having cannibalistic tendencies (Achebe, 1977).

Conrad appears to be obsessed with the color/blackness of Africans rather than their other attributes characters. He writes that the black figure (note stripping of humanity from the individual under description) strode on his black legs while at the same time waving some long and black hands. This shows that in a way Conrad looked down upon the black people who according to him were ugly when compared with their white counterparts.

Therefore, I can confidently conclude that although in some instances Conrad tried to mask his inherent racist tendencies by use his superb mastery of language and a flare for writing, this book has very many instances where the writer is biased against the natives hence revealing deep seated racism. Finally, although we can attribute Conrad’s racist tendencies, his sharp mind cannot have evaded the fact that his work would continue to be read for centuries and hence his portrayal of natives ought to have been fair.

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