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Racism in Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

  • Date Submitted: 03/25/2010 03:37 PM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 48.8 
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In 1890, Polish-born English novelist Joseph Conrad embarked on a voyage up the Congo River, satisfying a childhood thirst for adventure. He was in the employ of a Belgian trading company, and had been instructed to return a severely ill company agent to the safety of Europe. But just six months after departing, the harsh conditions of Conrad’s travel began to take a toll on his health, and he was forced to return to England. There, he embarked on a greater, more trying journey. Having recorded the adventures and atrocities of his experience in Africa, Conrad began to craft his novella, Heart of Darkness. It is a story-within-a-story, in which Marlow, an Englishman aboard a ship, recounts the events of his venture into the very heart of Africa – on the Congo River – with a European trading company. His tale is reminiscent of those brought back to Europe by the first of the European colonizers. The brave men, who having been thrown into the unknown with a noble cause would return speaking of the perplexing things they had witnessed, blending reality with surreal myths. Marlow’s story is filled with stereotypes of the native African people, complete with cannibals, appalling rituals, and insistent drumbeats. Living among this is a trader named Kurtz. He once held high status, a respectable European man, but he fell victim to Africa’s incomprehensible frenzy and became the epitome of evil. Conrad did not write this novella with intent to dehumanize Africans and promote racist stereotypes, but rather to demonstrate this man’s fall from greatness. As a whole, the novella is a brilliant, thoughtful exploration into man’s capability of evil when society’s restraints are removed. Conrad simply sets this exploration in a place that was considered the embodiment of darkness, evil, and a barbaric lack of society – Africa.
      Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian-born post-colonial novelist and critic, is one of many to comment on the racism that litters Heart of Darkness. Although...

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