Conrad's Heart Of Darkness Is Not A Racist Work

1183 words - 5 pages

Conrad's Heart of Darkness is Not a Racist Work

Since the publication of Heart of Darkness in 1899, the text has invited both praise and criticism. While some have claimed it is a work ahead of it’s time in it’s criticism of European colonialist practices, others have criticized the text in it’s portrayal of the native African’s. Achebe, Singh, and Sarvan are just a few to name, and although their criticisms differ, they have labeled many aspects of Conrad’s work racist. Conrad certainly was ahead of his time, as his work criticized the colonialism practices by the Europeans by both making readers aware of the issues, and moving the readership to empathize with the natives. The work therefore cannot be seen as racist, however it is a ‘text of it’s time’ (Conrad expresses a dominant view through Marlow )  in the social classification, with the black natives essentially being the ‘other’, seen through the portrayal of the native Africans.

The racial construction of the natives in Heart of Darkness is one of which the dominant society would have conformed to. Conrad constantly referred to the natives, in his book, as black savages, niggers, brutes, and "them", displaying perhaps 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). The language expressed was common in the context of it’s publication, and it may be reflective of the greater society’s ignorance to the native African’s, with Marlow too, being constructed as a product of his society, therefore his views and opinions are somewhat bias.

Marlow is essentially used by Conrad as a distancing device, so Conrad can utilize the dominant society to criticize colonialist practices, and also distance himself from the narrative, a technique of which Achebe acknowledged as a camouflaging device. 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, and moves the reader to feel this same sympathy. Yet when he met the station's Accountant, who both manipulates, and ignores the dying natives, he describes him as a “miracle” . "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 was the natives' fault for living in such waste. The bookkeeper did not care for the natives who were suffering less than fifty feet from him. He stated that the natives were not criminals but were...

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