Another Heart of Darkness


Word Count: 906

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