Conrad v. Achebe: Is Conrad a racist in The Heart of Darkness?

Essay by ttoledoCollege, UndergraduateA+, December 2006

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Improper Assertions: Achebe's Misjudgments of Heart of Darkness

It is no secret that we live in a society that is ultra-sensitive to anything that could possibly offend anyone. Recently, GLAAD has brought forth a claim against a commercial depicting a man wearing a pink shirt and walking puppies, stating that it depicts gays in a derogatory and stereotypical way, when it clearly has no intentions of doing so. This trend has even made its way into literature, and although it is usually overlooked, it is impossible to begin studying Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness without stumbling upon Chinua Achebe's An Image of Africa. In his article, Achebe asserts that Conrad "was a thoroughgoing racist" and uses references to the text in conjunction with his own commentary to prove this thesis. Conrad's text may not be immortalized as the most politically-correct text of the century, but one must thoroughly examine the context in which it was written in addition to the literary merit that it represents to form a conclusion.

Conrad can not be simply defined as a racist for his work, and examination of time period in addition to introducing new perspectives on Conrad's narrative will prove that Heart of Darkness' main purpose is to debunk colonial myths and reveal the terror that resided within the colonized Congo when Marlow made his journey.

It is of importance to first understand Europe's viewpoint of Africa before casting judgments upon Conrad. It is readily recognized due to the time of penmanship that the journey in which Marlow narrates takes place in Leopold II's Congo Free State. In European publications, the Congo Free State became increasingly mentioned and depicted as a horrific area, full of atrocities and terror. The fact that his image became so emblazoned in the minds of Europeans is...