‘Heart of Darkness’ and “an Image of Racism”

In the short novel “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad, the story starts off by talking about the protagonist, Marlow, leading his trip to Africa. Throughout the book, the reader’s experience stories on European colonization, and Africa in general. Chinua Achebe,writer of “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness”, criticizes Conrad’s novel, “Heart of Darkness” on his different view of racism towards people of Africa and Africa as a continent. Although the language that was portrayed to describe Africans in the novel was constructed during an era of imperialism when was appropriate to use, it doesn’t justify Conrad’s book as a whole. Even though Conrad’s novel, Heart of Darkness, offers a great literary work, the novel should still be studied alongside Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness” essay to provide an understanding of racism from the dehumanization of Africa and its people.

One form of dehumanization factor that is portrayed in “Heart of Darkness” is when Conrad uses many racist descriptions of the African people. During his first visit to Africa on his way to Congo, he observed that “The prehistoric man was cursing us, praying to us, welcoming us– who could tell?” (Conrad).With the perspective of describing African people as underdeveloped and his use of words such as s “prehistoric”, “savage”, and even the derogatory N word, despite most African people in the novel were faceless and unnamed. During the novel, the protagonist, Marlow and the other white people disrespected the African people in a way that justified that being a light pigment meant superiority. It can be seen clearly from the novel that Africans were not people that deserved such disgraceful and disrespectful action from the characters and the acknowledgment of the author to prove their portrayal of Africans as animals and unworthy of a name.

In Chinua Achebe’s essay, “An Image of Racism”, he highlights how Conrad uses figurative language to compare Europe and Africa. Achebe asserts that “A Conrad student informed me in Scotland that Africa is merely “a setting for the disintegration of the mind of Mr. Kurtz. Which is partly the point. Africa is setting and backdrop which eliminates the African as a human factor” (Achebe, 37 and 38). This clearly shows how people in this current generation still are able to understand the moral implications in Conrad’s language is the actual problem. Although readers and critics can argue over the era and different time that “Heart of Darkness”, with the fact that this book mistreats an entire race of people, a continent as a whole and many different cultures, in today’s time, it is unacceptable. Well, everyone likes to be treated with respect, and without a doubt, Achebe acknowledges that Conrad’s writing in “Heart of Darkness” was beautiful and talented, but his work of literature can not be judged based on the technicality.

The message that is portrayed in the novel affects an entire portion of human race and crashes their beliefs and is simply not fair. Although, Conrad’s work on the novel should still be discussed alongside with Things Fall Apart and Achebe’s essay, “ An Image of Racism” for a better balanced understanding of the concepts.

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'Heart of darkness' and “an image of racism”. (2021, Mar 16). Retrieved September 23, 2022 , from

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