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Prejudice and Racism in Heart of Darkness?

Heart of Darkness: Racist or not?

Many critics, including Chinua Achebe in his essay “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness”, have made the claim that Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness, despite the insights which it offers into the human condition, ought to be removed from the canon of Western literature. This claim is based on the supposition that the novel is racist, more so than other novels of its time. While it can be read in this way, it is possible to look under the surface and create an interpretation of Conrad’s novel that does not require the supposition of extreme racism on the part of Conrad. Furthermore, we must keep in mind that Conrad was a product of a rather racist period in history, and it seems unfair to penalize him for not being able to transcend his contemporaries in this respect.

This novel, it seems, must be read in a symbolic manner. Objects and characters are not so simple as they seem. Achebe tells us: “Quite simply it is the desire… in Western psychology to set Africa up as a foil to Europe, as a place of negations at once remote and vaguely familiar, in comparison with which Europe’s own state of spiritual grace will be manifest” (251-252). If Africa is a foil to Europe, as stated here, then perhaps Conrad only uses the continent of Africa symbolically, without regard to its people – as Achebe himself states, descriptions of Africans as anything more than vague limbs in the darkness are few and far between in the novel. The opposition between light and darkness in the novel, far from being Conrad’s own, is traditional in Western literature. Conrad simply uses the most familiar of symbols for the dichotomy between good and evil to enhance his novel’s psycho…

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…. One might also argue that while Marlow is racist, Conrad is not – something like the scenario in another famous river novel, Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. However, I reject this claim – Marlow does the vast majority of the speaking in this novel, and so the reader identifies him as the novel’s narrative voice even though there is, strictly speaking, a frame story outside of this.

Finally, even if Conrad was more racist than other authors of his time, why is this so significant? The novel is still valuable as an object of art, for the psychological insights it offers both into the human condition at large and into the motivations of European imperialism and colonization. A novel such as this should not be removed from the canon on the simple basis of its offensive potential. All great literature must have at least the potential to offend.

Free Hamlet Essays: Interpretation of Hamlet

Keys to Interpretation of Hamlet

William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is, at heart, a play about suicide. Though it is surrounded by a fairly standard revenge plot, the play’s core is an intense psychodrama about a prince gone mad from the pressures of his station and his unrequited love for Ophelia. He longs for the ultimate release of killing himself – but why? In this respect, Hamlet is equivocal – he gives several different motives depending on the situation. But we learn to trust his soliloquies – his thoughts – more than his actions. In Hamlet’s own speeches lie the indications for the methods we should use for its interpretation.

Hamlet’s reason for suicide is the death of his father, the late King Hamlet – or at least this is what he tells the world. He claims his father’s death as the reason in his first soliloquy (1.2.133-164), but we are led towards other reasons by the evidence he gives. In the famous “to be or not to be” soliloquy, he says: “For who would bear… the pangs of despised love… when he himself might his quietus make/with a bare bodkin?” (3.1.78-84). The word “despised” is glossed as “unrequited” – and thus we are led to speculation that Ophelia, not the late King, is the true cause of his suicidal urges. The claim that he is mourning his father seems to me to be at best an excuse – in the public eye as he is, Hamlet cannot sink so low as to be moved to kill himself by a woman.

This is an example of a phenomenon that we note throughout Hamlet – the separation of what is stated on the surface from the implications a few layers beneath. The play works on two levels – the revenge drama works as a backdrop for Hamlet’s internal psychodrama. It is clear that Shakespeare intends for Hamlet’s thoughts to be superior to his outward actions in interpretation of the play. After listing all the outward signs of his depression, he tells his mother that he would prefer to be considered on the basis of his thoughts: “These indeed ‘seem’/For they are actions that a man might play;/But I have that within which passes show/These but the trappings and the suits of woe” (1.2.86-89). Yet Hamlet, for all the disdain for played action that he shows here, also appreciates its power, in his remarks on the player’s soliloquy on Hecuba (2.

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