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Prejudice and Racism – No Racism in Heart of Darkness

No Racism in Heart of Darkness

Chinua Achebe challenges Joseph Conrad’s novella depicting the looting of Africa, Heart of Darkness (1902) in his essay “An Image of Africa” (1975). Achebe’s is an indignant yet solidly rooted argument that brings the perspective of a celebrated African writer who chips away at the almost universal acceptance of the work as “classic,” and proclaims that Conrad had written “a bloody racist book” (Achebe 319). In her introduction in the Signet 1997 edition, Joyce Carol Oates writes, “[Conrad’s] African natives are “dusty niggers,” cannibals.” Conrad […] painfully reveals himself in such passages, and numerous others, as an unquestioning heir of centuries of Caucasian bigotry” (Oates 10). The argument seems to lie within a larger question; is the main character Charlie Marlow racist, and is Marlow an extension of Conrad’s opinion?

Achebe says yes to both notions. He points to Marlow’s speech about the Thames and the Congo as revealing his view of “Africa as “the other world,” the antithesis of Europe and therefore of civilization,” and notes the description of the Africans as “limbs [and] rolling eyes,” or, in Conrad’s words, “ugly” (315). When they are not incomprehensible “savages” or “brutes,” the Africans are farcical: “[The fireman] was an improved specimen; he could fire up a vertical boiler. […] to look at him was as edifying as seeing a dog in a parody of breeches and a feather hat” (109). Achebe discusses Conrad’s withholding the ability of speech from the majority of the African characters. The Africans are not humanized, as the whites are, having no dimension, no tone or color save an alien black. They are never personified; Conrad refers to them as “black shapes” or “mor…

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…ifferent standpoint, the story for the story’s sake, much like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s mysteries which said nothing about society overtly at all. Unlike Mr. Doyle, Conrad’s attempts to make social commentary on the pillaging of Africa immediately thrust him into the shoes of his character, and though he attempted to do good by shedding light on the matter, he made only a half-hearted attempt; not racism, merely a lack of strength of conviction.

Works Cited:

Achebe, Chinua. “An Image of Africa,” from Chant of Saints: a gathering of Afro-American Literature, Art

The Christian Perspective in An Essay on Man

The Christian Perspective in An Essay on Man

Some might argue that Alexander Pope’s “An Essay on Man” presents the viewpoint of a deist. Others might claim that the poem fails to exhibit Christian concepts of good and evil, especially since the poet concludes his first epistle with the seemingly unchristian claim that “whatever IS, is Right” (I. 1. 294). Yet Pope’s arguments actually reflect a traditional Christian perspective, which can be verified by comparing his poem with New Testament teachings. In his attempt to vindicate God in the face of suffering, he does not, like the pantheist, rule out the existence of evil. Pope knows that men are capable of vice and that suffering is real. Pope does not argue that evil does not exist; rather he argues that its existence does not preclude the justice of God. Like the writers of the New Testament, particularly the apostle Paul, Pope claims that pride and envy leads man to question the justice of God, and he insists that men submit to God, remaining content with their lot in life.

Although Pope claims that “[o]ne truth is clear, `Whatever IS, is RIGHT'” (I. 1.294), he recognizes suffering:

But errs not nature from this gracious end,

From burning suns when livid deaths descend,

When earthquakes swallow, or when tempest sweep

Towns to one grave, whole nations to the deep? (I. ll. 140-143)

Pope does not only acknowledge the existence of evil. He describes it in vivid detail. In the above passage, he paints a horrid picture of plagues caused by excessive heat, of destructive earthquakes, and of storms that decimate entire towns and nations. He writes too of Ammon, who was turned “loose to scourge mankind” (I. l. 160). He may argue that nature does not err t…

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…realizes this himself for a moment at the end of the second epistle. For he does not conclude by attempting to explain the existence of evil. Rather, he says only that “one comfort still must rise, / ‘Tis this, Tho’ Man’s a fool, yet GOD IS WISE” (II. ll. 292-293). In the end, it is better to believe that every man (including Pope) is a fool for failing to explain evil than to believe that God is not wise for allowing it. This couplet is one further proof of the Christian influence in Pope’s “An Essay on Man.” In the Epistle to the Romans, Paul writes: “Let God be true, but every man a liar” (Romans 3:4).

Works Cited

Pope, Alexander. “An Essay on Man.” Ed. Gordon N. Ray. Boston: Houghton Miflin Company, 1969.

The New American Bible. Nashville: Catholic Publishers, Inc., 1971.

The King James Bible. Cleveland: The World Publishing Company, 1967.

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