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Prejudice in Heart of Darkness – Racism in the Heart

Racism in Heart of Darkness

I find no elements of racism in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. I will admit that I began reading this with a little hesitation based on the fact that I do not like to read about human cruelty. However, after reading the story, I did not feel any negative feelings toward the story or author.

I feel one must realize that the occurrences of this story were really happening. I do not feel that by the virtue of performing a task that one is hired to do makes one a racist. Many times social problems are so overwhelming that one individual does not know where to begin in correcting the problem. Marlow was described as unemployed with a childhood dream to go to the uncharted Africa. I feel Marlow went to the Congo with no real knowledge of what was truly happening in the Congo. In addition to this thought, people really do not have the capabilities to know the severity of a problem until one experiences it first hand. I believe that injustices towards another human race are intolerable. However, social change takes time from many people experiencing the issue. In my opinion, there were several incidents within the story that indicated to me that Conrad’s character, Marlow, was not a racist.

For example, when Marlow is first at the station, he spies a big shade tree in the distance and decides to investigate. Marlow goes under the tree and finds many African people moaning and waiting to die. Marlow is stunned at what he encounters. This encounter stays with him throughout his time in the Congo.

Marlow was never cruel to his black crewmembers. After his helmsman died in the attack ordered by Kurtz, Marlow was quite shaken. He later describes that he will never forget the look on his face. I also feel he did a service to the deceased man by throwing him overboard as opposed to letting him possibly be eaten by the rumored cannibals that were part of the crew.

In another incident, Marlow saw the pilgrims poising themselves to shoot the natives that had lined up along the river after retrieving Kurtz. As opposed to allowing them to shoot them unmercifully, Marlow blows the steamers horn knowing it would scare the natives back into the forest and saving them from the guns.

Historical, Sociological, and Philosophical Elements of Heart of Darkness

Historical, Sociological, and Philosophical Elements of Heart of Darkness

An awareness of the historical, sociological, and philosophical climate prevalent during the time in which Heart of Darkness was written plays a key role in understanding the significance of Conrad’s complex work. Joseph Conrad began work on Heart of Darkness in 1898 and completed it the following year in 1899. During this time the impressionist movement was in full swing, European colonization was at its peak, racial tensions were rapidly increasing, and man was confronted with the fall of the traditional view that held man as the eminent ruler the world. Each of these issues significantly influenced Joseph Conrad’s writing of the novel as well as its collective meaning for all mankind.

A look at Conrad’s writing style will allow us to infer his possible intent upon writing Heart of Darkness and therefore how the reader should approach it. Conrad’s writing style is centered upon the literary sense of impressionism. Literary impressionism is characterized by the use of details and mental associations to evoke subjective and sensory impressions rather than the re-creation of objective reality (“impressionism”). Conrad is trying to communicate to the readers in a way that transcends the written word. The intent here is not to abstract orderly ideas about experience, rather they try to re-create and communicate the rich complexities of experience itself, with all its darkness, messiness, and ambiguity intact (Dintenfass). Some critics have argued that Conrad presents so much detail and chaos in his works that it becomes too much for him to analyze. Conrad responded to this attack in a letter directed toward critic Richard Curle:

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…enfass, Mark. “Heart of Darkness: A Lawrence University Freshman Studies Lecture.” 14 Mar. 1996. ** (2 Feb. 2000).

Guerard, Albert J. Conrad the Novelist. Cambridge, MA.: Harvard U. Press, 1958.

Hayes, Dorsha. “Heart of Darkness: An Aspect of the Shadow,” Spring (1956): 43-47..

Hillman, James. “Notes on White Supremacy: Essaying an Archetypal Account of Historical Events,” Spring (1986): 29-57.

Jean-Aubry, George. Joseph Conrad: Life and Letters. Vol. 1. New York: Page, 1966.

McLynn, Frank. Hearts of Darkness: The European Exploration of Africa. New York: Carol

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