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Dan Humphrey 10/18/13 ENGW1111 Dr.

Cecelia Musselman Project 2; First Draft MLA 1,186 words

I Dont Understand, How Can You Just Assume? by Dan Humphrey

In doing research on the book Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, I had read somewhere that the book had been banned from many US schools ( Libraries) for its violent content and use of the word nigger. The Radcliffe Publishing course placed the book 21st on their list of top 100 banned or challenged classics. Okay I said, so whos banning it? So to the internet I went, searching high and low for any source that might tell me. I checked website after website, but no one knew, leading me instead to the next step of what would turn out to be a loop of sources citing sources. No one could tell me anything more than that it was banned. I called a librarian to help with research, and she found the same thing. At last, I called and emailed the people responsible for addressing and cataloguing every ban and challenge made in the United States, and yet they had absolutely no information on anyone challenging the book. So why does everyone just assume that its banned?

Heart of Darkness is a story within a story, told by the sailor Marlow as he recounts his journey up the Congo River in search of the mysterious Mr. Kurtz, a once promising British agent who has disappeared into the dense African jungle for reasons unknown. Marlows journey into a land undiscovered by all of European civilization is exciting. Conrad writes complex and elegant monologues, describes in detail Marlows every poetic thought, and creates an atmosphere thrilling and dangerous. But the stuff that really sticks with you isn t the beauty, but rather Conrads attitude towards the unimportant and undefined characters in the book: the native Congolese. Yes the book contains some violence, and uses the word nigger on several occasions, but those alone are not adequate reasons for why everyone can just assume the book is banned. It is because of the books deep racism and xenophobia. Rather than be blatant in its racism like most novels, Heart of Darkness is almost too discrete. If the reader did not know what racism was or understand the concept, it could easily be missed or misinterpreted. And at the time of the storys release in 1899, the concept of racism was missing; people identified each other as members of an inferior or superior race and most did not recognize the discrimination. Perhaps if you were a cultured European black person, your equality would be discussed in small circles. But, as Heart of Darkness made clear, Africans were savages, not even human. Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian native and late Brown University professor, wrote several times about Heart of Darkness in his book Things Fall Apart as well as in his essay An Image of Africa. In his essay, he argues Conrads blatant racism, contra sting the civilized white Europeans with the dumb brutes (Achebe, 7) native to Africa. In fact, one of Conrads only descriptions of an African man is absurd:
And between whiles I had to look after the savage who was the fireman. He was an improved specimen; he could fire up a vertical boiler. He was there below me, and, upon my word, to look at him was as edifying as seeing a dog in a parody of breeches and a feather hat, walking on its hind legs He ought to have been clapping his hands and stampi ng his

feet on the bank, instead of which he was hard at work, a thrall of strange witchcraft, full of improving knowledge. (Conrad, 187)

He just related a full-grown man to a dog, and suggested that he would be better off jumping around screaming ooga booga with his ooga booga pals. Because thats what people in Africa do? No. In fact, not at all! Civilized Europeans could not recognize anything other than what they believed as being right, so the ancient rites of an entire continent were denied their dignity, seen only as circus acts. Achebe also discusses Conrads fervent racism towards Africans, and the purposeful way Conrad silences them, making a nation of people not humans but a black moving backdrop for the struggles of two white men. This book was published in 1899, long before the civil rights movement. European nations still kept a tight grip on Africa at the height of its colonialism, and mistreatment of the entire continent was running rampant. The King of Belgium Leopold II privately owned all of the Congo, and committed unspeakable atrocities against the Congolese, while lying to the world that he was helping them (Congo Free State). The Second Boer war was going on in South Africa, and the British had begun gathering South African natives into concentration camps, halving rations until the children died in an effort to force the local Guerilla forces into submission (South African War). They all saw Africa as Conrad did, as some sort of accursed inheritance (Conrad, 185) because they all thought it was only natural that they deserved the land over the savages that lived there. Just like those savage Native Americans, who had occupie d the Americas 14,000 years before Christopher Columbus came and cut their hands and noses off, or sold their 10 yearold daughters as sex slaves (Inman). But this isnt 1899. In the time that we live in now, racism is taken much more seriously. To simply write the word nigger in this essay was uncomfortable because of current racial

sensitivities (I would have rather written the n-word). There is an entire generation of young adults who understand and believe in equality for everyone, regardless of their race or gender. But there are still people out there who believe that others are inferior because of things they didnt choose to be. For the posterity of my posterity and so on who might read this: I imagine, in your world, that racism is an idea so foreign you would have trouble understanding what I am talking about. That, for you, the lines of race, sexuality, and maybe even gender identity are so completely ambiguous that you would have trouble imaging the white Mr. Kurtz and the black African people as being very different. So should you, the future class of 2117 or what have you, still read this book? More than Conrads pretty language, there is something in this book that is worth seeing, and that is the racism. Even if you dont know the concept, it is important to recognize that there are people in this world, who will exist as long as humanity does, who believe at their core that others are inferior. Maybe your racism isnt our racism. Maybe the aliens from some foreign planet need to learn to speak your language or leave earth. Maybe those goddamn Martians are stealing all the jobs good earth-born folk deserve. Hate is something native to humanity. And if youre going to understand it, to be able to recognize when someones behavior towards other people (or aliens) is based on ignorance and intolerance, youre going to need to see it first -hand. And I can think of no better example than Heart of Darkness.

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank my classmates Andrew and Mark for reviewing my paper. I would also like the thank the Northeastern librarian who helped me look for sources, as well as Ms. Shumeca Pickett of the ALA who helped me confirm that they had no challenges of Heart of Darkness catalogued. I would also like to thank Professor Nicole Aljoe who suggested I read and reference Mr. Achebe.

Works Cited
Achebe, Chinua. "An Image of Africa." Research in African Literatures (1978): 1-15. American Library Association. Banned and Challenged Classics. n.d. 17 October 2013. < ychallenged/challengedclassics>. Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Berkshire: Oxford University Press, 1998. Inman, Matthew. Columbus Day. 14 October 2013. 18 October 2013. <>. Kandell, Jonathan. "Chinua Achebe, African Literary Titan, Dies at 82." 23rd March 2013. The New York Times. 24th October 2013. Libraries, London. Banned Books 2011 - Too Political. 2011. 17 October 2013. <>. "South African War." Encyclopdia Britannica. Encyclopdia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopdia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 24 Oct. 2013. < EBchecked/topic/555806/South-African-War>. "Congo Free State." Encyclopdia Britannica. Encyclopdia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopdia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 30 Oct. 2013. <>. Whittaker, David. Chinua Achebes Things Fall Apart : 1958-2008. New York: Editions Rodopi, 2011.