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Willhem Sontay


Conrads Racist Image of Africa

Joseph Conrads story Heart of Darkness was written as a critique of

the colonial occupation of the Congo. Not only has it been a controversial
work, it has also stood out as an important pieces of literature in the English
language. The narrative describes a continent full of savages without a voice.
A land changed, mostly for the worse, by the European invaders. A plot that
left many readers with a terrible image of what imperialism could cause. One
reader in particular, Professor Chinua Achebe, is left with a different image,
one of an author whose racism, bleeds through his work. In his critique An
Image of Africa, Professor Achebe goes on to describe how Conrad painted
the African people as the voiceless and mindless creatures of the land.
Conrad, blinded by his desire to point out the many faults of Imperialism, left
the African people without a voice, in a story that took place on their own
Chinua Achebes main argument in this article was to expose Conrad
as a thoroughgoing racist. He blames not only Conrad but also the society
in which he lived in, as the cause of this racism. It wasnt that Conrad wanted

to be racist, but the setting in which he found himself was already racist and
so the person in which he was shaped into, saw racism as a standard. This
does not surprise the professor, as he himself has witnessed the lack of
knowledge about a continent so rich in history. He also finds it ridiculous how
many times people refer to the African continent as a place where history
did not exist. He goes on to describe how many students; especially those
who have studied Conrads work, see Africa as the backdrop to the events
that transpired. The professor accounts it to, western psychology setting
Africa up as a foil to Europe. A place so different from the standard it
cannot be regarded as a real place. In many ways he is right, as a western
culture we believe that we are the center of the world. We are taught that we
are the strongest, smartest, and to not let anyone tell us different. We many
times miss out on the history and cultures surrounding us. Granted they
might be different, and even strange to us, but they are still present. If one
does not broaden his knowledge and explore what lies beyond, we too might
fall to making prejudicial claims about a group of people that we may not yet
To Conrad, describing the scenery or even objects did not seem to
prove a difficult task. He had no trouble coming up with characters that had
so much to say. One thing became unmistakably clear; none of these
characters was from Africa. Professor Achebe could not find a single instant
where an African had something, or anything of worth to say through out the
whole account. By demoting the African content, Conrad denies the people of

Africa their humanity. Conrads story invites the reader to forget that the
African people had a voice, and many times made them out to be mindless
creatures at which one should marvel. In the text, when Marlow describes his
surroundings, he makes the people part of scenery and leaves them out of
the story. Marlow describes the Africans as creatures that grunt, moan, and
lie without a purpose. This scene, many times taken as a description of the
poor condition of the African slaves, is key in demonstrating the lack of
equality between whites and the people of color. Conrad makes it seem like
the people belong there and justifies the description as a casualty; a
consequence brought upon by the European search for money and power.
Conrad does not question why they are there. He does not dwell on the fact
that they were stolen from their people, and made to work on their own
lands, as if they were strangers to the continent.
Conrad also fails to provide a representation of the African culture, and
decides to label it as a lower form of existence. The narrator marvels at the
clapping and stomping of the feet, that the natives seem so keen on doing.
He finds it strange but understands thats what these beings are capable of
doing. To the professor, by labeling the stomping and clapping as just that, is
where Conrads fault can be found. Conrad did not try to understand the
natives, but group them together in a place far below his. He did not try to
explain why they clapped, how it might have been ritualistic, or a part of
their culture. To the author, these people were all the same, unworthy of
acknowledgement, since what they did, in no way shape or form mirrored

Europe. One can also link this to his description of the woman who was
assumed to be Kurtz mistress. He describes her as wild, savage, and inciting
fear. On the other hand, when he describes the European women at the end
of his novel, she is full of grace and is capable of speech. When Marlow
interacts with both of these women, it is clear that they are the exact
opposite. The African women being so savage that a human cannot
communicate with it.
This is what the professor is trying to get other readers to understand.
By creating a story that placed Africa as the total opposite of Europe, Conrad
denied the people of this continent the right to be. He makes his point by
truly analyzing what it meant to be without a voice. Conrad left out those
characters that suffered the most, and as a result forced us to have a story
where the Africans were mere distractions. I believe that to be truly unbiased
one has to have both sides of the story. After reading this passage, I saw how
unjust Conrad had been with those who were treated the worst. By stealing
away their voices, Conrad made them seem scary and incapable of
reasonable thought like the Europeans. It made the reader feel bad, as one
does for a sick or hurt puppy. It did not make the reader ask, why the
Europeans did it, what gave them the right. This was the same argument
that Conrad was trying to make about Imperialism, but missed to include an
important culture that shared in the misery, and ultimately uncovered his
racist faults.

Achebe, Chinua. "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness'"
Massachusetts Review. 18. 1977. Rpt. in Heart of Darkness, An
Authoritative Text,
background and Sources Criticism. 1961. 3rd ed. Ed.
Robert Kimbrough, London: W.
W Norton and Co., 1988, pp.251-261