ACP World Literature
30 March 2015
Lasting Impact of Heart of Darkness
Albeit being one of the most commonly read and highly regarded novellas in 20th century literature, there is a world of controversy surrounding Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. This story transmits to the readers a story told by a European character known as Marlow, offering a first person narrative of an adventure occurring during the growth of European imperialism in Africa. Many believe that Heart of Darkness is one of Conrad’s greatest works, and view it as a must-read. The Guardian, a world famous, Pulitzer Prize winning news site, ranked this novella 32nd on its list of the 100 best novels of all time, calling it a “hypnotic masterpiece by a great writer who towers over the literature of the 20th century” (McCrum). However, many believe that this “masterpiece” may be discredited due to what Chinua Achebe referred to as “bloody racism”. While there are racist elements throughout the story, some argue that these elements can be written off as a product of the time in which this story was written: 1899. Historically, it has been debated whether or not this story belongs in a modern day curriculum due to its racist elements. I personally believe that due to Conrad’s deep woven critique of imperialism, this novella is an essential element of any English students education. While Conrad’s seemingly obvious racism may distract the reader from the proper interpretation of Heart of Darkness, it is imperative to realize that the true lasting political impact of this novella stems from its depiction and critique of European imperialism and its impact on the continent of Africa.
Few can deny the blatant and often horrid racist elements in Heart of Darkness. Pointed out by poet and literary critic Hunt Hawkins, while telling the story of his adventure through the Congo, Marlow describes the natives of Africa using words such as “savages”, “niggers”, and “rudimentary souls”. As if these...