An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness
In the fall of 1974 I was walking one day from the English Department at the University of Massachusetts to a parking lot. It was a fine autumn morning such as encouraged friendliness to passing strangers. Brisk youngsters were hurrying in all directions, many of them obviously freshmen in their first hush of enthusiasm. An older man going the same way as turned and remarked to me how very young they came these days. I agreed. Then he asked me if I was a student too. I said no, I was a teacher. What did I teach! African literature. Now that was funny. he said, because he knew a fellow who taught the same thing, or perhaps it was African history, in a certain Community College not far from here. It always surprised him, he went on to say, because he never had thought of Africa as having that kind of stuff, you know. By this time I was walking much faster. "Oh well," , I heard him say finally, behind me: "I guess I have to take your course to find out."
A few weeks later I received two very touching letters from high school children in Yonkers, New York, who -- bless their teacher--had just read Things Fall Apart. One of them was particularly happy to learn about the customs and superstitions of an African tribe.
I propose to draw from these rather trivial encounters rather heavy conclusions which at first sight might seem somewhat out of proportion to them. But only, I hope, at first sight.
The young fellow from Yonkers, perhaps partly on account of his age but I believe also for much deeper and more serious reasons, is obviously unaware that the life of his own tribesmen in Yonkers, New York, is full of odd customs and superstitions and, like everybody else in his culture, Imagines that he needs a trip to Africa to encounter those things.
The other person being fully my own age could not be excused on the grounds of his years. Ignorance might be a more likely reason; but here again...