Achebe vs. Conrad: Racism in Heart of Darkness

Achebe vs. Conrad: Racism in Heart of Darkness

  • Submitted By: ArchsageX
  • Date Submitted: 12/09/2010 6:45 PM
  • Category: English
  • Words: 904
  • Page: 4
  • Views: 677

I remember him clearly: a tall kid, the same age as me, short yet shaggy black hair and tan skin; his name was Ayoz, the first person I ever feared. It was not his height that generated my fear nor was it a thought of him taking my lunch money. What made me avoid Ayoz like the plague? The answer is simple, Ayoz was different than me. I was eight, I’d never been exposed to an Arabic person before. At my elementary school you were Caucasian or you were Hispanic, these two factions rarely mingled with each other. I look back now at my irrational fear of Ayoz, a person I later found to possess excellent character and a kind, giving heart, as pure naivety. It was a fear rooted in the most illogical of grounds: race. As someone who grew to abhor racism I look back, stunned that such ignorant thoughts once infested my mind. But as I have come to be an accepting man I’ve realized something: that despicable ideology is not a rarity. It lurks everywhere in our society: in our minds, in our entertainment, and most certainly in our literature.

Chinua Achebe rocked the boat of the literary world by calling Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness racist. After reading Achebe’s famous essay and Conrad’s novella I’ve come to side with Achebe. Conrad “was a thoroughgoing racist” (Achebe), Heart of Darkness showcases this perfectly. Throughout the novella Conrad describes and portrays the Africans and Africa itself in a condescending and racist way.

Consider first Conrad’s diction. When describing Africans he will often use words bearing a negative connotation. For instance, when describing Kurtz’s African mistress he refers to her as “savage and superb, wild-eyed and magnificent.” Savage is frequently used when describing Africans in the story. The amazon earned some favorable description (aside from the typical “savage”) from Conrad, she was Kurtz’s mistress. Conrad used her to subtly express that Africans who knew their place would receive better treatment from their masters....

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