The only two times when they are given language are when they are cannibals asking for people to eat or the slave man telling the narrator that Mr. Kurtz is dead: those examples, Achebe states, are purposeful in that they are made to show how horrific these people are and how awful the state they are in as black people.
Given these images, it is clear that Conrad is racist, and it is surprising to Achebe that in all the years of scholarship, no one seems to even want to admit that or deal with it. It is a blind spot in the Western world because people in the West have so long used Africa as a foil of themselves, insisting that Africa is as backward as Europe is enlightened.
So when people say that they are not aware that Africa has art or history, it is part of that tradition of racism and colonialism. In order for any good or real communication between Africa and Europe and North America to happen, the West must first relinquish its long-held beliefs about the primitiveness of the African continent and the African people. Discussion of Work This piece discusses racism in a way that I think is very telling: it shows that what has happened is that the West has fallen prey to a single story about Africa.
But as powerful as those stories are, they are also wrong and dangerous because they allow for people to do terrible things by dehumanizing others. The image of Africa and its people as backwards and primitive exists in many forms today, including that we group the whole African continent together as a group and remain largely ignorant to the fact that Africa is composed of many countries, just like the Americas Europe, and Asia.
The issues set forth by Achebe in his essay are still very prominent today in that by and large, no one seems to question the idea of the single story of Africa as exactly what Conrad set forth, despite the fact that it was never that way, that there were diverse people, languages, art, and nations. And today, while there certainly are areas of Africa that have poor and starving people who cannot read and live what the West would consider primitive lives, there are far more people who are living in sophisticated cities with functioning governments and thriving businesses; there are people who create wonderful art and products and enjoy many different activities that Western people also enjoy.
Such a positivity cannot come until the West chooses to change its views and discussions on Africa, because the way it is currently being discussed is wrong, and there should be no cookies given out for fixing something that should never have been considered acceptable in the first place. You are commenting using your WordPress.
“An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness” by Chinua Achebe
You are commenting using your Google account. Achebe sees Conrad mocking both the African landscape and the African people. The story begins on the "good" River Thames which, in the past, "has been one of the dark places of the earth". The story soon takes us to the "bad" River Congo, presently one of those "dark places". It is a body of water upon which the steamer toils "along slowly on the edge of a black and incomprehensible frenzy".
An Analysis of Achebe's an Image of Africa: Racisim in Conrad's Heart of Darkness
According to Achebe, Conrad's long and famously hypnotically sentences are mere "trickery", designed to induce a hypnotic stupor in the reader. Achebe drafts in the support of "the eagle-eyed English critic FR Leavis", who many years ago noted Conrad's "adjectival insistence upon inexpressible and incomprehensible mystery" whose cumulative effect is to suggest that poor Africa is inexplicable.
But it is when Achebe turns to Conrad's treatment of African humanity that he is most disparaging of Conrad's vision. He quotes from the moment in the novel when the Europeans on the steamer encounter real live Africans in the flesh:.
It was unearthly, and the men were - No, they were not inhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst of it - this suspicion of their not being inhuman. It would come slowly to one. They howled and leaped, and spun, and made horrid faces; but what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity - like yours - the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. Yes, it was ugly enough; but if you were man enough you would admit to yourself that there was in you just the faintest trace of a response to the terrible frankness of that noise, a dim suspicion of there being a meaning in it which you - and you so remote from the night of first ages - could comprehend.
These people are "ugly", but what is even more disturbing is that they are in some way also human. A half-page later, Conrad focuses on one particular African, who, according to Achebe, is rare, for he is not presented as "just limbs or rolling eyes". The problem is that the African man is, most disturbingly, not "in his place".
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 his hind legs. Those critics who have defended Heart of Darkness against charges of racism have often pointed to both the methodology of narration and Conrad's anti-colonial purpose.
The narrator of the novel is Marlow, who is simply retelling a story that was told to him by a shadowy second figure.
An Image of Africa Essay -- Literary Analysis, Joseph Conrad
However, in his lecture Achebe makes it clear he is not fooled by this narrative gamesmanship, or the claims of those who would argue that the complex polyphony of the storytelling is Conrad's way of trying to deliberately distance himself from the views of his characters. If Conrad's intention is to draw a cordon sanitaire between himself and the moral and psychological malaise of his narrator, his care seems to me to be totally wasted because he neglects to hint, clearly and adequately, at an alternative frame of reference by which we may judge the actions and opinions of his characters.
It would not have been beyond Conrad's power to make that provision if he had thought it necessary. Conrad seems to me to approve of Marlow Achebe is, however, aware of Conrad's ambivalence towards the colonising mission, and he concedes that the novel is, in part, an attempt to examine what happens when Europeans come into contact with this particular form of economic and social exploitation. In the lecture he remembers that a student in Scotland once informed him that Africa is "merely a setting for the disintegration of the mind of Mr Kurtz", which is an argument that many teachers and critics, let alone students, have utilised to defend the novel.
But to read the book in this way is to further stir Achebe's outrage.
Africa as a metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognisable humanity, into which the wandering European enters at his peril. Can nobody see the preposterous and perverse arrogance in thus reducing Africa to the role of props for the break-up of one petty European mind? Achebe has no problem with a novel that seeks to question both European ambivalence towards the colonising mission and her own "system" of civilisation. What he has a huge problem with is a novelist - in fact, an artist - who attempts to resolve these important questions by denying Africa and Africans their full and complex humanity.
During the two-hour drive up the Hudson River Valley through a snow-bound and icy landscape, I thought again of my own response to the novel. There are three remarkable journeys in Heart of Darkness. First, Marlow's actual journey up-river to Kurtz's inner station.
Second, the larger journey that Marlow takes us on from civilised Europe, back to the beginning of creation when nature reigned, and then back to civilised Europe. And finally, the journey that Kurtz undergoes as he sinks down through the many levels of the self to a place where he discovers unlawful and repressed ambiguities of civilisation. In all three journeys, Conrad's restless narrative circles back on itself as though trapped in the complexity of the situation. The overarching question is, what happens when one group of people, supposedly more humane and civilised than another group, attempts to impose themselves upon their "inferiors"?
In such circumstances will there always be an individual who, removed from the shackles of "civilised" behaviour, feels compelled to push at the margins of conventional "morality"? What happens to this one individual who imagines himself to be released from the moral order of society and therefore free to behave as "savagely" or as "decently" as he deems fit?
How does this man respond to chaos? Conrad uses colonisation, and the trading intercourse that flourished in its wake, to explore these universal questions about man's capacity for evil. The end of European colonisation has not rendered Heart of Darkness any less relevant, for Conrad was interested in the making of a modern world in which colonisation was simply one facet.
The uprootedness of people, and their often disquieting encounter with the "other", is a constant theme in his work, and particularly so in this novel. Conrad's writing prepares us for a new world in which modern man has had to endure the psychic and physical pain of displacement, and all the concomitant confusion of watching imagined concrete standards become mutable. Modern descriptions of 20th-century famines, war and genocide all seem to be eerily prefigured by Conrad, and Heart of Darkness abounds with passages that seem terrifyingly contemporary in their descriptive accuracy.
One, with his chin propped on his knees, stared at nothing, in an intolerable and appalling manner: his brother phantom rested its forehead, as if overcome with a great weariness; and all about others were scattered in every pose of contorted collapse, as in some picture of a massacre or a pestilence. As my car moved ever closer to Bard College, I constantly asked myself, was Conrad really a racist?
If so, how did I miss this? Written in the wake of the Berlin Conference, which saw the continent of Africa carved into a "magnificent cake" and divided among European nations, Heart of Darkness offers its readers an insight into the "dark" world of Africa. The European world produced the narrator, produced Marlow, and certainly produced the half-French, half-English Kurtz "All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz" , but set against the glittering "humanity" of Europe, Conrad presents us with a lateth-century view of a primitive African world that has produced very little, and is clearly doomed to irredeemable savagery.
This world picture would have troubled few of Conrad's original readers, for Conrad was merely providing them with the descriptive "evidence" of the bestial people and the fetid world that they "knew" lay beyond Europe. However, by the end of the 20th, and beginning of the 21st century, Conrad's readers are living in a decolonised - indeed postcolonial - world, and Conrad's brutal depiction of African humanity, so that he might provide a "savage" mirror into which the European might gaze and measure his own tenuous grip on civilisation, is now regarded by some, including Achebe, as deeply problematic.
But is it not ridiculous to demand of Conrad that he imagine an African humanity that is totally out of line with both the times in which he was living and the larger purpose of his novel? In his lecture, even Achebe wistfully concedes that the novel reflects "the dominant image of Africa in the western imagination". And the novel does assert European infamy, for there are countless examples throughout the text that point to Conrad's recognition of the illegitimacy of this trading mission and the brutalising effect it is having on the Africans.
However, the main focus of the novel is the Europeans, and the effect upon them of their encountering another, less "civilised", world. The novel proposes no programme for dismantling European racism or imperialistic exploitation, and as a reader I have never had any desire to confuse it with an equal opportunity pamphlet. I have always believed that Conrad's only programme is doubt; in this case, doubt about the supremacy of European humanity, and the ability of this supposed humanity to maintain its imagined status beyond the high streets of Europe.
However, as I pull my car up outside Achebe's house, I already sense I had better shore up my argument with something more resilient than this.
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For a moment Achebe has me fooled. He looks as though he has nodded off, but he has just been thinking. This mild-mannered man looks up now and smiles. He returns to the subject we were talking about as though he has merely paused to draw breath. Great artists manage to be bigger than their times.