Racism Issue in the Book Heart of Darkness Summary

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In the novel, Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad which takes place in the Eighteen hundredths in time of European colonialism, in the Congo, Central Africa. Where Conrad introduces us to Marlow who is the main character and travels to Africa to perform a duty to pick up a man named Kurtz to relieve him from his duty and bring him back. The company that hired Marlow to get Kurts wanted the ivory, he had got it and he was along the river. Along the way, Conrad, the narrator of the novel, makes some comments that could be taken for racially prejudiced remarks. By using different terms to describe people of color, we can see how Conrad saw Africans as inferior people, scavengers, and portrays them as an inhuman species. From my point of view, you can see how racist the Europeans were towards blacks not only because they were turned into slaves to do the work that white men didn’t want, but also you can see how the Europeans seem to think the Africans were not equal to them. In an essay,

An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness By Chinua Achebe describes Conrad’s “less charitable to the Europeans” and that the point of the story is to “ridicule Europe’s civilizing mission in Africa.” Achere believes Conrad is racist towards the Africans in “Heart of Darkness”. Achebe gives many reasons to support this theory, and many examples in Heart of Darkness that Conrad’s prejudice toward the natives in the story.

First, Conrad makes some comments about blacks that are very disturbing and racist one example is when he says “What thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity-like yours…Ugly” (Conrad 310). This just shows how Conrad was a complete racist. He gave us the thought that being compared to a black man was just plain ugly and the thought of it made him sick. That is plain and simple racism that is throughout this book. Another example is the usage of the word “nigger” whis is used freely to discrible the natives of the land. Conrad writes, “The hurt nigger moaned feebly some where near by, and fetched a deep sigh that made me mend misspace away from there” (Conrad 23) This remark Conrad mad was disturbing and clearly racist because he not only described the black man has a “nigger” more than once but the word “feeble” that is used in the sentence shows no remores coming from Conrads depiction as he slowly walks his character away.

However, we learn that the European were racist towards blacks. We can see how the European people seem to think the Africans are not equal because they are black. Even though Conrad’s description of an African. “They shouted, sang; their bodies streamed with perspiration; they had faces like grotesque masks-these chaps; but they had a bone, muscle, a wild vitality, an intense energy of movement, that was as natural and true as the surf along their coast. They wanted no excuse for being there. (Conrad 14).

Even Conrad’s description of the African men’s “face like grotesque masks” lumps them in with all the other distasteful, ugly things. And that thread of inhuman grotesquery carries through in the other superficially sympathetic portrayals of African men:

Six black men advanced in a file, toiling up the path. They walked erect and slow, balancing small baskets on their heads, and the clink kept time with their footsteps. Black rags were wound round their loins, and the short ends behind wagged to and fro like tails….They were called criminals and the outraged law, like the bursting shells, had come to them, an insoluble mystery from over the sea. All their meager breasts panted together, the violently dilated nostrils quivered, the eyes stared stonily uphill. They passed me within six inches, without a glance, with that complete, deathlike indifference of unhappy savages. (Conrad 16).

Even though the blacks were used to doing the heavy work to perform slave labor. They are given jobs that are hazardous and that white men don’t want, which is not fair. They are technically paid, but only in brass wire, which is useless in the Congo where the novella takes place. There, the white men maintain a trade operation, and they use the natives for the harder, more dangerous work. They were dying slowly–it was very clear. They were not enemies, they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now–nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation, lying confusedly in the greenish gloom. (Conrad 17). Brought from all the recesses of the coast in all the legality of time contracts, lost in uncongenial surroundings, fed on unfamiliar food, they sickened, became inefficient, and were then allowed to crawl away and rest.’ In other words, the natives are not looked after by the white men and simply crawl away to die when they can’t work anymore they were just worked to death.

Near the same tree, two more bundles of acute angles sat with their legs drawn up. One, with his chin, propped on his knees, staring 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 pictures of a massacre of a pestilence. While I stood horror-struck, one of these creatures rose to his hands and knees and went off on all-fours towards the river to drink. He lapped out of his hand, then sat up in the sunlight, crossing his shins in front of him, and after a time let his woolly head fall on his breastbone.” (Conrad 17)

They were human beings that were treated as if they were nothing. Conrad describes how they were so weak to where they could not even stand to walk to drink water. Their appearance is an inherent difference among the various human racial groups. Racism was difficult to get by at the time. Conrad states, “Your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others.”

An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, by Chinua Achebe, claims he was not happy when he noticed the racial remarks being used in the books and how no one really focused on them and wanted to fix the problems. Chinua was brave enough to write an essay, even after Conrad died, to express his opinions on racism in Heart of Darkness, but also remarks on other racial factors that happen in other countries. His main idea is to prove that racism is a problem and that Joseph Conrad was a thoroughgoing racist.” I agree with Achebe’s opinions because he uses a lot of evidence to support his claim, and by reading the actual novel, I believe he is a racist because of the words that were used to describe the Africans’ appearance and their actions.

As you can see Conrad was known to be a racist just the way he describes Africans as being black, scavages, inferior, etc.


Cite this paper

Racism Issue in the Book Heart of Darkness Summary. (2020, Sep 20). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/racism-in-heart-of-darkness-2/



What are the major conflicts present in Heart of Darkness discuss?
The major conflicts present in Heart of Darkness include the internal struggle of the protagonist, Marlow, as he grapples with his own morality and the external conflict between the European colonizers and the African natives. The novel also explores the conflicts between civilization and savagery, and the corrupting influence of power and greed.
What are the major themes in Heart of Darkness?
The major themes in Heart of Darkness are the corrupting influence of colonialism and the hypocrisy of civilization.
What is one reason Heart of Darkness has been criticized as racist?
Some people believe that Heart of Darkness is racist because it portrays Africans as savages.
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