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Is Joseph Conrad a Racist?

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Introduction

Is Joseph Conrad a Racist? The Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe made claims in the 1970s that `Heart of Darkness' was a racist novella. My initial thoughts on this are yet to be decided during the course of this essay. While my thoughts are yet to have any significance, I do believe that Chinua Achebe's remarks hold some truth. Achebe's theory assumes that Marlow and Conrad are the same voice. This could be a reasonable assumption as research into Conrad's life has given us knowledge of Conrad's early years. In the `heart of darkness' the main character, Marlow has since childhood, had a desire to "go there" (Africa), whilst exploring maps of the world. Conrad, in the `Introduction' of the book, also explored maps and, like Marlow, travelled up the river Congo. Therefore one could assume that `Heart of Darkness' is a brief account of one man's life experience in a land so misunderstood, judged and rejected. The narrator of the novella is at the beginning, and during intermissions of Marlow's dialogue, an anonymous hired hand that introduces Marlow. The not-so-obvious presence of this character will in no doubt make Chinua Achebe's claims groundless and in a sense a lie. Conrad has distanced himself from this novella by creating not one but two narrators in the same materiel. Therefore the audience will not only hear Marlow's accounts and opinions but also that of this unnamed hired hand. The story revolves around two great rivers. The rivers in question are the Thames and the Congo. ...read more.

Middle

In particular his `late helmsman' "No; I cannot forget him, though I am not prepared to affirm the fellow was exactly worth the life we lost in getting him." That, and a whole page and a half was dedicated in reminisce and sorrow by Marlow for his late `helmsman', to clarify the matter - his late (black) helmsman. Kurtz, a white, symbolic god-figure in European civilization and also in the African society, was not "worth the life [he] lost in getting him". Does one need to look elsewhere to find Marlow's/Conrad's impartiality and respect for the African race? The two women in the novella show us something about Conrad's approach to race. Kurtz's "INTENDED" is portrayed as being the typical weaker vessel on Marlow's visit to Belgium. "She came forward, all in black, with a pale head, floating towards me in the dusk. She was in mourning. It was more the a year since his death,..." This Belgian aristocrat comes across to me as a woman of leisure and glory with the advantage of assistance from a dominant state at a time like this, yet is depicted as the stereotypical weaker vessel; in black and still in mourning more than a year after the death of Kurtz. This illustration of her suggests to me although being a woman of rank and intelligence the distressed and feebleness witnessed by Marlow on his visit will secure the predictable end like that of a grieving widow, patronisingly solemn and melodramatic. Contrary to Kurtz's Belgian fianc� his African mistress possesses a more mature, unique conduct. ...read more.

Conclusion

He saw the intelligence on the African people, and he saw the enlightening knowledge the west could have gained rather than robbed. And I believe he must have seen the fear in western eyes that Africans were a threat to the growing empire established by force and brutality. "... your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others." Conrad implies a lot about the act of colonising and the mind of the powerful. I see this statement as a brief history of colonisation; I do consider that Conrad believes that colonies could only have occurred because of the weakness of the colonised. Like a bully thrives on the fear of the bullied so also the whole act of colonising depends on the weakness or strength of the targeted nation. I believe `Heart of Darkness' is not a novella justifying the acts of the white man but shaming and condemning the under cover motives they used in seeking their desires. Ultimately the most fascinating figure in the novella is the enigmatic Kurtz. It is very had to conclude indefinitely what Marlow thought of Kurtz. Having undergone such a remarkable period of time with Kurtz, Marlow himself appears to be recuperating from the haunting experience at being in a critical point of the life of such a man as Mr Kurtz. No doubt the episode is engraved in his mind but it will bring about positive and negative opinions of the man as Kurtz presence was establish to the audience during the last few days of his life. ...read more.

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