"Is Heart of Darkness a racist novella?"

In this essay the question of racism in Conrad's novella Heart of

Darkness will be discussed. Using this essay I will attempt to prove that it is

not a racist novella.

Liberal humanists believe that a text can be taken from the social

environment of its origins, placed into any other timeframe and essentially any

other environment and still be related with by its readers. Yet apply this

theory to Conrad's Heart of Darkness the racial meaning within the text alters.

This principal of liberal humanism is essential when considering racism in

Heart of Darkness. Due to discrimination laws and human rights, Conrad's use

of terms such as "nigger" would be deemed racist and derogatory in today's

society, but the society at the time of the texts creation used such terms

without any knowledge of the effects the term could cause and the

consequences which could entail. Therefore the term had less power, less

meaning and essentially in Conrad's Heart of Darkness less malice. This is

important for the reader to note before analysing racism in the text.

A key factor for readers and critics alike to take into consideration

before accusing this text as a racist work is to try and understand the mindset

of the author himself. Joseph Conrad was born in Poland, a country which

became 'sliced up' by Russia, Prussia and Austria and exploited to the most

extreme. The Africa in Heart of Darkness is a projection of Conrad's

homeland Poland. It would be incomprehensible for Conrad to exploit Africa

and its people maliciously as he too understands the pain of oppression. Ngugi

Wa Thiong'o points out that "the African writer and Joseph Conrad share the

same world and that is why Conrad's world is so familiar. Both have lived in

a world dominated by capitalism, imperialism, colonialism."1
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When reading any text a useful, if not a necessary device used to get

an insight into particular themes and issues within a text is the narrator.

Marlow is the prime narrator in the text he is also the least racist towards the

African natives compared to his fellow Europeans in the Congo. Throughout

the novella Marlow often expresses contempt towards his European steamboat

crew. "And then that imbecile crowd....started their little fun"2 This shows

Marlow to be sympathetic towards the natives. At the first station ...

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