Racism in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness

Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness
Originally published over one hundred years ago, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, a novella that exposes the effects of colonialism in the heart of Africa, is just as shocking now as it was then. Chinua Achebe, a distinguished Nigerian critic, harshly criticizes Conrad’s racism in the book, which he feels has been ignored by other critics in favor of glowing praise for Conrad’s vivid imagery and honesty. Heart of Darkness is still highly-discussed and taught to young, impressionable minds in schools; this, Achebe fears, is the main issue. The praise Heart of Darkness has always received is a sign of people’s acceptance of blatant racism. He brings light to Conrad’s prejudice in his essay “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness” by discussing Conrad’s de-humanization of the African setting, and the effect that Africa has had on the mentality of white men like Kurtz.
At first glance, it seems as if the African setting of Heart of Darkness is essential to the story, and an important part of the plot; after all, the aim of the novel is to expose the harsh cruelties of European influence in Africa, a continent largely ignored preceding the age of Colonialism. However, Achebe claims that Conrad uses Africa merely as “a setting and backdrop which eliminates the African as human factor” (Achebe 343), and attributes no real importance the cultural aspects of the region. Conrad manages to strip Africa of any emotional setting, and makes it into a simple, chaotically painted yet unremarkable backdrop for the vivid drama of Conrad’s story. Aside from a brief comparison between the Congo and the Thames River, Conrad fails to mention any other recognizable aspects of Africa. His diction, which induces “hypnotic stupor in his readers through a bombardment of emotive words” (Achebe 338), establishes a dream-like mood for Marlow’s entire voyage. Eagle-eyed Achebe is conscientious of Conrad’s tricks, and says he uses...