oseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ is considered to be one of the greatest works of English Literature. However, Chinua Achebe – an established novelist, poet, professor and critic from Nigeria, challenges this in his writings about traditional African culture. Achebe unequivocally asserts that ‘Heart of Darkness’ is a racist novel, which dehumanizes the native Africans. I agree with this, but only to a certain extent. Taking the context of the book into consideration, Conrad was living at a time where colonialism seemed to be morally right, but it becomes clear in the novel that Conrad doubted colonialism because it had disrupted Africa and its natives. In my view, ‘Heart of Darkness’ advocates the idea that ”power corrupts” (SparkNotes LLC, 2018). Therefore I do not believe Conrad was as hatefully racist as Achebe assumes, but instead congruously racist for the society he was living in. In fact, there are moments when Conrad moves beyond the racist ideology of his society and displays the Africans positively.
It is evident that there is dehumanization of Africans throughout the novel as Achebe claims. For instance, Marlow’s extended simile of ”as edifying as seeing a dog in a parody of breeches and a feather hat” portrays him in an objectionable way, supporting Achebe’s statement of ‘Heart of Darkness’ being an ”offensive and deplorable book” (Chinua, Achebe, 1977) as Conrad has portrayed the African as a subsidiary portion of mankind. From the modern audience’s perspective, the image of describing him as ”a dog in a parody of breeches and a feather hat” immediately introduces a sense of exploitation, it is almost as if he is being trained like a circus animal – perhaps presenting a kind of twisted entertainment for the reader. This is a clear reflection of the racist approach towards the African man in the nineteenth century, where ”the European powers felt themselves to be the superior race because they believed they were the most civilized”, and most notably, ”imperialized other nations with no regard for the indigenous native African people” (UKEssays, 2003-2018). However, Achebe would still argue that besides this contextual factor, Conrad’s use of animalistic imagery still deprives the African man of his human identity, therefore dehumanizing him. Alternatively, I believe Conrad has exaggerated this dehumanization to reflect the unjustness colonialism has presented towards the Africans in the nineteenth century.
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