Achebe’s “An Image of Africa : Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness” Essay Example
Achebe’s “An Image of Africa : Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness” Essay Example

Achebe’s “An Image of Africa : Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness” Essay Example

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  • Pages: 8 (2187 words)
  • Published: August 9, 2017
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Achebe's "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness" (The Massachusetts Review.18 (1977): 782-94) passionately criticizes Conrad's portrayal of Africa and Africans in his novel Heart of Darkness. Achebe's own novel, Things Fall Apart, directly opposes Conrad's perspective and is a challenge to Western views. This analysis will examine the validity of Achebe's arguments regarding language, depiction, religion, and culture in "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness," referencing both novels. Achebe argues that Conrad dehumanizes Africa and its people by portraying them as colonized and lacking common sense or authority. He also highlights how Africans are depicted as a different race or species, reinforcing their treatment as animals and barbarians. Achebe takes offense to the use of the term "common sense," as it is an invention of Westerners and excludes other cultures, particularly African on


es. African cultures have not been included in this Western construct of "common sense."Achebe criticized Heart of Darkness for its portrayal of Western people as dominant and superior, which he believed was a disservice to Africans and Africa. He felt that the novel distanced the Africans from the reader, rather than presenting them as relatable and familiar. This reflects Achebe's strong belief in the Postcolonial Theory, through which he challenged and reflected upon European colonization. Brantlinger's paper discusses different perspectives on colonization, including the abolitionist stance that pitied Africans but failed to recognize their intelligence and ability to fight for themselves. The explorer's stance exploited Africa and its people, viewing Africans as a lesser sub-race. Additionally, scientists viewed Africans as a separate species and even theorized that they were animals.Through Social Darwinism, it was believe

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that Africans would either perish or be assimilated. The Africans were seen as disposable and the missionaries viewed them as heathens and pagans who needed to be converted to Christianity, disregarding their own existing beliefs. Brantlinger also pointed out how Western authors depicted Africans as a sub-race of barbarians and inferior beings who required sympathy and guidance to conform to Western ways. This association of Africa with the brutal slave trade further darkened its perception. By the mid-19th century, the success of the anti-slavery movement, the exploits of great adventurers, and the merging of racialist and evolutionary ideas in the social sciences led to a widely shared British view that Africa should be colonized for moral, religious, and scientific reasons. Brantlinger refers to this perspective as the myth of the Dark Continent, illustrating how misconceptions about Africa and Africans are prevalent. This viewpoint aligns with Achebe's "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness," as both authors shed light on the erroneous beliefs held by white individuals about Africa and its people.Brantlinger's approach to addressing racism in literature is similar to Achebe's criticism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Unlike Achebe, Brantlinger does not specifically target any particular book or person. Instead, he presents his perspective in a factual and justified manner, which further supports Achebe's argument. One example of this can be seen in Brookes' analysis of how stereotypes about Africa are created and perpetuated in contemporary newspapers. Headlines such as "Why give life-blood to this bosom of darkness?" contribute to a biased portrayal of Africa as violent and helpless. These stereotypes are deeply ingrained and even appear in supposedly factual accounts of

historical events. Brookes examines grammatical, dictional, and representative patterns associated with Africa to highlight the incorrect and racist nature of these ideals. It is important not to perpetuate such harmful stereotypes about Africans, but at the same time, Brookes' paper can also undermine Achebe's arguments.Conrad's Heart of Darkness has been accused of being a racialist novel by Achebe in his article "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness". Achebe strongly believes that the novel promotes a distorted view of Africans, which he finds offensive and insensitive. He argues that Heart of Darkness portrays Africa as the opposite of Europe, portraying it as a place where intelligence and civilization are ridiculed by barbarity. Achebe equates Marlowe and Conrad, assuming that Conrad shares Marlowe's ignorant and racist perspectives. Achebe criticizes Conrad for depicting the settlers as superior and god-like, while representing Africans as savages and heathens, thus perpetuating the perception of their inferiority. In addition, Achebe believes that Heart of Darkness portrays Africa as a mysterious and threatening place that infects Westerners and drives them insane.Kurtz's experience in Africa serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of exposing oneself to its alluring and sinister nature. Conrad's portrayal of Africa not only conveys a sense of hidden danger, but also reflects his racist and xenophobic beliefs. Achebe criticizes Conrad for promoting these racist views without being challenged, as many critics instead praise and analyze Heart of Darkness. In contrast, Sarvan takes a more balanced approach in his review, acknowledging both authors' strengths and weaknesses. He argues that Conrad's depiction of the corrupt settlers is juxtaposed against the purity of the African people, suggesting that

Africa itself is not inherently evil but rather serves as a symbol of a troubled legacy.The quotation mark, along with Sarvan's sentiment that "the narrative may be seen as an fable. The journey stopping with the drab realization of the darkness of man's bosom," demonstrates how Heart of Darkness by Conrad does not only aim to discredit Africa and portray it as a dark black hole to be feared, but also illustrates how the settlers could learn goodness and purity from the Africans. In contrast to Achebe, Sarvan also perceives Marlowe and Conrad as distinct individuals and believes that Marlowe's views may not necessarily align with Conrad's. Sarvan considers all the evidence and concludes that Conrad does exhibit racist viewpoints in certain parts of Heart of Darkness, but at the same time, Conrad also criticizes the Settlers, their way of life, and their lack of ethics and morals. Both Things Fall Apart and Heart of Darkness employ specific language and syntax that convey a certain sentiment and attitude towards what is being expressed. By examining Brooke's paper, it becomes apparent that specific words are used to evoke certain images of Africa, and at times, even a particular grammatical structure is associated with Africa.If we examine the language used in Heart of Darkness, we can identify certain words that can be considered racist. However, there are also words that are not racist towards the Africans and instead criticize the settlers. For example, in the novel it is stated, "The Man seemed immature – about a boy – but you know with them it’s difficult to say." This remark can be seen as racist because it creates

a separation between the Africans and the settlers. However, it can also be seen as an innocent and ignorant remark because it is natural to have difficulty understanding something you are not familiar with. A similar remark is made in the same novel, but it is directed towards white men: "...white men being so much alike at a distance that he could not tell who I might be." In Things Fall Apart, there are also instances where the language used can be criticized. Achebe describes the white missionaries as "four eyes," showing that the Africans are finding it troublesome and difficult to understand something unfamiliar to them. When comparing the two descriptions from Things Fall Apart and Heart of Darkness, it becomes evident that certain language can be seen as racist, even if that was not the intention. Additionally, when Conrad writes...“Fine chaps – man-eaters – in their topographic point.” ( Heart of Darkness.Penguin Classics 61.line 6 ) This quote can be both criticized and praised. Although it distances the Africans when referring to “their place” and could be seen as derogatory to label them as “cannibals”, Conrad also depicts the Africans in a friendly manner and shows some sort of connection with them by calling them “Fine fellows”. Additionally, while Conrad does use contemptuous language towards the Africans at times, he also uses language that praises them. Therefore, Achebe's claim that Heart of Darkness "parades in the most coarse manner biases and insults..." is not entirely accurate.
In Things Fall Apart, the African religion is explored alongside the presentation of Western religion. Neither is depicted as right or wrong, and the advantages and

disadvantages of both are conveyed to the reader without bias. However, in Heart of Darkness, only Western religion is showcased and there is no consideration given to the possibility that African natives may have a perfectly good set of morals and a respectable religion. The Western religion is presented as the ultimate truth. Moreover, the characters in Heart of Darkness are portrayed as adhering to only one specific religion (Christianity), which is depicted as the "savior" for those who are considered primitive.The text discusses the portrayal of African and Western cultures in the novels Heart of Darkness and Things Fall Apart. Conrad's depiction of Africans as barbarians is exemplified through his use of the phrase "weaning those ignorant millions from their horrid ways." Brantlinger's paper supports this viewpoint and suggests that it reflects Victorian ideals. In terms of religion, Christianity is the only faith depicted in Heart of Darkness, without any comparison or questioning of African religions like in Things Fall Apart. Both novels explore culture from both African and Western perspectives. In Things Fall Apart, the African culture, particularly the Umuofia tribe, is prominently portrayed, along with other African tribes. The novel briefly touches on how Africans adopted Western culture but also emphasizes the sense, morals, and ethics within African culture. This contrasts with Heart of Darkness, where Western culture takes precedence.In contrast to Things Fall Apart, there is not only a lack of understanding of African culture in Heart of Darkness, but there also appears to be no effort from the characters to even try to comprehend the African culture. The quote "In the empty enormity of the water. there she was

(the French ship of the line) inexplicable firing into a continent." (Heart of Darkness, Penguin Classics 2000, pg 30, line 33) illustrates how the settlers were viewed as deranged and their culture as unpredictable. The portrayal of Africans and Westerners is very different in the two novels. In Things Fall Apart, Africans are depicted as intelligent beings with a sense of right and wrong, possessing qualities such as maternal instinct, a drive for success, knowledge of morality, punishment for wrongdoing, and respect for elders. Additionally, in Things Fall Apart, Westerners are portrayed in a fair light, despite exploiting the Umuofia tribe, and their ideas are taken into consideration with the benefits being considered. This shows the Umuofia people as being reasonable and just. On the other hand, in Heart of Darkness, only Westerners are considered intelligent.Despite being depicted as impure and unfair, the Africans in Heart of Darkness are not portrayed as humans but rather as animals. However, they can also be seen as more human than the inhumane settlers because they show compassion and are not empty inside. On the other hand, the Africans are seen as underdogs being destroyed by white men who only care about money. Overall, in Things Fall Apart, Africans are depicted as humans with morals and a steady civilization, while Westerners are also seen as human with their own morals and culture. In Heart of Darkness, the Africans are portrayed as weak, crude barbarians victimized by the strong and morally corrupt white men. Both books explore themes related to Africa such as darkness, mystery, savagery, lack of intelligence and resources, as well as strong religious beliefs and moral values

(Booke and Brantlinger).Each day, our minds are filled with the idea that Africa is a source of darkness and danger, infecting the rest of the world. These thoughts have become so ingrained in us that we no longer question their accuracy. Chinua Achebe discovered these racist notions in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, where Conrad openly displayed and discussed extreme racial ideals. Achebe found this racism unacceptable, and rightly criticized society for allowing such racist ideas to be published in the everyday press. In conclusion, Achebe's resistance to Heart of Darkness and its portrayal of Africa and Africans is justified. However, it is important to consider that Conrad's unintentional racism might have been a result of ignorance. While he was wrong in depicting Africans as barbarians, it is possible that the societal stereotypes of his time blinded him. Furthermore, Conrad's true intention in Heart of Darkness was to expose the lack of moral fiber among Westerners by contrasting them with Africans and showing how they exploited them. Therefore, Achebe's depiction of Conrad as a "thoroughgoing racist" in "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness" is not entirely accurate.While it is acknowledged that Conrad included instances of racism in Heart of Darkness, it was not deliberate or extensive enough to label him as a complete racist.

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