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Conrad vs. Achebe: The question of racism in Heart of Darkness

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  1. Introduction
  2. Achebe's argument about Conrad's guilt
  3. Defining Marlow's supposed racist views
  4. Conclusion

Joseph Conrad said, ?The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.? Only too well does this portray the harsh reality depicted in Heart of Darkness, one that Chinua Achebe defines as profoundly racist. Achebe's points are accurate and precise, his anger, real and heartfelt. However, his calling for Conrad's novel to be struck from the college curriculum is a direct violation of first amendment rights. Censorship is not the answer; if it was, then anyone offended by anything could do what Achebe did, and then there would be no books, television, movies, works of art, etc. The truth is, everything everywhere is going to offend someone somewhere. Conrad's novella harbors great resentment for and reflects negative stereotypes against the people of the African Congo, but even so, I believe that Heart of Darkness remains neither an offensive nor a racist book, but rather quite the opposite. Conrad is trying to portray the darkness at the heart of war, depicting the English as superior and the natives as savages, so that he can then touch the reader with the intensity of Marlow's realization?that in times of war, everyone becomes a savage.

[...] Conrad is saying that they are all savages, however subtle the remark, and he makes great meaning out of it. He continues to write, must meet that truth with his own true stuff with his own in-born strength. Principles won't do. Acquisitions, clothes, pretty rags rags that would fly off at the first good shake. No; you want a deliberate belief? (Norton, 137). Conrad defies Achebe's accusations of racism in these lines, exhibiting a strong declaration of equality from Marlow. This assertion comes close to the halfway point in the story, acting as the climax for Marlow's troubled spirit. [...]

[...] If that is not what Achebe is suggesting, why use the word a word he attacks Conrad for using, and even suggests that his use of the word indicates a mental condition, in the line that follows, inordinate love of that word itself should be of great interest to psychoanalysts? In that same paragraph Achebe attacks Conrad for his obsession with blackness, as he uses an example from Conrad's text, black figure stood up, strode on long black legs, waving long black arms? (Achebe, 190). [...]

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