Tag Archives: achebe

Race in Heart of Darkness

“All their meagre breasts, the violently dilated nostrils, the eyes stared stonily up-hill. The passed me within six inches, without a glance, complete, deathlike indifference of unhappy savages. Behind this raw matter one of the reclaimed, the product of the new forces at work, strolled despondently, carrying a rifle by its middle…white men being so much alike at a distance, that he could not tell who I might be.”

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness and Other Tales. “Heart of Darkness”, 117. Oxford: Oxford NY, 2002.

Going off of the conversation with which we left off last class, this passage serves for and  against Achebe’s argument that Heart of Darkness is a racially charged text.  The language Conrad uses is suggestive of racism whereas the African men are described as animals instead of humans. Conrad writes that Marlow observes the Africans as being ‘savages’, dehumanized and stripped of their identities. Conrad uses the delayed specification of referents which conveys emotions that need not be explicitly written: for instance, the reader gets a sense of not belonging from the sample text. Marlow refers to the Africans with racist language, but he feels he does not fit in with the white group as well. Marlow knows that he too is white but is hesitant to identify with the other white men. This issue suddenly does not seem so much a racial concern but rather a state of the human condition, which relates to Woolf’s theory on modernism.