Tag Archives: Heart of Darkness

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.

Is Marlow Racist?

“Mind, none of us would feel exactly like this. What saves us is efficiency—the devotion to efficiency. But these chaps were not much account, really. They were no colonists; their administration was merely a squeeze, and nothing more, I suspect. They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force—nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind—as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness. The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it’s the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea.” (chapter 1, paragraph 13)


Originally I believed that Marlow did not consider the colonists to be negative in any way. However, he quickly contradicts his notion that the colonists are simply bringing civilization to the other races. Now it appears that Marlow believes the colonists are only concerned with the potential profit and conquering the different race of people.

A real man knows his place!

“It was unearthly, and the men were-No, they were not inhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst of it-the suspicion of their not being inhuman. It would come slowly to one. They howled and leaped, and spun, and made horrid faces; but what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity-like yours-the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. Ugly. Yes, it was ugly enough; but if you were man enough you would admit to yourself that there was in you just the faintest trace of a response to the terrible frankness of that noise, a dim suspicion of there being a meaning in it which you-you so remote from the night of first ages-could comprehend. And why not?”

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness and Other Tales. “Heart of Darkness”, 139. Oxford: Oxford NY, 2002.

I absolutely love this passage! It’s interesting to get such a clear glimpse of this  “better than thou” colonial attitude. What I find even more telling of the times, is how, even in his attempt at semi-identification with the African people, he still leans heavily on the condescension. If you were a real man, you might slightly identify that you have some connection with these lowly people.

The importance of words

“The man presented himself as a voice. Not of course that I did not connect him with some sort of action. Hadn’t I been told in all the tones of jealousy and admiration that he had collected, bartered, swindled, or stolen more ivory than all the other agents together. That was not the point. The point was in his being a gifted creature, and that of all his gifts the one that stood out preeminently, that carried with it a sense of real presence, was his ability to talk, his words—the gift of expression, the bewildering, the illuminating, the most exalted and the most contemptible, the pulsating stream of light, or the deceitful flow from the heart of an impenetrable darkness.”

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness and Other Tales. “Heart of Darkness”, 152. Oxford: Oxford NY, 2002.

When Marlow realized that he would probably never get to meet, or speak with, Kurtz was a very key scene in the story. Marlow went on and on about Kurtz’s ability to talk and the words he could use. This passage really stood out to me because it expresses how important voice and the ability to speak are, and what that gift means to other people. I thought that it was interesting that Conrad wrote about a character whose voice and words had such a great effect on other people, and maybe wanted his words to impact his readers as well.

The Devils within Everyone

“I’ve seen the devil of violence, and the devil of greed, and the devil of hot desire; but, by all the stars! these were strong, lusty, red-eyed devils, that swayed and drove men- men, I tell you. But as I stood on this hillside, I foresaw that in the blinding sunshine of that land I would become acquainted with a flabby, pretending, weak-eyed devil of a rapacious and pitiless folly.”

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

This passage was very interesting because it describes the three sinful quality everyone possesses as devils. Any and all human are either guilty or capable of greed, violence, and lust. These three qualities are what drives humans to commit greater sins. This passage portrays the three qualities as powerful evils that can turn humans into devils if we let them overtake us. Also, this is a passage is one that makes readers question who is this “weak-eyed devil.” he will be acquainted with. Later on we find out that it is Kurtz that he is talking about which exemplifies delayed specification.

The Incorrect Word

“Rebels! What would be the next definition I was to her? There had been enemies, criminals, workers – and these were rebels. Those rebellious heads looked very subdued to me on their sticks.”

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness and Other Tales. “Heart of Darkness”, 165. Oxford: Oxford NY, 2002.

This is interesting because rebels are people who disobey the commands and act free; however, in the story they have little to no power to even act free or do as they please. They barely disrupt or even act on their own accord. Although, they are called  “workers and enemies,” they present no sign of being rebellious.

A Tranquil Waterway

“The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed sombre under an overcast sky — seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness” (pp. 186-7).

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness and Other Tales. Rev. ed. Edited by Cedric Watts. Oxford University Press, 2002.

Although this scene is quite crucial to the story as a whole, along with the title, as well, the narrator actually repeats himself here. To illustrate, on page 104 (beginning of Part 1) the narrator states the following: “…the tranquil dignity of a waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth.” There is a contrast, however, between the two times he states this. The description of the waterway in beginning expresses a more positive vibe, whereas the ending’s description is “dark” and somewhat mysterious.

Descriptions of the Forest

” ‘The earth seemed unearthly.  We are accustomed to look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster, but there–there you could look at a thing monstrous and free.  It was unearthly, and the men were—–No, they were not inhuman.  Well you know, that was the worst of it–this suspicion of their not being human”  (Conrad 139).

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York: Oxford Universe Press Inc. 2008.  Print.

This particular scene within “Heart of Darkness” was interesting because it is a small description of the area and natives, which are essentially two of the biggest entities of the book.  The travelers, describe the natives the only way they can; they look like humans and act like beasts, from their perspective at least.  The jungle is described as unearthly, when it’s the most earthly thing that the humans have experienced.