Colonialism, There Are Seemingly Countless

He does not stop at any point to even ignorantly idealize the culture. He challenges no stereotypes and in fact could be said to simply fulfill them without regard for difference or equality. He may have felt that the Africans did no deserve the treatment they were getting but he never said they deserved to be treated as equals. They were completely foreign to him, and also represented more as emasculated animals than individual humans.

Achebe] Lamenting that Conrad employed Africa primarily as a backdrop for the story of a European who psychologically disintegrated, Achebe condemns Heart of Darkness as a xenophobic text that denies humanity to African people.

It is also clear that Achebe is not the only academic who feels this way about Conrads work. Not only is it clear that Conrad does not explore the lives or culture of the Natives, he simply expresses their existence as a backdrop to the narrative, which is ultimately his greatest fear, dying from an unknown disease as a morally corrupted white man in Africa.

Ian Watt acknowledges that Conrad “habitually uses the derogatory racial terms which were general in the political and evolutionary thought of his time,” but he points out that Conrads novel does not focus on Africans but on the “empty vanity” and “intolerable hypocrisy” of the colonial agents

Regardless of there redemptive assassination of the emptiness of colonial desires, the lack of humanitarian view of native Africans creates and empty representation of what is being lost in these oft repeated quests through pristine lands for profit. The culture is not examined, and in some ways could be said to be despised by Conrads treatment of it. The people are not given a human character; they are shadowy ghostlike figures falling into the leafy backdrop of the foreign and fearful world.

Conrads own experience of the Congo covered only six months, from June to December 1890. From his notebook and letters we can glimpse why the adventure was so traumatic.

At Matadi, about forty miles up the river, he watched the Africans organized into chain gangs, driven to the point of exhaustion. He records with horror his disgust for the Belgians vile scramble for loot. On July 3, 1890, he writes in his notebook: “Saw at a camp place the dead body of a Backongo. Shot? Horrid smell.”

It is a sad reality that Conrad, though his experience in Africa demonstrated a serious example of the kind of genocide that really occurred within the African Congo, he gives very little hint of such reality in Heart of Darkness. In fact the representation of the African in his work is much like the purely visceral connection he had with the body of the dead villager. He had no conversation, no coupling of souls and no acknowledgement of humanity.

Works Cited

Achebe, Chinua, “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrads Heart of Darkness,”

Massacusetts Review 18 (1977):782-94; reprinted in the Norton Critical Edition of Heart of Darkness, Third Edition, 251-62.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Joseph Conrads Heart of Darkness. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.

Orr, Leonard and Theodore Billy, eds. A Joseph Conrad Companion. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999.

Chinua Achebe, “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrads Heart of Darkness,” Massacusetts Review 18 (1977):782-94; reprinted in the Norton Critical Edition of Heart of Darkness, Third Edition, 251-62.


Leonard Orr and Theodore Billy, eds., a Joseph Conrad Companion (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999) 67.


Harold Bloom, ed., Joseph Conrads Heart of Darkness (New York: Chelsea House, 1987) 31..

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