APPROACHES TO LITERARY AND CULTURAL STUDIES
Teacher: Prof. dr hab. Tadeusz Rachwa?
Racism in Conrads Heart of Darkness.
Achebe starts his essay with two episodes that had happened independently, and it led him to rethink whether the ignorance of the two figures was intentional or it just had been mere lack of information. The first, a stranger, an older man, was surprised about the existence of such a subject as African literature, he never had thought of Africa as having that kind of stuff, The other, was a letter from a student saying how he was particularly happy to learn about the customs and superstitions of an African tribe, not realizing that “the life of his own tribesmen in Yonkers, New York, is full of odd customs and superstitions” as well.
Culture and religion of Africa seems to be perceived by Westerns as customs and superstitions or even curiosity, but not the alternative form of their legacy?
Achebe discusses, in his essay, the racism that the West holds, particularly in its views of Africa.
The novel Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad is the source on which he builds his argument. The plot of the novel is a journey of narrator to find a mysterious Mr. Kurtz. The novel imitate the image of Africa the antithesis to England and the rest of civilized world, so Achebe puts here the equal sign between Conrads obsession with darkness and black colour related to the primitive nature of Africa and its people.
The natives are shown by Conrad as creatures who do nothing except running around or in a frenzy of their world. Their language is presented as a sound with no meaning and crude physical actions which could be compared to a body language. The savage second-best of human being, was allowed to use the understandable language only two times, first as a cannibals asking for people to eat and second, the slave man informs the narrator that Mr. Kurt is dead. Achebe uses this examples to prove Conrads intention was to depreciate the natives position in the hierarchy of mankind, and show how horrific these people are, and how awful is to be black. Conrad is a racist, it is clear to Achebe. He proves Conrads madness and obsession with the primitive nature of Africa and its people. The image of his racism and perception the Africans as a subcategory of human is by constant overuse offensive name nigger. Certainly Conrad had a problem with niggers. His inordinate love of that word itself should be of interest to psychoanalysts. He is also really surprised why the Western world has not admitted it in all the years of study his novel. He suggests this simple truth is ignored in criticism of his work due to the fact that white racism against Africa is such a normal way of thinking that its manifestation goes completely unremarked.
So when people say that they are not aware that Africa has art or history, it is part of that tradition of racism and colonialism. The West must acknowledge their mistake about perceiving the primitiveness of the African continent and the African people in order for any good or real communication between Africa and the rest of the world to happen.