Research Paper: Racism in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness

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Racism in Joseph Conrad's Heart Of Darkness

In the novel the Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, he discusses how racism is having on impact on the colonial activities of the European powers in the Congo during the late 1890's. What happened is the story is a reflection of the journey of a man named Marlow into the Belgian Congo. As the story takes place on Congo River, with Marlow recording his observations of how the various Europeans were exhibiting racism towards the native Africans. While at the same time, the Africans were showing racism towards the Europeans. To fully understand the underlying levels of discrimination that are occurring, requires examining how both sides were exhibiting racism towards each other. This will be accomplished through: looking at how the Europeans were engaging in this kind of behavior with the Africans, how the Africans were involved in their own form of discrimination and the way that the environment would contribute to the underlying levels of racism that were taking place. Together, these different elements will provide the greatest insights as to the overall scope of racial discrimination that was occurring in colonial Africa.

How the Europeans were discriminating Against the Africans?

The Europeans were discriminating against the Africans, based upon the way that they were treating them. Where, they were seen as tools that could be utilized to: help the major powers and private businesses interests, to extract a host of natural resources from the country. In most cases, the Europeans were considered to be the intellectual elite within the Congo. While on their trips in and out the region, they would often encounter the sheer brutality of many different tribes. A good example of this can be seen with the relationship that Marlow has with Kurtz. He is considered to be the man that everyone can go to (as far as the Europeans are concerned), in order to achieve their overall objectives in the Congo. As many people will talk about him in a favorable light, with how they are impressed at his ability to make things happen. Part of the reason for this, is because of his experience as an ivory trader has helped him to be able to establish a host of different connections. However, Kurtz also treated the Africans as if they were tools he was utilizing to achieve his objectives. In some cases, this could mean that he will utilize them for manual labor and assistance. While at other times, he was seeing them as brutal savages who need to be tamed. In one particular situation, Marlow would witness this when he was coming into the jungle along the river on the steamship and the African tribesmen jumping out attacking the vessel. Yet, at the same time many Europeans would feel a sense of kinship with these tribesmen. Kurtz is the epitome of this relationship that exists, with him utilizing the Africans to help exploit ivory and other natural resources. While at the same time, he will conduct brutal attacks against any the tribesmen that stand in his way. When you put these different elements together, they are highlighting how the racial relationship (from the European perspective) is based upon need and a lack of respect for the Africans. As they will view them as a tool that they can use to achieve these different goals, while not wanting to see that they receive any kind of economic benefit from their activities. (Achebe) ("Heart of Darkens")

How the Africans are Involved in their Own Form of Discrimination?

Africans were exhibiting their own forms of racial discrimination against the Europeans. Where, they were seen as outsiders who were in the region to: exploit them and their land for the various natural resources. At the same time, these people would have no respect for the culture or traditions of native tribes throughout the region. This is problematic, because these views would anger many of the Africans. As they began to see the Europeans, as oppressors who were interested in exploiting them at all costs. A good example of this can be seen when Marlow is traveling from the Outer to Central Station. During his journey, he witnesses the reaction that many of the different Africans have towards European efforts to civilize them. As many people are often disguising their brutality under ominous code words such as: the benevolent project of civilizing the Africans and the brutality that they are using to achieve this objective (known as their trade). These code words are used to hide the overall amounts of brutality that are being experienced by the Africans, so that the Europeans can realize their colonial ambitions. In this case, various Africans would exhibit their racism towards the European through either: silent contempt or aggressive actions against them in the jungle. This is important, because it is showing how the overall amounts of racism from the Africans were often very reactionary towards the Europeans. As this would help to fuel even more anger and resentment, leading to greater amounts of discrimination that was taking place. ("Heart of Darkens") (Mongia)

How the Environment contributed to the Levels of Racism that were occurring?

The environment of the Congo would also help to contribute to the underlying amounts racism that was occurring. Where, it would increase the overall levels of: fear and uncertainty surrounding the intentions of the other side. This can be seen with various elements that were used to instill this sense of fear including: the darkness and through the use of the river.

The darkness is illustrated throughout the novel in a host of different scenes. As Conrad, is using this to illustrate the overall cloud of uncertainty in many areas to include: London, Brussels and the Congo. In this particular case, the darkness is used to symbolize how the environment is allowing for all forms of racism to occur. Where, many of the major European powers are in cloud of darkness, who are only concerned about achieving their different colonial objectives (which is exploiting these regions for various natural resources). At the same time, the darkness is used to highlight the racism in the Congo itself, with their being an uneasy truce between the Europeans certain Africans. While at other times, these views would lead to violent conflicts in the desire to find these different resources. A good example of this can be seen with Kurtz, as he does not hide the fact that he will attack and kill African villagers for the purpose of stealing their ivory. In this aspect, a sense of darkness has fallen upon the Congo, with a number of Europeans engaging in actions that are immoral based upon greed. This is important, because it shows how the darkness in all areas contributed to the underlying amounts of racism. In this case, the darkness is not literal; instead it is used to symbolize how everyone has closed their minds to certain aspects about the colonial system (greed). This is leading to the various racial attitudes that are being seen throughout society. ("Heart of Darkens")

The river is used to show the vast divisions in the Congo. Where, it is symbolizing the differences between the Europeans and the Africans. As the Europeans, are using this as a transportation route in and out of the region, to achieve their different colonial ambitions. This creates a divide between the two different groups by serving as a barrier between them. As the river, allows the Europeans to live in another world by coming and going from the area. This creates differences about how the Europeans will view their actions and the way that they are treating the Africans. This is important, because it showing how the river is symbolizing a barrier between the two sides (which is contributing to the underlying levels of racism). ("Heart of Darkens")

At the same time, the river is also used to illustrate how it is the hopes and desires of the Africans themselves. This is because it serves as way to transporting the Europeans in and out of the region. Where, they will use it to go back to their countries, only to return sometime later. In this particular case, the river is seen as a way of reluctantly allowing the Europeans into the Congo. However, it also viewed as symbol for their eventual expulsion. This is because, many Africans believe that the river has long supported and served their way of life. As a result, it is only a matter of time, until these foreign invaders will leave for good. In this aspect, the river is symbolizing the hopes and ambitions of the Africans for the Europeans to leave. This is important, because it would help to increase the overall amounts of racism that the Africans were showing towards the Europeans. As they were seen as visitors, who would eventually leave the region in one way or another. Therefore, the river is a constant reminder of this to them on a… [END OF PREVIEW]

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APA Format

Racism in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.  (2011, February 25).  Retrieved December 7, 2019, from

MLA Format

"Racism in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness."  25 February 2011.  Web.  7 December 2019. <>.

Chicago Format

"Racism in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness."  February 25, 2011.  Accessed December 7, 2019.