I. Iman Saeed Abu Issa. An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Presented by: Iman Saeed Abu Issa. Chinua Achebe. Outline:. I. Post-colonialism( brief revision) II. Chinua Achebe III. The claimed reasons behind Europe’s negation of Africa
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Iman Saeed Abu Issa
An Image of Africa:
Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness
Iman Saeed Abu Issa
I. Post-colonialism( brief revision)
II. Chinua Achebe
III. The claimed reasons behind Europe’s negation of Africa
IV. Why Heart of Darkness in particular?
V. The image of “the other”:
ii. R. Thames vs. R. Congo
iii. The Natives:
a. Black vs. White
b. African woman vs. European woman
c. Africans speak clearly: when & why?
VI. Who is speaking? Conrad or Marlow?
VII. Racism of the Western Culture.
A literary theory of rereading and criticizing the selective reality in the discourse of the colonial literature.
What does it investigate?
1- the oppression of the victimizer or what is called the “pedagogy of oppression” which refers to how the oppressor, thorough using certain discourse, teaches the oppressed to accept oppression like a home-slave.
2- the image of the oppressed or “The Other.
Who is “the other”?
Any human-being who is: not white, not Christian, and not European.
3- the image of the empire.
( The previous notes are based on Dr. Ayman’s class about post colonialism- 21st April, 2010)
“I would be quite satisfied if my
novels (especially the ones I set
in the past) did no more than teach
my readers that their past –with all
its imperfections- was not one long
night of savagery from which thefirst
Europeans acting on God’s behalf delivered
them” (from Morning Yet on Creation Day, 1975)
- Chinua Achebe was born in Ogidi, Nigeria, in 1930, the son of a teacher in a missionary school.
- His parents, though they installed in him many of the values of their traditional Igbo culture, were devout evangelical Protestants and christened him Albert after Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria.
- He was also educated at the University College of Ibadan, where he studied English, history and theology.
An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness
Lack of factual knowledge.
The real reason:
The need in Western Psychology to set Africa up as a foil to Europe.
* Since Conrad is a great stylist of modern fiction and a good story teller, his work has entered the English Canon or what is called “Permanent Literature”
* This kind of literature is widely read, taught, and evaluated in almost all universities around the world.
* The “Other World”
* The antithesis of Europe and civilization.
* A setting that:
eliminates the Africans as human factors.
is devoid of all recognizable humanity.
is full of perils.
is a disintegration for the mind of Kurtz.
River Thames: tranquil and resting peacefully “at the decline of day after ages of good service done to the race that peopled its banks”
The River Congo:
“Going up that river was like traveling to the earliest beginnings of the world”
R. Thames is the center of civilization which have been offering sublime services to humanity. It’s a river that has conquered its darkness and, thus, enjoys light and peace.
On the other hand, R. Congo is still diving in darkness and forms the “earliest beginnings of the world”. Still, it is in its primitive and rudimentary state.
Achebe argues that such a portrayal classifies Africa as a place for the primitive and evil instincts which the White man conquered ages ago. Further, it suggests that this place is the reason behind the evil of those White people like Kurtz. They came from Europe civilized and kind-hearted, but due to the new evil place they turned wicked.
“In short, evil is African in Heart of Darkness; if it’s also European that’s because some number of White men in the heart of darkness behave like Africans”.
Patrick Brantlinger ( in his essay, Heart of Darkness: Anti-Imperialism, Racism, or Impressionism)
3- The Natives:“It was unearthly and men were…. No they were not inhuman. Well you Know that was the worst of it– this suspicion of their not being inhuman…. Ugly. It was ugly enough…. What thrilled you is the thought of their humanity– like yours– ugly”
Conrad’s racism is more than clear here. He hinsilf has a kind of suspicion that those natives are not humans; they are likely to be less than that- animals, may be. He cannot tolerate the thought of their humanity for it makes him thrilled. This how Conrad sees “the other”. He denies even any kind of kinship, and if there’s one, it’s “remote” and claimed on him by “the other” :
“And the intimate profundity of that look he [ the African helmsman] gave me when … like a claim of distant kinship affirmed in a supreme moment.”
“A black figure stood up, strode on long black legs, waving long black arms….”
Achebe states that Conrad’s fixation on blackness reveals his racist attitudes. For Conrad, black is associated with the savage, the atrocious, the brutal, the corrupt, and the degraded. This way all black people are harshly insulted.
The African woman:
“she was savage and superb, wild-eyed and magnificent…. She stood looking at us without a stir and like the wilderness itself, with an air of brooding over an inscrutable purpose”
The English woman:
“she came forward all in black with a pale head, floating toward me in the dusk. She was in mourning…. She took both my hands in hers and murmured, “I had heard you were coming”…. She had a mature capacity for fidelity, for belief, for suffering.”
- No voice( lg.)
- Mistress (illegitimate)
-a savage counterpart to the European woman.
- with a voice( proper lg.)
- Beloved and fiancée
- An advanced model of a woman
* Hero, artist, “universal genius”, painter, musician, and writer.
* he’s an empire builder.
* The center of the story; he’s the goal and the farthest point of the journey.
They are capable of nothing but babbling. Their presence in the story as black victims and idol skulls is just to provide the props of a melodrama.
Still, they need someone to enlighten them.
Throughout the discourse of the novel, a clear African voice isn’t heard except in 2 incidents:
1- when the said cannibalism gets the better of them:"Catch 'im," he snapped, with a bloodshot widening of his eyes and a flash of sharp white teeth — "catch 'im. Give 'im to us."
"To you, eh?" I asked; "what would you do with them?"
eat 'im!" he said curtly.
2- When Kurtz’s death is announced:
“ Misthah Kurtz– he dead”
1- In the case of the “cannibals”, the speech of “violent babble of uncouth sounds” doesn’t, in Conrad’s consideration, seem capable of making the Europeans elicit how do those “Cannibals” feel in the presence of the human flesh. Thus, he gives them voice to guarantee having a clear confession from their side of their cannibalism, and, consequently, a stereotype image of Africans. In other words, Conrad tries to state that he doesn’t accuse the natives of being cannibals, but rather they themselves declare it.
2- In the case of Kurtz’s death:
Because Kurtz had “taken a high seat amongst the devils of the land”, he deserves to be declared dead by the “ devils” he had joined. Or as Conrad puts it: “[by the] insolent black head on the doorway”
NoteAchebe doesn’t refer directly to this point in his article.
“Fine fellows– cannibals– in their place”
Brantlinger says: “ Exaggerating the extent and nature of cannibalism is also standard in racist accounts of Africa”
Conrad, in his reference to cannibalism, doesn’t seem to introduce it as ritual practice performed in certain occasions, but rather as an everyday custom rooted in the Africans. The irony is, he doesn’t see any evidence of it.
Achebe insists that Marlow is the spokesman of Conrad because:
1- Conrad doesn’t offer and alternative frame of reference by which one may judge the actions and opinions of characters.
In other words, Marlow, from the very beginning, is introduced as the moral ground against which all the other characters are judged. In addition, he’s the voice through which the story is told. [ Dr. Ayman’s clarification]
2- Conrad and Marlow share close similarities in their careers.
3- both witnesses of truth.
4- both holders of advanced and humane views appropriate to the English liberal traditions.
From his Personal Record, one elicits the above stated characteristics by Achebe
According to Chinua Achebe, Racism in the west has become a “a reflex action” and not a “calculated action” as it used to be.
This means that racism is rooted in Europeans now and it’s more like a habit or a spontaneous reaction that’s unconsciously practiced.
Towards the end of his article, Achebe provides many examples that prove the continuous racism in the west against Africa. For instance, he mentions the neglect of African Arts and African languages which are referred to as mere dialects. ( for more about this, please go to pages 82, 83 & 84 in the handout).
“ Africa is to Europe as the picture is to Dorian Gray– a carrier onto whom the master unloads his physical and moral deformities so that he may go forward, erect, and immaculate.”