Heart of Darkness

An Examination of Racism in Heart of Darkness 12th Grade

Heart of Darkness has long been considered a triumph of 20th century English-language literature and its exploration of the darkness inside man has long provoked analysis by critics. But renowned Nigerian author and preeminent scholar on African culture, Chinua Achebe, has a markedly different view. In a 1975 lecture, he denounced Heart of Darkness as an example of pervasive racism, dismissal of African culture, and European arrogance and ignorance. He argued that if it was to be taught, it should be used only as an example of the horrifically backwards views of Joseph Conrad and of the period it was written in. His lecture and subsequent essay sparked a scholarly uproar with many strongly denouncing Achebe’s views and arguing that while racist, Heart of Darkness was far ahead of its time and indeed sought to highlight European abuses of power in Africa. Hunt Hawkins is among these scholars and his counter-argument to Achebe represents the far more relativist view of many critics and seeks to place Conrad’s novel and its views in the context of its era and its author’s life.

Achebe’s critique focuses on the depiction of Africans in Conrad’s novel. Their depiction is effectively that of sub-humans. As he points out, no African...

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