Heart of Darkness

Conrad the Racist?

The late 19th and early 20th centuries marked a time of empire-building for much of Europe. In Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad deals with one specific problem of European hegemony-the treatment of natives. Critics accuse Conrad of holding colonial bias in his writings, stereotyping "savage" natives and glorifying "benevolent" Europeans. Indeed, Conrad's main character and alter ego, Marlow, initially views the natives as being inferior to Europeans, but such was the commonly held anthropological view at the time. In order to be racist in a more useful sense, Marlow and Conrad must uphold the supposedly natural right of Europeans to dominate an inferior race throughout the whole novel. As Marlow's journey down the river progresses, however, Conrad does the opposite. He portrays the natives as abused by their colonial conquerors. Conrad shows that he is not racist by creating a progression of his protagonist in which subtle irony and the motif of restraint differentiate the natives from the Europeans.

Initially, Marlow believes the African natives are inferior to European colonists. Marlow reveals his racist position in his many descriptions of the natives. He calls them "niggers,"...

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