Writing in anger, writing in doubt: Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

In 1975 Chinua Achebe delivered a public lecture at the University of Massachusetts entitled “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness” where he condemned Conrad’s novella as a Western literary masterpiece on the grounds of its supposed racism.

The objections Achebe made to support his accusation, and therefore to demonstrate Conrad COULD NOT have written a great work of art, ranged from his too frequent and demeaning use of the term “nigger”, to “reducing Africa to the role of props for the breakup of one petty European mind”, namely Kurtz’s, including in between the way Conrad described the Africans as a dehumanised bunch of “limbs or rolling eyes” and practically denied them the use of language. Moreover, any human link to the natives was considered disgusting, as when Marlow described the look of the dying helmsman as of “an intimate profundity… like a claim of distant kinship affirmed in a supreme moment”. Achebe interpreted it as “The black man lays a claim on the white man which is well-nigh intolerable. It is the laying of this claim which frightens and at the same time fascinates Conrad, ‘the thought of their humanity – like yours…. Ugly’.” In Achebe’s own words, “Conrad was a thoroughgoing racist”, which is the softer, printed version of what he really called him in his speech at the conference: “bloody”. Sigue leyendo

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