Essay on Heart of Darkness

Submitted By LOLOYOLO
Words: 1438
Pages: 6

Who Had the Heart of Darkness? Thousands of scholars all throughout the twentieth century have weighed in on Joseph Conrad's infamous 1902 publication, Heart of Darkness. Confronting the devastating effects of the colonization of Africa, Conrad's novel takes it's European narrator, Marlow, through unspeakable darkness as the African jungles come alive and the colonization of the Continent's states unfolds. It's needless to say that Conrad's work remains legendary, but a great deal of its legend lies as a result of its controversy. Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian writer known to be much less than enthusiastic about Conrad's work, calls Conrad himself a "bloody racist" declaring Heart of Darkness amongst the most offensive writings of the twentieth century. While Achebe is not alone, many other scholars, including Caryl Phillips argue against his ideas arguing on behalf on Conrad, fighting diligently to disprove the novel's racism that is allegedly found at it's core. While both sides are powerful, it is important to see the separation between Achebe's ideas and those that the novel truly represents as the political narrative that Conrad intended it to be. To enhance the clarity of these arguments, seeing each through different lenses of modern critical theory will help immensely. Post-Colonialism, a newer addition to the critical theory collection is described by Lois Tyson as she declares its purpose to address "the problem[s] of cultural identity as represented in postcolonial literature." (Tyson 419) This essentially means that in reviewing texts with post colonialists' ideals in mind, attempting to find what Tyson calls the "colonialist ideology" (referring to the true ideologies of the colonists of the time) is the key to figuring out the text. Tyson continues discussing the colonists' natural "assumption of their own superiority, which they contrasted with the alleged inferiority of native (indigenous) peoples." (Tyson 419) The post colonialists' ideals expressed by Tyson (and reaffirmed by Phillips) have been in existence since organized colonization began centuries ago and certainly do not fall short as they're presented in Heart of Darkness. Phillips discusses a great deal in his writings about his interpretation of Conrad's intentions, while also sharing a lot regarding the historical context of the novel. On the second page of his writing, Phillips comments on the world of the time as he says "Written in the wake of the 1884 Berlin Conference, which saw the continent of Africa carved into a 'magnificent cake' and divided among European nations, Heart of Darkness offers its readers an insight into the 'dark' world of Africa." (Phillips xiv) As Conrad's novel was published in 1902, it's writing occurred in the immediate aftermath of the Berlin Conference at a time where Africa as it was, and as Conrad saw it, was undergoing a great division socially and politically. "Conrad uses colonization, and the trading intercourse that flourished in its wake, to explore these universal questions about mans capacity for evil. The end of European colonization has not rendered this Heart of Darkness any less relevant, for Conrad is interested in the making of a modern world in which colonization is simply one facet." (Phillips xvi) One of Phillips' greatest points, here he argues that the colonization and the story itself prove to be important as they answer questions about both history or society and history of man. Conrad addresses the societal setting in his novel as a cruel world because that's the world that he saw when he was there. The harsh realities of the colonization of Africa were all but too real, and as many would argue, Conrad did his artistic duty to preserve the horrific world that he saw. While one of Achebe's arguments is that Conrad wrongly used the novel as a political form, Phillips writes that it is a political form and that it should remain that way. "Like all art it wishes to produce change."