Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Achebe v. Conrad: The Smackdown

In all serious, what do you make of Achebe's accusations? Is Conrad really such a "bloody racist," and is his Heart of Darkness only really the working of a bloody racist, with absolutely no content of value? Is there really an inherent problem with the Western view of Africa, and if so, what is it? And why do we have it?

11 comments:

Aaron Nussdorf said...

I did not pick up that racism that Achebe describes. I thought that any racism was nominal.

Caroline said...

I don't think you can say that Conrad is racist, but Kurtz and Marlow are definitely racist. Kurtz is extremely obvious throughout but his racism is indisputable when he says "exterminate the brutes." Marlow is racist in the fact that he's apathetic to the death he sees around him.

tmichals said...

I agree. Just because Conrad portrays his characters in that light does not believe those are his personal beliefs. However, he could do a better job at making that clear and really pointing out the negativity involved in the imperialism and racism of the area.

ndepass said...

I believe Achebe is right, and regardless of wether it was the standard of the time, its still racist. The treatment of the people in the book and they way they were referred to was slightly racist. But it is a valid point to say Conrad wasnt a racist but just made his characters out to be.

bballinsupasta said...

i don't feel that conrad is racist but his cahracters are. he accurately portrayed the beliefs and actions of the people of his time. i think it's important that we are exposed to this type of literature because it shows us how people have changed for the better in that people today do not share the beliefs of the characters in the book.

Aaron Nussdorf said...

I would submit that I did not pick up the racism described b/c my reading was focused on large(r) ideas/concepts.

Going back to the original "prompt:"
Of couse Conrad is not the only racist that we read! We read the Plessy vs Ferguson case report, which leagally justified segrigation for years. It could be argued that any writer is a [little bit] racist. (Think "Avenue
Q"!)
I think that the westerners/whites have a poor understanding of Africa's history, culture [in general] and suffering. I think that the West's problem with Africa is our ignorance of Africa's plight(s) from living in a very pampered lifestyle.

jp said...

I agree that Conrad portrays all the white characters in the book as very racist - but his writing, particularly Marlow's reflections, gives me the impression that Conrad had a very progressive attitude towards race. I remember one of Marlow's most uncomfortable, frightening thoughts was that "[the Africans] weren't inhuman, that they were really just like us" or something to that effect.

He also makes out the "pilgrims" on the boat to be crude and savage-like, firing their guns out towards the coast essentially at nothing, whereas he makes the cannibals fairly reasonable people. One of the cannibals even jokes about his people wanting to "eat the owners of the voices" when they hear shouting coming from the shores.

I think Conrad probably had some very egalitarian beliefs regarding race, but he was probably a little frightened of coming right out and saying it - such a bold statement would probably have gotten him ostracized at worst, and written off from a literary perspective as a radical nutjob at best. So he had to write his beliefs into the book more subtly to illustrate his point only for the people specifically looking for it.

tl;dr Conrad wasn't racist but he wasn't really brave enough to come right out and say it, so he kinda just hinted at it

Stephen said...

I mentioned this in my inclass essay. I don't think that the viewpoint of the novel is a racist one in that it does not condemn the practices of the tusks trade. If anything the protagonist, Marlow, is sympathetic to the Africans as he gives one his biscuit and remarks upon the cannibals' courage as the natives begin attacking the boat.

Margaret said...

Addressing a point Nussdorf made: To a certain extent... it's human nature to be slightly racist. It's how we have survived, to band with those who are similar to you. That's not always the case in every aspect of life, but it's generally true.

In our society, most of us are quite aware that KKK-type racism is pretty horrible, but it wasn't like that back then. If you aren't scolded by society when you do something "wrong", you aren't going to think it's wrong. Therefore, racism back then wasn't "wrong".

Achebe is taking it out of context. Conrad was totally not a racist, in my opinion. I see him as Marlow (kind of living through him vicariously, or maybe the other way around) and he's the most sympathetic character in the book. It feels like Conrad was trying to break down some social barriers and question the accepted belief that those with darker skin are inhuman. So, Achebe should give Conrad some props! Sure, the characters were racist, but that's just impulsive to say that that made Conrad racist.

ndepass said...

i really dont think he was a bad and racist person, but i cant help but believe if he wrote like he did, that his own personal views didnt slightly rub off and show through his writing. because if you dont believe in racism and think its wrong then you would necessarily include it in you writing.

Manal said...

I don't think that Conrad himself was racist, but certain characters were definitely racist in the book. To me it seemed as if Conrad was trying to let everyone know that what they were doing was immoral and exhibited racism because of their treatment of the natives.