Heart Of Darkness as a Minstrel Show

October 4, 2010

Achebe presents an interpretation of Heart Of Darkness as a racist book, with its portraying Africa as a dangerous place and having the inhabitants referred to as “savages”.  Unfortunately Achebe is a prime example of someone who ignores social and historical context, crying “fowl” every time they are presented with something that doesn’t fit with the homogenized and politically correct revisionist image of the world that the modern age would like to lay out for us.  Art is open to interpretation and while my opinion on the story holds no more water than Achebe’s, I would like to remind my readers that the book is a work of fiction set in bona fide historical times! Europe has tried to expand its boundaries and influence much like the way it is described in this book, decrying people of other cultures as inferior and primitive.  Conrad did not write his story in order to encourage such behavior, but to show the folly of western expansion and the duality of European treatment of the African natives.

The behavior of Europeans in this story range from neutral (Marlow), bloodthirsty and insane (most everybody else), and downright kooky (Kurtz).  Marlow doesn’t buy into the colonization b.s. that his crew has been fed, wanting only to see the world and meet the enigmatic Mr. Kurtz that he has heard them speak about with such godly regard.  The other Europeans mostly mindlessly wish to overtake Africa and rape the continent of its goods.  They represent an ignorant mob mentality, making each utterance of Africans as “savage” ironic.  Finally, Kurtz is the man who has achieved a dominance over the Africans but at the cost of his sanity.  It’s not that Africa has driven him insane, but only himself which makes him a danger to everybody around him.  He has attained the stature above the Africans that the Europeans so badly want, in such unorthodox methods that he is seen as a threat to Europe and a god to the Africans.

As bad as that may sound, Conrad was not trying to create a tale of racism but rather a warning of imperialism.  I cannot say what Conrad’s personal feelings were towards Africans or black people as a whole (not African-Americans, I mean are there not blacks in Europe and Asia?), but to me the story has such a minor focus on the African natives as opposed to the Europeans that it would be like someone calling the sitcom All In The Family racist.  Is it politically incorrect? Yes.  Were words like “spade” and “gook” used by main character Archie Bunker? Countless times.  The point of the show was not to spread ignorance and racism, though; it was to put into a realistically absurd fashion the ridiculousness of such mindsets.  Conrad does the same thing with Heart Of Darkness showing how the European mob mentality affects everyone involved and what it ultimately can lead to.

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2 Responses to “Heart Of Darkness as a Minstrel Show”

  1.   beverly gross Says:

    Peter:
    There are only two entries here, both on Heart of Darkness, both very fine. Your Achebe entry is superbly thought out and argued.

    But what about the rest of the course?

    Hard to figure out an evaluation for this lopsided performance. Hard to figure out you and Eng 255.

    Sept evaluation: ?

  2.   pmiss100 Says:

    Sorry for the lack of updates. I’ll be the first to admit that I am awful at keeping up with blogs, personal or academic. That said, I’ve got some drafts for the roadblock known as “The Waste Land”. Been keeping up with the readings, but got stuck there and sorta let the backlog build up. Gonna iron out that one and get everything else out ASAP. Sorry for the delay!

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