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Prejudice And Racism In Heart Of Darkness

3461 words - 14 pages

Racism in Heart of Darkness   

    Heart of Darkness is a social commentary on imperialism, but the characters and symbols in the book have a meaning for both the psychological and cultural aspects of Marlow’s journey.  Within the framework of Marlow’s psychedelic experience is an exploration of the views the European man holds of the African man. These views express the conflict between the civilized and the savage, the modern and the primordial, the individual and the collective, the moral and the amoral, that is part of the general psychedelic experience. Marlow, as a modern European man, cannot escape the arrogance of the civilized, cannot accept the jungle as an equally important part of a whole reality, but he gains some kind of knowledge of its importance—hence his conflicting depiction of the Africans. He finds that civilized men can be much worse than the Africans because civilization is merely a refusal to acknowledge truth. The world of surface-realities cannot hold because it is a world of partial fantasy. Marlow’s civilized notions, his inability to accept what is incomprehensible to him, prevents him from shedding the intellectual arrogance and moral superiority of the civilized. Most of the time Marlow does not realize when he is being arrogant, but sometimes he is aware of his own cultural bias.
     Marlow says that the colonizer who goes to Africa must meet the jungle with “ ‘his own true stuff—with his own inborn strength. Principles? Principles won’t do. Acquisitions, clothes, pretty rags—rags that would fly off at the first good shake? No; you want a deliberate belief.’”* The inherent strength of civilized people is in our ability to trust to faith, to believe so much in something that it will preserve our sense of self even when it is threatened by total absence of, even the opposite conditions of, all that formed to make it. The Africans fascinate Marlow, lure that part of him that wants to escape from the surface-realities created by sociality. Is it a deliberate belief that saves him from asserting his attraction, or an accident of situation? “‘You wonder I didn’t go ashore for a howl and a dance? Well, no—I didn’t. Fine sentiments, you say? Fine sentiments be hanged! I had no time. I had to mess about with white-lead and strips of woollen blanket helping to put bandages on those leaky steam-pipes, I tell you. ...There was surface-truth enough in these things to save a wiser man.’”* The technological realities of civilized man happened to allow him to focus his thoughts on work. This reconciles with the notion of a ‘deliberate belief’ because Marlow unshakeably believes that work contains truth (and he can assert this truth against the truth of the Africans) and is not another system of surface-reality. Marlow sees his journey as a demonstration of the failure of surface-realities to restrain man from gratifying his instinctual lusts; their failure in even remaining surface-truths but degenerating in the minds of...

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