Race and Power in Heart of Darkness
In Joseph Conrad's novella, Heart of Darkness, the socially constructed differences of African and European cultures are effective in representing the power sites of the time. The alleged `superiority' of the European culture can be recognized by comparing their ideologies to those of the primitive, `inferior' `savages.' Conrad's personal experiences in the Belgian Congo, in the 1890s, influenced the compilation of Heart of Darkness, reflecting the waste and inefficiency of British Colonialism. Conrad referred to the colonization of Africa as, "the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience and geographical exploration."(Joffe, 78) The cultural differentiation between the two races is utilized as a mechanism for the European society to justify the cruelty, suppression and alienation towards the African people.
Contrasts between white and black throughout the text, encourage the reader to identify the marginalized and the dominating race. The European society being `white' is presented as `greater' against which the `black' African society is judged as `lesser.' Marlow refers to the city of Brussels as a "whited sepulchre"(p24), which represents the splendor and glory of the city, hiding the corruption and darkness beneath. This ostentatious image of Brussels is then contrasted to the calamity visited upon an African village. "The village was deserted, the huts gaped black, rotting, all askew within the fallen enclosures."(p24). This austere image of death and desolation, confronts the reader with the power and callousness of the European society. The horrific scene of dying natives, "in every pose of contorted collapse, as in some picture of a massacre or a pestilence,"(p36) is juxtaposed with, "such an unexpected elegance of get-up"(p36) worn by the European Chief Accountant. Among the confusion and, "great demoralization of the land,"(p36) he still has the time and influence to train a native woman to care for his wardrobe. The reader is positioned to view the Europeans as a sophisticated race with dominance over the primitive Africans.
The attitudes and values of the European society during the late 1800s are represented through Conrad's construction of Marlow, thereby imparting to the reader a deeper understanding of the power sites of the era. Marlow comes to scorn imperialism as he witnesses the cruelty, vindictiveness and debasement of western man. Marlow refers to the Eldorado Exploring Expedition as "the less valuable animals."(p59). He has come to realize that due to their lack of moral values, they are of no more worth than the donkeys they led. Although Marlow condemns the operations of imperialism, and sympathizes with the natives, he still shares the prejudices of many of his fellow Europeans, viewing the natives as insignificant. To Marlow his helmsman is merely "an instrument"(p84) and the ...