“Conrad saw and condemned the evil of imperial exploitation but was strangely unaware of racism on which it sharpened its iron tooth. But the victims of racist slander who for centuries have to live with inhumanity it makes them heir to have always known better than any casual visitor even when he comes loaded with the gifts of a Conrad” (Chinua Achebe).
Achebe argues that Conrad, while providing a criticism of “imperial exploitation”, does not sufficiently take the ‘Other’ voice into account. Is Achebe’s argument justified? Provide textual reference to support your answer.
In the novel ‘Heart Of Darkness’ Conrad explores how imperialism affects colonist and native alike, but in different ways. For a long time the novel was acclaimed and it’s author respected for his expose’ .However, more recently, other writers and experts have expressed disquiet with Joseph Conrad’s views. To say that Achebe argues that Conrad, while providing a criticism of “imperial exploitation”, does not sufficiently take the ‘Other’ voice into account is perhaps a little simplistic. As an author himself he would be well aware of the complexity of imperialistic legacies and the long term consequences of strategies such as ‘divide and rule’ or partition or making a native population dependent on a ruling aggressor. Other commentators have observed that it is the novel itself, not Conrad, which should not be held up as a championing voice against racism. It may be more accurate to suggest that the novel should not be given such weight in the argument against racism and be acclaimed for what it is excellently written historical literature and a good read, rather than current political discourse. The novel needs to be viewed in context of the time during which it was written and judged as such. We cannot expect Joseph Conrad to have the gift of clairvoyance and he wrote according to the extent of his own education, not having the gift of the globally aware education that we are fortunate to have now. Perhaps it would be prudent to have other, more modern, novels pushed forward into the limelight and held up for students to admire, and not to rely so heavily on ‘Heart of Darkness.’ It would have been difficult for Joseph Conrad to articulate the voice of the native population during his lifetime as the people were kept uneducated and there was little opportunity for the two worlds to mix. Achebe’s argument would seem to be justified in so far as the African voice is not discernable in the novel but it may not be possible to criticize him for not reaching a target he himself didn’t set. He may have been more concerned with the idea of imperialism in general, and also with the darkness of the human soul in relation to that. He came from a generation that believed that in some ways, colonialism improved the lives of native populations - how differently we feel now!
'Hunters for gold or pursuers of fame, they all had gone out on that stream, bearing the sword, and often the torch, messengers of the might within the land, bearers of a spark from the sacred fire. What greatness had not floated on the ebb of that river into the mystery of an unknown earth!…The dreams of men, the seed of commonwealths, the germs of empires. (1.6)'