Discuss Chinua Achebe's criticism of Heart of Darkness.

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Achebe consistently criticized Heart of Darkness, both in publications and in interviews. Joseph Conrad 's novel, in fact, was the subject of a special lecture Achebe gave at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1975. In it, Achebe concludes that "Joseph Conrad was a thoroughgoing racist." He argues...

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Achebe consistently criticized Heart of Darkness, both in publications and in interviews. Joseph Conrad's novel, in fact, was the subject of a special lecture Achebe gave at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1975. In it, Achebe concludes that "Joseph Conrad was a thoroughgoing racist." He argues that the author portrays black Africans in ways that emphasizes their differences from Europeans. In Conrad's view, Africa is the polar opposite of "civilized" Europe, and its people are throughout the book portrayed as uncivilized, even subhuman. Achebe acknowledges Conrad's talents and even allows that the book is to some extent a criticism of the cultural underpinnings of imperialism, but his central criticism is related to the strengths of the book, not the fairly obvious racism of its characters.

He argues that the real racism of the book lies in Conrad's decision to "reduc[e] Africa to the role of props for the break-up of one petty European mind." Africa is a dark place where civilization and even humanity fall apart. Clearly Conrad suggests that white men, even those whose actions are deplorable, are superior to Africans. Achebe acknowledges that Conrad was in many ways a product of his time, but that is essentially his point—he portrays and in many ways helps to perpetuate the "image of Africa in the Western imagination." All in all, Achebe contends, in Heart of Darkness, Conrad "saw and condemned the evil of imperial exploitation but was strangely unaware of the racism on which it sharpened its iron tooth." In this way, Conrad offered support for racist attitudes.

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The previous answer gives a good overview. Chinua Achebe is right to say that Conrad is very much a part of the society in which he lived. Racism, yes. Blindspots, yes. Joseph Conrad has all the blinders and narrowness of vision, and prejudices of the people of his age. This fact is always the case, even today. That said, if we look at the novel from a historical perspective, then we can make the case that Conrad was a powerful dissenting voice.

In 1870, most of Africa south of the Sahara was free from control of colonial powers. In the next 35 years, all of this would change. Most of Africa was colonized. What happened in Africa was the quickest landgrab in the history of the world. European powers were scrambling to take more land. The atrocities were huge. From this perspective, the destruction of colonialism should stand alongside Nazism and Communism, but too often the African story is overlooked. Conrad is the exception. He wrote the most scathing account of colonialism in all of Western literature. This point deserves attention and praise. Anyone who has read Heart of Darkness will tell you that the book almost seems unreal. Could people be so evil, so blind, so depraved? Conrad tells a story that few would dare tell.

In the end, Chinua Achebe offers legitimate criticism, but when we see that Joseph Conrad is a lone voice in the wilderness, then appreciation for his book can be given.

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The Nigerian author Chinua Achebe criticized Joseph Conrad's novel, Heart of Darkness, as being racist. He did so in a lecture, later published, at the University of Massachusetts entitled An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's "Heart of Darkness. In his lecture, he criticizes the way Conrad portrays blacks (Africans) in his novel and takes exception to his over-use of the derogatory word "nigger" in his writing. Achebe also acuses Conrad of stereotyping blacks - using very pejoritive words to describe them, thoroughout the novel. He also says that Conrad is obsessed with "blackness" because of all the dark imagery in the novel.

Other critics have criticized Achebe for criticising Conrad. They accuse Achebe of being overly-sensitive and carrying political correctness to the extreme. They claim that Achebe cannot separate his own racial views from Conrad's art.

You will need to research this controversy and decide on the thesis for your own essay. You could research Achebe's criticism and write your essay either agreeing or disagreeing with it. Or, you could do a compare and contrast essay, presenting both sides. There is information available online regarding this controversy and you should also read the analysis of Heart of Darkness here on enotes. Also, there is a good deal of information about Achebe here on enotes at the link below.

http://www.enotes.com/jax/index.php/enotes/gsearch?m=co&q=Achebe

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