Heart of Darkness Questions and Answers
by Joseph Conrad

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In Heart of Darkness, how does the black and white imagery both reinforce and subvert racial attitudes?

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It's hard sometimes to determine what Conrad's "racial attitudes" might be in Heart of Darkness. I think the best way to think about it is in terms of "otherness"—that the Africans in the book are somehow unknowable, a quality that sometimes dehumanizes them but more fundamentally calls into question what, if anything, anyone can really know about existence.

One example of this comes early in Marlow's journey to Africa when he sees a boat off the shore:

Now and then a boat from the shore gave one a momentary contact with reality. It was paddled by black fellows. You could see from afar the white of their eyeballs glistening. They shouted, sang; their bodies streamed with perspiration; they had faces like grotesque masks—these chaps; but they had bone, muscle, a wild vitality, an intense energy of movement, that was as natural and true as the surf along their coast. They wanted no excuse for being there. They were a great comfort to look at. For a time I would feel I belonged still to a...

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