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Heart of Darkness

by Joseph Conrad

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How is Conrad's Heart of Darkness a Post-Colonial text?

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The most prominent postcolonial reading of Heart of Darkness is Chinua Achebe's essay "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness." It argues that while Conrad may have meant to critique Belgian rule in the Congo, his depiction of the country as a sort of "hell" is a racist one and the native characters in the Congo have no agency.

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Though Heart of Darkness was written during the colonial period, it has some elements of post-colonial literature. For example, it presents the darker side of colonialism in Africa, not just the standard European narrative of white people bringing prosperity and progress to the Congo. Instead, Europeans, personified in the figure of Kurtz, bring degradation, death, and destruction to the Congo. Also, the novella presents characters who are in direct opposition to the stereotypes in colonial discourse. While colonial discourse characterized Africans as untamed or evil, this novel instead presents the Europeans as bloodthirsty and evil. The stereotypes that Europeans unfairly associated with Africans are instead turned around and applied to Europeans in this work.

In addition, post-colonial narratives often have multiple narrative strands, emphasizing that there is more than one way to tell the story of colonialism. In Heart of Darkness, Marlow's tale is framed by the tale of the unnamed narrator who is on the ship in England listening to Marlow. In addition, Marlow presents Kurtz's story within his own narrative, leading to the kinds of multiple perspectives that are common in post-colonial literature.

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Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness can be considered a Post-colonial text if one examines the exploitation depicted in the novel.

When Marlow is speaking about his position as a steamer pilot, he details what he came upon at the company's Lower Station. The native inhabitants are described as being salves to the Belgium company's hired guards. The Africans are starving to death and not being treated well. Instead, they are forced to work to physical exhaustion.

Therefore, the novella depicts how native inhabitants are treated when other countries come in to colonize. These inhabitants are exploited and forced into servitude. Given that Post-colonial literature is meant to speak against colonization, the treatment of the natives shows both Marlow's and Conrad's views on what happens when some locations are colonized (when the colonization is not beneficial to all).

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What is a postcolonial reading of Heart of Darkness?

The key critical text on Heart of Darkness from a postcolonial point of view is Chinua Achebe's "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness." In this essay, Achebe discusses the racism inherent in Conrad's tale, which describes the Congo as a nightmarish place that drives the white characters mad and where the native people do not feature as real humans. While the book can be read as a critique of Belgian rule in the Congo, it contains many hallmarks of racist literature seen through postcolonial eyes, such as the white savior complex.

Heart of Darkness is about a man who works for an ivory-trading company and enters the Congo as a visitor; he is appalled by the hatred the colonizers have for the native peoples of the Congo. However, the depiction of the natives as "savage" is inherently racist in itself: African religion is made a mockery of in the idolization of Kurtz by the Congolese.

The story is set in the late nineteenth century, and it is essentially a criticism of the behavior of the Belgian government towards the people of the Congo. The Belgian approach to Africa was especially egregious, with the English Marlow depicted as being horrified by the Belgians' brutality in their search for ivory. However, this approach ignores the fact that Conrad's approach is itself racist: the novel's presentation of Africans is consistently dehumanizing, Achebe argues, and the environment of the Congo is described as being as savage as its inhabitants. Conrad's argument seems to suggest that the Belgians are wrong to treat the Congolese the way they do, but he recommends, instead, paternalism, not independence. Meanwhile, Africa and Africans represent the Other: Marlow traveling down the Congo is an image of the white man traveling into a mythical land. Africa is depicted as if it were an unreal place, something from fairyland. Meanwhile, the people of Africa are described as if they were animals, with one man being dismissed as "a dog wearing trousers."

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