What is your impression of the description of settings and characters in the heart of darkness? Do the Africans seem stereotyped to you? What signs are there that the narrator is sympathetic towards them? “Heart of darkness” is a novella that focuses on one man’s travels through Africa. In this book Marlow compares the differences between the white people in England who he is used to being with, and the indigenous people whom he is surrounded by when exploring the Congo River.
When the book was written in the 19th century Conrad’s views towards colonialism were viewed as radical, however, many people today think that the author is in fact racist. People come to this conclusion because throughout the book Conrad often stereotypes the black people and is reluctant to commend the Africans way of life. This essay will look at the descriptions of settings and characters in the book and whether the narrator is racist because of the way he stereotypes the African people. At the very beginning of the novella the narrator (who is not introduced in any way) describes an Englishman called Marlow.
The manner in which Marlow is described instantly makes the reader respect him because the attitude of the narrator is very infectious. He says that Marlow had “sunken cheeks, a yellow complexion, a straight back, an ascetic aspect, and, with his arms dropped, the palms of his hands faced outwards, resembled an idol. ” This is basically saying that even though he has, physically, seen better days, his mind and mental attitude have never been better. This could be hinting at the fact that, even though the coloured people look like they are strong and physically fit, their mental state is not at all equal to the British men.
It seems to be that every time a white man is described they are looked at with respect and dignity, but the novella is continually pointing out that English people are the more intelligent race. Marlow, it says, is an “idol”. This, however, is in stark contrast to the way in which the indigenous race is described. For example on page 96 of the novella it describes a group of indigenous people as “a mass of naked, breathing, quivering bronze bodies”. So this is, instead of pointing out there wild and mesmerising spirit, showing that the only noteworthy thing about the indigenous people is their bodily strength.
Conrad does not go into great detail describing the beings like he would with the white people. He doesn’t even point out a couple of individuals as different to the rest, the black people are down trodden and seem to have had the spirit beaten out of them. They have given up on all hopes of being a proud race and now they are acting like a carpet of “quivering… bodies” for the white people to walk on. In this section of writing the narrator is being stereotypical of the indigenous people because he because he looks at them as no better than a bunch of bronze bodies.
In Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “The white man’s burden”, it further emphasizes the view of the black people when it says, “Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child. ” He therefore is no longer referring to them as people, instead he calls them half devil. The way in which Marlow describes the African setting also seems to lay a racist attitude according to a twenty-first century reader. He describes Africa as “one of the dark places on earth”. This means that Marlow did not think very much of the African people or the environment in which they lived.