"Two Visions in Heart of Darkness" by Edward Said (1993)
Orientalism and The Heart of Darkness
Heart of Darkness is one of Joseph Conrad's (1857 to 1924-born Poland but considered an English writer) most famous works. It is considered a very high status canon work but of late there has been a tendency to attempt to dismiss it as racist (Of course we have big questions lurking in the background here-can we like and admire a work of art whose values we do not approve?) I am really not inclined to post a lot about the style or the story. The prose is impeccable. It cries out to be read slowly.
The story is set in the Belgian Congo, seen of some of the most horrible abuses of colonialism. The narrator of the story does make use of degrading racial terms for the people of the areas, describes them in a fashion that show he things less of their cognitive capacities than he does of Europeans, and sees their very darkness as indicative of an evil quality within them. The narrator in Kenzaburo Oe's short story about an African American pilot taken captive by rural Japanese during WWII does the same sort of thing. Does this mean Oe is a racist?
I really thing the best service I can provide readers of this very powerful story is just to advise them to read Edward Said's treatment of that question in his book Culture and Imperialism.
Here is a link to Said on Heart of Darkness. For background information on the operative concepts of Edward Said see my post on his big book, Orientalism.