Achebe Chinua casts light upon the image of Africa in the Western world in his essay “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness”. He points out that it is quite a surprise for many people to find out that Africa has its history, culture, and literature. Many people have an image of Africa as an uncivilized world with mysterious rites and traditions.
In Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness,’ the image of Africa is presented as “the other world” as opposed to Europe and civilization. Conrad starts his work with the description of the River Thames that keeps the history of the English nation but the main events of the work take place on the River Congo that is an antithesis to the River Thames. The River Thames is depicted as a silent and calm one but its antithesis, the River Congo is the embodiment of frenzy. In the same way, Conrad opposes two worlds namely civilized and uncivilized. As Achebe Chinua points out in his essay the Africans are depicted in Conrad’s work as inhuman beasts who do not have any images of the civilization and who live only satisfying their primitive instincts and needs. The best example of such images is the description of the African woman as an antithesis to the European one.
The reader may have the impression that Conrad has a negative attitude to the Africans and his ‘Heart of Darkness is the manifestation of racism. Nevertheless, it should be pointed out that it is not an autobiographical work and Conrad expresses not his points of view but his fictional character, Marlow. Achebe Chinua draws the parallel between Conrad and his fictional character pointing out some similarities between them and making the conclusion that Marlow “seems to enjoy Conrad’s complete confidence”. Conrad expresses a European attitude to black people. Are the Europeans racists? The question of equality between black and white people is quite delicate and Conrad should have the courage to touch upon this burning issue. Achebe Chinua expresses the Europeans’ attitude to the black people with Albert Schweitzer’s words: “The African is indeed my brother but my junior brother.” Conrad’s liberalism is connected with the notion of kinship. Factually, all people are brothers but Conrad’s work testifies to the white people’s intolerance towards the black ones. The real question brought up in Conrad’s work is not the racism but the dehumanization of the Africans that has become steeped in European minds.
Achebe Chinua explains Conrad’s attitude to the black people with the period of his life. He was born in 1857 during the historical period when black people were known for their bad reputations. Chinua calls such prejudices irrational love and irrational hate. Conrad’s attitude to the Africans has become the subject of the research of many psychologists. It should be taken into account that the talented writer devotes his literary works to the burning issues of our society. Conrad did not want to hurt the black people writing his ‘Heart of Darkness’ he wanted just to express the European attitudes and their images of the Africans.
Achebe Chinua concludes that the Europeans should look at Africa from a new point of view devoid of any prejudices and distortions. Africa is an ordinary continent inhabited by ordinary people.