An Image of Africa  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" is the published (and amended) version of the second Chancellor’s Lecture given by Chinua Achebe at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in February 1975. The text is considered to be part of the Postcolonial critical movement, which advocates considering the viewpoints of non-Westernized nations, as well as peoples coping with the effects of colonialism.

In An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Achebe attacks Joseph Conrad’s text as racist. According to Achebe, Conrad refuses to bestow "human expression" on Africans, even depriving them of language. Africa itself is rendered as "the antithesis of Europe and therefore of civilization", "a foil to Europe, as a place of negations at once remote and vaguely familiar, in comparison with which Europe's own state of spiritual grace will be manifest."

The essay

Achebe moves beyond the text of Conrad's Heart of Darkness in advancing his argument. Achebe quotes a passage from Conrad, as Conrad recalls his first encounter with an African in his own life:

A certain enormous buck nigger encountered in Haiti fixed my conception of blind, furious, unreasoning rage, as manifested in the human animal to the end of my days. Of the nigger I used to dream for years afterwards.

The Nigerian author concludes that "...Conrad had a problem with niggers. His inordinate love of that word itself should be of interest to psychoanalysts. Sometimes his fixation on blackness is equally interesting..."

Achebe asserts that while Conrad was not himself responsible for the xenophobic “image of Africa” that appears in Heart of Darkness, his novel continues to perpetuate the damaging stereotypes of black peoples by its inclusion in the literary canon of the modern Western world. His searing critique is sometimes taught side-by-side with Conrad’s work, and is regularly included in critical editions of the text.

The question is whether a novel which celebrates this dehumanization, which depersonalizes a portion of the human race, can be called a great work of art. My answer is: No, it cannot.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "An Image of Africa" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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