An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness'” Massachusetts Review. Heart of Darkness, An Authoritative Text, background and Sources Criticism. In the fall of 1974 I was walking one day from the English Department at the University of Massachusetts to a parking lot. It was a an essay on the great wall of china autumn morning such as encouraged friendliness to passing strangers.
Brisk youngsters were hurrying in all directions, many of them obviously freshmen in their first flush of enthusiasm. An older man going the same way as I turned and remarked to me how very young they came these days. Then he asked me if I was a student too. I propose to draw from these rather trivial encounters rather heavy conclusions which at first sight might seem somewhat out of proportion to them. But only, I hope, at first sight.
The young fellow from Yonkers, perhaps partly on account of his age but I believe also for much deeper and more serious reasons, is obviously unaware that the life of his own tribesmen in Yonkers, New York, is full of odd customs and superstitions and, like everybody else in his culture, imagines that he needs a trip to Africa to encounter those things. The other person being fully my own age could not be excused on the grounds of his years. I believe that something more willful than a mere lack of information was at work. For did not that erudite British historian and Regius Professor at Oxford, Hugh Trevor Roper, also pronounce that African history did not exist?
If there is something in these utterances more than youthful inexperience, more than a lack of factual knowledge, what is it? Quite simply it is the desire — one might indeed say the need — in Western psychology to set Africa up as 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. Heart of Darkness projects the image of Africa as “the other world,” the antithesis of Europe and therefore of civilization, a place where man’s vaunted intelligence and refinement are finally mocked by triumphant beastiality. The book opens on the River Thames, tranquil, resting, peacefully “at the decline of day after ages of good service done to the race that peopled its banks. But the actual story will take place on the River Congo, the very antithesis of the Thames. Is Conrad saying then that these two rivers are very different, one good, the other bad?