Racist Ideas in Joseph Conrad’s Work Essay

January 23, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Oct 21st, 2020


In his famous Hearts of Darkness, Joseph Conrad describes Africa and compares it and its people with the western world and Europeans. Chinua Achebe unveils the controversy deeply rooted in the work of the renowned writer. Although there are no specific parts where the author explicitly discussed the inferiority of Africans, the work is racist as it depicts African people as void of humaneness (2709).

It is necessary to note that the author’s view was common for the time when the novella was written as the western world was regarded as civilized while Africa was seen as home to savages. Achebe emphasizes that Conrad attempts to show his positive attitude towards Africans, but it is clear that he shares the belief about the superiority of the white race that reigned at that time. Conrad’s racist writing contributed to the development of racism and discrimination that persist in many countries including the USA.

Racism in Joseph Conrad’s Work

The novella may seem (and was long regarded) as the poetic but quite trustworthy portrayal of Africa. Achebe draws specific attention to the wording employed and claims that every word is full of meaning and prejudice (2709). The imagery aims at evoking emotions consistent with the views that prevailed at that period (Achebe 2710). The descriptions are very straightforward as Europeans are depicted as sensible and sensitive, full of compassion and wisdom.

At the same time, African people are described as savages who are unable to feel or have any beliefs. One of the races is associated with the spiritual, while the other is completely physical. Achebe also points at Conrad’s stance concerning the link between Europeans and Africans. Joseph Conrad repeatedly notes that Africa is a “primordial relative” of Europe (Achebe 2709). It is suggested that Africans need centuries to become equal to Europeans.

As has been mentioned above, Conrad was not the pioneer of such racist beliefs. He shared the views of his peers who believed in the superiority of their race. For example, Rudyard Kipling’s “White Man’s Burden” reveals Europeans’ imperialistic and racist views. White people are depicted as capable of or even responsible for civilizing other races. Europeans believed in their civilization and wanted to inflict it on other continents.

Some may claim that Conrad was only a follower and articulated the ideas that had existed for years. However, although Conrad did not develop racist views, he contributed to their spread. His work was more dangerous than the aggressive claims of radicals who believed in the inferiority of Africans. The superiority of the white race was legitimized by such writings. New generations were taught to see other races in a very specific way (as savages or miserable half-humans waiting for liberation).


In conclusion, it is necessary to note that Joseph Conrad revealed the ideas that were widespread in the 19th century. They were associated with the responsibility of westerners to civilize the rest of the world. The author’s writing is racist although this is often masked with a certain degree of tolerance or even fascination. However, this is Conrad’s admiration with the force of nature and primitive creatures, not the appreciation of diversity. The author wrote the novella that made many people believe in the superiority of whites and their responsibility to bring civilization to the African continent. The works similar to Achebe’s writing should be included in the curriculum and analyzed, but the controversy of each passage should be central to this discussion.

Work Cited

Achebe, Chinua. “From an Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Twentieth Century and After, edited by Meyer Howard Abrams et al., F. W. W. Norton & Company, 2012, pp. 2709-2714.

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