Yesterday I wrapped up Heart of Darkness and am working on completing the project I have to do for my English class. The project included answering a very interesting question, and it was whether or not the book should be banned in schools. The answer I gave was yes of course, because I'm all about protecting our right to read, but the question got more interesting because we had to give an in depth explanation as to why this book should be read by students and not shoved aside and replaced with a lengthy and very boring Shakespeare unit.
I decided to take a spin on that question and turn it to you, our faithful readers, and tell you why Heart of Darkness should be on all of your to-read lists. Its an old book, and sometimes classics are revered despite them being racist and misogynistic, and Heart of Darkness is by no means exempt to some questionable quotes and plot lines. It takes place in Africa during the peak of imperialism. African people are enslaved and abused by the Europeans who have come to conquer and take land away from the rightful owners under the pretense that the white race is simply better. Joseph Conrad creates a character by the name of Marlow in his novel who is by no means perfect and above the common, racist views of society at the time, but who denounces imperialism and often comments on its wastefulness and cruelty. But he doesn't do much to stop it.
That racist undertones of the book have sparked a lot of criticism, the most famous being Chinua Achebe's criticism of Conrad for being a racist. Its easy to bypass books like Heart of Darkness because they don't fit the rules for how we deal with race in our modern day in age, but I'm here to tell you that yes, there are some questionable passages in Heart of Darkness, and yes, the African people in the novel are presented as faceless, two-dimensional characters, but Heart of Darkness should still be on your to-read list.
Its important for all of us to learn that people think differently than we do. Its important for us all to learn that at one point in history, and in many ways in our current society, people were not treated with fairness and equality. Heart of Darkness is an important novel to be read not just because its good, and not just because it has these great themes about human nature and going insane, but because it presents a commentary on racism that all of us need to read and understand.
Conrad lived in a time when people of color were not consulted or regarded by mass society when any important matter came up. White people made choices in government on all levels, they controlled businesses and they were at the head of society. This concept shines through in his book, because while Conrad's character Marlow does not outright look at the African people in a racist or demeaning way, he depicts them as a strange, unknown force that he has no idea how to handle or how to represent them. Conrad's struggle still exists with many writers and artists today. Representation of people of color in mass media is minimal because as artists we still see them as this distant force that are confusing and far away from us, when in reality they are our friends and neighbors, and are an equal part of our society and as much deserving to be a part of it as anyone else.
Your first task is to read Heart of Darkness and react to it, fully and with reckless abandon. Get angry, uncomfortable and sad. And then start to look at your own life. Look at the times you may shy away from people because they are different than you either in the way they look or act or talk. Let the discomfort or the anger you feel while reading fuel your desire to make little changes in your own life so that one day a big change may come about.
After reading Heart of Darkness I was inspired to always strive to look at things through another person's point of view and to try to understand them before I make a judgement. I was also inspired to write this blog post, which hopefully may encourage some of you to read the book yourselves. Its super short and very easy to get through and there are dozens of summaries and analysis articles online to help you if you get stuck.
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