LITR 5831 World / Multicultural Literature

Discussion-Leader Presentation

17 November 2015

Reading Assignment: Heart of Darkness (instructor's introduction & part 1)

Achebe, "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness"

Discussion leader(s): Jeanette Smith

Discussion Questions for Heart of Darkness Part 1

1.      What knowledge of Conrad (1857-1924)? What texts? Subject matter?

2.      Do you consider, as Achebe does, that Heart of Darkness is a racist novel? Why or why not?

3.       Obj. 2a: Can Colonizers be understood as other than villains? Does dehumanizing the other automatically dehumanize the oppressor? (Moral opposition increases drama, but moral relativism cultivates relations.) After Postcolonial Studies, and especially in light of Achebe's article on "Racism in Heart of Darkness," is Conrad's novel worth reading? With what qualifications or authority? What are our options?

4.       How does a novel succeed (or not) in humanizing its subjects?

5.      Does Achebe (in Things Fall Apart) do a better job of avoiding racial stereotypes than Conrad does (in Heart of Darkness)?

6.      “Conrad's image of Africa: Recovering African voices in Heart of Darkness” Peter Mwikisa (University of Botswana):

Henryk Zins, a Pole who taught for many years in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Botswana, defends Conrad against Achebe thus: He is (...) definitely doing an injustice to Conrad when writing about his alleged racism and antipathy to black people, which makes no sense when we remember Conrad's words full of sympathy and pity about the enslavement of Africans in the Congo.

Do you agree with Zins?

Also in the Mwikisa article:

"They howled and leaped, and spun, and made horrid faces and are not quite human” - It is largely Conrad's image of Africa that we encounter forming the backdrop to news dispatches, television footage, films and even in new novels about Africa. It is an image of a continent peopled by archetypal figures: howling savages, faithful servants, sinister half-breeds, white hunters and gallant colonial officials or their modern counterparts such as aid-workers, animal documentary film makers etc.

Conrad like Edgar Rice Burroughs (creator of Tarzan) and Sir Rider Haggard (author of King Solomon's Mines) is part of a literary tradition which is still very powerful today and continues to recycle the same fantasy about Africa. It is a tradition, one might add, in which although the number of bad writers, like Edgar Rice Burroughs, exceeds the number of so-called good writers, like Conrad, one can well understand an African like Achebe rejecting such a distinction because the better writers only handle the dehumanizing and depersonalizing images with greater skill and subtlety. All conform to the same tradition.

Do you agree with Mwikisa that a tradition of recycling fantasies about Africa continues today?

7.      How can two great writers such as Conrad and Achebe assume oppositional statuses while remaining valid?