In a now famous essay, Nigerian author Chinua Achebe argues forcefully that we should no longer teach Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness to students:
Joseph Conrad was a thoroughgoing racist. That this simple truth is glossed over in criticisms of his work is due to the fact that white racism against Africa is such a normal way of thinking that its manifestations go completely unremarked. Students of Heart of Darkness will often tell you that Conrad is concerned not so much with Africa as with the deterioration of one European mind caused by solitude and sickness. They will point out to you that Conrad is, if anything, less charitable to the Europeans in the story than he is to the natives, that the point of the story is to ridicule Europe's civilizing mission in Africa. A Conrad student informed me in Scotland that Africa is merely a setting for the disintegration of the mind of Mr. Kurtz.
Which is partly the point. Africa as setting and backdrop which eliminates the African as human factor. Africa as a metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognizable humanity, into which the wandering European enters at his peril. Can nobody see the preposterous and perverse arrogance in thus reducing Africa to the role of props for the break-up of one petty European mind? But that is not even the point. The real question is the dehumanization of Africa and Africans which this age-long attitude has fostered and continues to foster in the world. And 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.
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For extra credit, please write a 750 word essay explaining whether you agree or disagree with Achebe’s position. Should the novel’s racism/xenophobia be sufficient reason for its elimination from the curriculum? Or, since Achebe admits that Conrad is a good writer in the same essay, can students such as yourself still learn from the novel’s other qualities (eg., its complexity, its use of language and imagery, its struggle with existential questions, its contemplation on modernity)?
There is no right or wrong answer, but please defend your position by referring to specific passages in the text. However, as you have limited space, use long, direct quotations sparingly. Depending on the quality of your essay
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