How To Create An Essay About Racism In Heart Of Darkness


Born in 1857 in the Polish Ukraine, Joseph Conrad did not learn English until he was an adult. As a child, his father was exiled to Siberia for plotting against Russia and his mother sent him to Krakow for his education. After joining an English crew in 1878, he became a sailor and became an English citizen. After visiting the Congo in 1890, Conrad developed the idea behind the Heart of Darkness.

In the classic novel, Conrad focuses on modernism ideals and Victorian values. Like most people of his era, he had a paternalistic attitude to Africans. At the time, England was the world's leading superpower and controlled vast territories in Africa, Asia and throughout the world. Informed by this experience, Joseph Conrad told of a tale confusion, alienation and concerns about imperialism. Due to this, the Heart of Darkness has been accused of racism by modern readers. For English and literature students, writing an essay about racism in the Heart of Darkness is fairly simple. The tale is informed by the attitudes of the day, which were undoubtedly racist. Beyond this, Conrad was struggling personally with his view of the native Africans, the colonial rulers and his own place in the conflict.

  • Africans as Props
  • When writing an essay on racism in the Heart of Darkness, students can focus on showing how Conrad uses African's as props in his story. Africa is a background in the story, an is portrayed as another world. In a way, Conrad removes the Africans as a human factor and makes them just a way to move his plot line forward.

  • Social Commentary
  • The Heart of Darkness was intended to be a social commentary on the situation of the day. By discussing imperialism, the main character, Marlow, develops a revelation about the “savage” African and “civilized” European. These opposing forces play out in the novel through Conrad's arrogance and personal views. Meanwhile, the discussion of Europeans looting Africa may be interpreted as a paternalistic attitude bent on protecting the uncivilized “savages”.

  • Remember That Values Change Over Time
  • A century ago, locking up insane patients, putting them in straitjackets and lobotomizing their mind was considered humane, moral treatment. Today, the same lobotomy would cause doctors to resign and protests to begin around the insane asylum. Values change over time, and it is important to view writers in their cultural context. While the racist, paternalistic views of Victorian society are decried today, it was the world that Joseph Conrad grew up in. As students write about this work, they will want to consider the way that his views differ from the main values of society. Where his opinions differ is an excellent point to begin discussing how his work shaped public attitudes and changed the world.