Joseph Conrad wrote Heart of Darkness. It is a novella where the narrator, Charles Marlow, tells his story to an omniscient narrator, who is actually the book’s narrator. This is Marlow’s story of his adventures in Africa. His narrative tries to explain why he thinks Africa is dark. The darkness alludes to the skin color of the Africans, the dark mysteries of the natives, the land and the unknown. This essay explores how the Africans were depicted in the short novel, Heart of Darkness.The Africans are depicted in a negative way. They are portrayed as being uneducated and ignorant. Charlie Marlow narrates how a former captain, Fresleven, fights with an African chief over a quarrel about two black hens. Fresleven is killed by the chief’s son. His body was left to decompose where he fell. The entire village disappeared because the Africans are terrified that a white man is killed. The Africans think that the whites are gods and killing a god would bring disasters upon them so they fled their village. Marlow says; ‘The supernatural being had not been touched after he fell. And the village was deserted, the huts gaped black, rotting, all askew within the fallen enclosures. A calamity had come to it, sure enough. The people had vanished. Mad terror had scattered them, men, women, and children, through the bush, and they had never returned.’ (Conrad -). Marlow attempts to relate this incident with humor. He makes fun of the Africans. His message is that the whole village is sacrificed over the trivial matter of two black hens. He emphasizes that there was no supernatural disaster or calamity to punish the village for their errors for the quarrel and death of Fresleven. The Africans are depicted as being fearful and irrational in this incident.
The white man seems to have prejudice against the Africans. He is intolerant of them. Marlow relates how another white man labels the Africans as his enemies. Marlow shows his prejudice too as he goes one step further when he says that; '"It was the same kind of ominous voice; but these men could by no stretch of imagination be called enemies. They
were called criminals, and the outraged law, like the bursting shells, had come to them, an insoluble mystery from the sea. All their meagre breasts panted together, the violently dilated nostrils quivered, the eyes stared stonily uphill. They passed me within six inches, without a glance, with that complete, deathlike indifference of unhappy savages."' (Conrad -). Marlow seems to dislike the Africans' physical appearances and bases his judgment upon his misconceived ideas about the Africans. The white men are suspicious of the Africans. They are being humiliated in many ways by Marlow's depiction of them in his long narrative. He does not think that it is wrong to superimpose the white man's foreign law over the local Africans, even though he recognizes that the foreign law, to the Africans, is 'as an insoluble mystery from the sea'. Marlow cannot read expressions on the Africans' faces. He describes the Africans as being deathlike and indifferent because they appear without reaction when they are passing by him. Marlow is too proud to realize that the Africans are being worked hard for the white man's capitalist gains in procuring products from the land. The able bodied Africans who work for the whites are physically intimidating to them. The Africans do not look happy because they are tired in their toil. The white men do not see beyond their prejudice to consider the welfare of their African workers.
African lives are depicted as being worthless. Marlow comes across a mine and some of the workers. He sees that the Africans have labored hard and are dying. He loses his fear and hatred of them as he thinks that they do not look like enemies and criminals now. His description of the Africans changes not for the better but continues in the same negative way. The dying Africans are now described as being black shadows