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A Study of Orientalism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

Author LiWenJun
Tutor LiQuanFu
School Northwest Normal University
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords Conrad Orientalism Postcolonailism African Blacks Darkness
Type Master's thesis
Year 2004
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Joseph Conrad (1857-1924), one of the greatest English novelists and stylists of 20th-century, has gained his worldwide fame for his vivid descriptions of exotic life, distinctive novel narrative structure, psychological analysis, and philosophical exploration of good and evil in his works. Heart of Darkness is one of Conrad’s representatives and also is one of the greatest novellas in the world. The novella has rendered readers detailed descriptions of what Marlow sees and thinks as he moves on up the River Congo. Through Marlow’s account, readers are presented with an image of primitive, poor, barbaric African Congo, such as, inscrutable River Congo, dangerous jungle, and ugly and barbaric African blacks.The critics who approve of Heart of Darkness would not relate it to imperialism, colonialism, and racism. Most relevant criticisms and studies focus on its distinctive novel structure, narrative strategy, thematic analysis, and psychological analysis. But after the Second World War, readers and critics from those newly independent countries began to cast critical eyes on Conrad and his Heart of Darkness. Some of them criticized the novella for its racism and imperialism. This suddenly made Conrad a quite controversial writer as he is traditionally considered a rare anti-colonial and anti-imperial writer from the West. Reading and analyzing his works from the Postcolonial perspective, I find that we can neither consider him anti-colonialist, nor a racist. If he indeed has showed racism and imperial attitudes in Heart of Darkness, we should attribute such criticism to the strong Orientalism that Western whites hold toward the East. Based on Edward Said’s Postcolonial theory, Orientalism, this thesis aims to first analyze the Orientalist ideas revealed in the text of Heart of Darkness, and then further analyzes the nature and harmful consequences of Orientalism. In this way, my paper falls into five main parts.Part one is a general introduction to the thesis, which includes the brief introductions to Conrad’s life story, his great literary achievements, the outline of the story of Heart of Darkness, and relevant literature reviews. Besides, I also briefly introduce the motives for choosing to study Conrad, the main aspects that the thesis aims to focus on, and the current significance of such studies.Part two is a brief introduction to the literary theory applied in the thesis, which includes introductions to the meaning, definition, and content of Postcolonial literary theory, introductions to Edward W. Said and his Postcolonial theory-Orientalism.Part three and part four make up the main body of the thesis, which respectively analyze the Orientalism existing in the literary text and in reality.Part three, focusing on the text of Heart of Darkness, illustrates in detail how Orientalism is revealed in the novella. This part is subdivided into three sections:Firstly, Heart of Darkness projects image of Africa as "the Other World", the foil and antithesis of Western civilized world. Although some human civilizations originated in Africa, in the novella it is described as primitive, backward, poor, and diseased. Secondly, in the novella black Africans are depicted as barbaric, bestial, and ugly: The antithesis of Western whites. They are totally silenced and presented in an improper way. Thirdly, Marlow’s different attitudes towards African blacks and white protagonistsreveal a lurking Orientalism. Facing the miseries of native Africans, for instance, he shows no intention or feeling of offering to help, but rather presents how uncivilized they are.Part four is the extension and exaltation of part three. On the base of the analysis of Orientalism in the text of Heart of Darkness, focusing on reality instead of fictional literary text, this part further discusses the nature and harmful consequences of Orientalism.Firstly, through the comparison between Conrad’s real trip to Congo with the story of Marlow, through investigations of his personal outlook, and through brief analysis of relev

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