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Often far away there I thought of these two, guarding the door of Darkness, knitting black wool as for a warm pall, one introducing, introducing continuously to the unknown, the other scrutinizing the cheery and foolish faces with unconcerned old eyes.(Conrad 74) It’s queer how out of touch with truth women are.And it’s similar to the most positive type of portrayal that the male African characters receive; they’re presented as part of a beautiful, savage landscape that’s being despoiled: They shouted, sang; their bodies streamed with perspiration; they had faces like grotesque masks— these chaps; but they had bone, muscle, a wild vitality, an intense energy of movement, that was as natural and true as the surf along their coast. (Conrad 78) However, Conrad description of the African men’s “faces like grotesque masks” lumps them in with all the other distasteful, ugly things Marlow sees in the Congo.
The man seemed young —almost a boy— but you know with them it’s hard to tell.
(Conrad 82) In the passage above, Conrad describes the “unhappy savages” as one might describe animals, particularly when he describes their rags wagging like tails, as though they were dogs.
The 1899 novel, rooted in Conrad’s own experiences as a merchant sailor on the Congo, vividly portrays the horrors of Belgian colonial rule over and exploitation of Africa.
Many aspects of the book are nothing short of brilliant.
And in the hush that had fallen suddenly upon the whole sorrowful land, the immense wilderness, the colossal body of the fecund and mysterious life seemed to look at her, pensive, as though it had been looking at the image of its own tenebrous and passionate soul.
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(Conrad 137) The passage above seems entirely positive at first glance with descriptors like “magnificent” and “superb”, but it’s objectification nonetheless.
We must help them to stay in that beautiful world of their own, lest ours gets worse.
(Conrad 121)She was savage and superb, wild-eyed and magnificent; there was something ominous and stately in her deliberate progress.
And that moment of slight kindness highlights the protagonist’s lazy racism: he documents the blatant injustices that are clear to his privileged European eyes, but he never thinks to try to do anything of substance to help the Africans he sees suffering around him.
He never even thinks to make sure that the native crewmembers working in service to his captaincy have anything to eat on their journey down the Congo (Conrad 111).