European Imperialism: History 101 Exam Question

26 Jun

Exam 2 Unused Essay:
Question: On the basis of the excerpt from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Chinua Achebe’s response and the course lecture, please describe the causes for the renewed European Imperialism in the second half of the 19th century. Which role did racism and Social Darwinism play, and how does racism show in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Do you share Chinua Achebe’s assessment that Conrad’s book was “obviously racist”, or did Conrad rather try to expose the racism of his main protagonist.

Racism Revealed Or Exposed?

As we learned in the course lecture and chapter 26 of Voyages, Europe had gone through some shifts in structure with the unification of Germany, the British expansion into overseas territories, as well as France’s expansion. These economies needed greater access to raw materials to boost their productions. This competition spurred greater innovations in technology and even more need raw materials. As a result, the competition forced these nations to adopt more self-centric policies, countering the free-market practices that preceded it.

Europe’s rapid growth put people in a perceived position of entitlement. They sought to deliver civility and Christianity to the people they characterized as “barbarians” in other regions of the world. In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, he often uses demeaning references to Africans. He exhibits this Social Darwinistic perspective in his descriptions of Africans; such as when he describes “The prehistoric man was cursing us, praying to us, welcoming us….” Chinua Achebe’s critique points out these obvious racial epitome. However, Achebe goes on to highlight other innuendo that suggests racism. Achebe writes about the setting, “Africa as a metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognizable humanity, into which the wandering European enters at his peril.” Achebe suggests Conrad uses Africa to portray a place of inhumanity.

Achebe’s portrayal of Conrad’s book as racist appears to apply a modernized look at writing done under the pretext of a then current setting. A twenty-first century perspective openly exposes the racism in the characters. If placed in it’s historical context, I believe the point of the writing was to explore the enormity and uniqueness of Africa.


Conrad, Joseph, “Heart of Darkness, 1899” and Chinua Achebe, “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, 1975”, in Worlds of History, ed. Reilly, 294-303

Hansen, Valerie and Kenneth Curtis. Voyages in World History, Volume 2 Since 1500. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2010.

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Posted by on June 26, 2011 in Class Writing, History


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