Author vs. Character

Achebe believes that the attitudes and opinions of Marlow, which can sometimes be quite harsh and racist, are also the opinions of Conrad even though one could contend that Conrad, rather than endorsing Marlow's attitude, might be holding it up to irony and criticism. He recognizes the many layers between Marlow and Conrad in the "story within a story" motif, but suggests that if he really wanted to separate himself from his character, he would have hinted at "an alternative frame of reference by which we may judge the actions and opinions of his characters." Also, he believes that Conrad is Marlow because of the similarity between their careers.

 Achebe throws that out and expects us to accept it as fact without any substantiation. I believe that Marlow is drawn with a sort of mocking irony which, though quiet, distinguishes Conrad from his character. An example of the humor put into the character is in the description of Marlow as resembling an idol who sits like a European Buddha.

Marlow also claims to be very against telling lies, and yet he does so himself in at least two situations. Sarvan writes, "He condemns the Roman conquest and contrasts it with the "superior" European colonialism:"
  This quotation shows the obvious separation between the author and the character because the rest of the story shows that the conquest of the Europeans was actually worse than the conquest of the Romans, which goes against Marlow's claim above. The Forest of Suffering is an example of the treacherousness of the European conquest, and the bloodthirsty remorselessness that the Europeans show towards the Africans.

 Marlow is further separated from Conrad because of the view of the "glorious sailors" proudly talked about by Marlow who were, in reality, no better than pirates and plunderers.

Back to the Racism page

December 6, 1995
(revised November 1998)