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
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.
"Mind," he began again, lifting one arm from the elbow,
the palm of the hand outwards, so that, with his legs folded before him,
he had the pose of a Buddha preaching in European clothes and without a
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:"
"What saves us is efficiency -- the devotion to efficiency.
But these chaps were not much account really. They were no colonists, their
administration was merely a squeeze. . . . They were conquerors, and for
that you only want brute force -- nothing to boast of, when you have it,
since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others.
They grabbed what they could. . . . It was just robbery with violence,
aggravated murder on a great scale. . . . The conquest of the earth, which
mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion
or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you
look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the
back of it, not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief
in the idea. . . ."
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
from "Heart of Darkness"
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)