Hypocrisy Of Victorians Essay, Research Paper
Patrick Brantlinger s essay, Victorians and Africans: The Genealogy of the Myth of the Dark Continent, presents a basis for the development of the theory of the Dark Continent . Joseph Conrad suggests the universality of darkness, or savageness , within every individual, whether he is black or white. The Europeans, in an effort to disprove Conrad, attempt to project their own savage impulses onto Africans (Brantlinger 194). They saw themselves as superior to Africans in every way, and refused to accept the darkness that Conrad proposed, resulting in the emergence of the Myth of the Dark Continent. H. Rider Haggard s novel, King Solomon s Mines, supports this idea of the projection of darkness onto to Africans.
The term dark can be interpreted in many different ways as the word can imply several meanings. Dark, often times synonymous with evil, reflects the way in which Europeans perceive the Africans. The British tended to see Africa as a center of evil, a part of the world possessed by a demonic darkness or barbarism (Brantlinger 175). The rituals that African tribes commonly practiced, such as human sacrifices and cannibalism, were unheard of in the European world. The mystery that lies behind the daily lives of the natives contribute greatly to the darkness. All of this represents the inferiority of the Africans. Haggard s novel has many instances that support this idea. Throughout his book, the white travelers are respectfully called, white men from the
stars. Allan Quartermain, the narrator, commenting on the death of Foulata, which signified the end of the relationship of Captain John Good, a British man, and Foulata,, the black woman, by saying:
I am bound to say that, looking at the thing from the point of view of an oldish man of the world, I consider her removal was a fortunate occurrence, since, otherwise, complications would have been sure to ensue. The poor creature was no ordinary native girl, but a person of great, I had almost said stately, beauty, and of considerable refinement of mind. But no amount of beauty or refinement could have made an entanglement between Good and herself a desirable occurrence; for, as she herself put it, Can the sun mate with the darkness, or the white with the black? (Rider 300)
Haggard here wants to make an obvious point about the place of white people and that of black people. He further proves this point through Ignosi s farewell speech to the British travelers. I do perceive that thy words are, now as ever, wise and full of reason, Macumazahn; that which flies in the air loves not to run along the ground; the white man loves not to live on the level of the black (Rider 306). Apparently Ignosi also realizes the inferior nature of Africans. It is clear that Europeans of the time harbored unjust feelings toward the primitive Africans, and felt that they reigned superior over them. The Europeans had so little respect for them that Darwin stated in his Descent of Man that he would rather be related to a baboon than to a savage who delights to torture his enemies, offers up bloody sacrifices without remorse, treats his wives like slaves, knows no decency, and is haunted by the grossest superstitions (Brantlinger 187).
The literature of that time reflected how Europeans saw Africa. Many authors of that time wrote non-fictional quest romances in which the hero journey through
enchanted or bedeviled lands (unknown lands such as Africa). Whether he goes in search of treasure or simply to accomplish some goal, he must adventure against darkness. Africans were usually portrayed as an amusing or dangerous obstacle or as an object of curiosity (Brantlinger 176).
Despite their low expectations for Africans, nineteenth century Victorians still believed that the uncivilized nature of Africa demanded imperialism from the Europeans on all levels; moral, religious, and scientific. To the Victorians, there was only one civilization, one path of progress, one true religion, and they had a sense of duty to correct, or bring light to, the rest of the world (Brantlinger 165). The fact that they were dominant over the working class in England and over peoples of inferior races overseas authorized them to influence others. Victorians, who saw themselves as a higher moral power, pushed the idea that, as the bearer of light, only through their intervention will others, namely Africans, live a better, more civilized, and more progressive life. Livingstone believed that an African was a creature that needed to be pitied and be saved from his own darkness and his savagery (Brantlinger 178). May Crawford, who spent part of her life in Kenya as a missionary, states in her autobiography, By the Equator s Snowy Peak, loving darkness rather than light, [the natives] resent all that makes for progress (Brantlinger 179). The Victorians are so blinded by their own arrogance that they are not conscious of the fact that the Africans do not appreciate their presence. What the Victorians do not realize is that their own primitive being can just as easily be brought out, degenerating them to the level of the Africans, given the right circumstances.
Brantlinger mentions Joseph Conrad s novel, Heart of Darkness, several times in his essay. Conrad suggests many themes relating to the topic at hand in his book. Europeans are so apprehensive about becoming tropenkollered that they actually become more susceptible to going native. Just as the social class fantasies of the Victorians (Oliver Twist, for example) often express the fear of falling into the abyss of poverty, so the myth of the Dark Continent contains the submerged fear of falling out of the light, down the long coal chute of social and moral regression (Brantlinger 194). When a European enters Africa, he is trying to accomplish two things at once, which can prove to be very dangerous. He tries to identify with his inner self in his search for some lost paradise, and at the same time wants to correct the errors of the savages (Brantlinger 194). The result is a man like Kurtz (Heart of Darkness). Originally sent down to the Congo to spread the ideals of European civilization, he instead falls into the abyss of his own darkness and finds himself adopting the customs, eating the food, learning the language, etc. Africa is the location of hell on earth. But at the center of that hell is Kurtz, the would-be civilizer, the embodiment of Europe s highest and noblest values, radiating darkness (Brantlinger 193). Even Quartermain, Curtis, and Good find themselves desperate for food, and being forced to eat raw meat. Given the circumstances, Good actually praises the food by saying that he has never tasted anything so good as that raw meat. Lord of the Flies is another example of a work that incorporates this theme. The kids, when stranded on the island, forget all rational thinking, and revert to their natural, primitive being. The irony behind all this is that when one gets past all the apprehension and penetrates the heart of darkness, he will
find exactly what he expects, human sacrifices, cannibalism, and other such crude practices, but along with all this uncivilized activity, he will find an unexpected mirrored white face staring back, showing that, at the most basic level, everyone is on the same rank (Brantlinger 194).
Ultimately, in the most primitive, natural state, white people are no better than black people, nor the other way around. Everyone has the same savageness that he is born with, regardless of how hard he tries to escape it. Nineteenth century Europeans, in their efforts to project their own darkness onto the Africans, unintentionally created the Myth of the Dark Continent. They discovered that the Dark Continent was simply a mirror, on one level reflecting what the Victorians wanted to see heroic and saintly self-images but on another, casting ghostly shadows of guilt and regression (Brantlinger 198).