Lost (and Returned) in Africa : a Juxtaposition of Joseph Conrad’s Mr Kurtz and Caryl Phillips’ Nash Williams
The aim of this essay is to investigate the attitudes and assumptions made about Africa in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Caryl Phillips’ Crossing the River from a postcolonialist perspective. In this context, the main two characters Mr Kurtz and Nash Williams are given specific critical attention. On the surface, these characters share similar destinies, but when examining them more closely it becomes apparent that they do not. The critical model used is taken from Edward Said’s notion of the binary division between the East and the West. Thematically, both novels address the issue of the ‘other’, the unknown qualities of other races and other cultures, the Western world’s construct of what separates us from them. The analysis shows that Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is a scathing late nineteenth-century critical account of the imperialist forces behind Europe’s colonization of Africa, but does not succeed in depicting the Africans as a people worthy of respect. Phillip’s Crossing the River, on the other hand, clearly avoids stereotypes. Instead, it is an account of how humans, regardless of race or sex, have hurt each other through the slave trade. Furthermore, the juxtaposition of Mr Kurtz and Nash Williams shows that while Mr Kurtz loses himself in Africa, engrossed in the hunger for money and power, Nash Williams actually finds his identity when he is freed of the metaphorical shackles put on him by the white man.
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