NARRATING RACISM: A COMPARATIVE STUDY OF JOSEPH CONRAD’S HEART OF DARKNESS AND CHIMAMANDA ADICHIE’S AMERICANAH

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ABSTRACT

Really, racism against the Black man has had a long history, although it ranks unarguably amongst the most unspeakable crimes in human history. The scourge has been deftly engraved on a discriminatory pyramid of ‘humanity’ raised by the West. Following this pyramid, being Black automatically marks one out for victimisation, and makes the victim ineligible to lay any claim whatsoever to the ‘human’ race; being Black qualifies one to suffer the slurs, injuries – physical, psychological, emotional, social, etc. - and indignities of racial discriminations.

Expectedly, racism has resonated with literary scholarship over the last century or even more. Right now, it can hardly be disputed that from not being given sufficient attention, racism and other race-related concerns have become, in literary scholarship, some of the dominant subjects upon which serious thought is expended; these issues have achieved paramountcy in contemporary scholarly discourse: one claim’s balance merely becomes a counterclaim’s disequilibrium. And following the very recent publication of Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah (a narrative which, in its quest to explore racism and its variegated manifestations, flies readers across three continents of the world: from Africa to Europe through America), a discerning mind can only but see that the dust racism raised has yet to completely settle; and that, consequently, the exploitative forms of oppressions willed into existence by the differing manifestations of racism are still very much here with us.

Already, in Decolonising Methodologies, Linda Smith has observed that research in the academia is “a site of struggle between the interests and ways of knowing of the West and the interests and ways of resisting of the Other” (2). Thus, looked at from a certain point of view, academic research in contemporary times can be described as nothing short of “fierce” encounters between the West and the Other, between the Orient and the Occident.

However, this research is not merely what Walter Rodney graphically identifies in How Europe Underdeveloped Africa as “a work about European oppressors and African victims” (xii); it is also not a documentation of guilts or accusations; rather, it is a careful examination

of evidence as made manifest in selected literary texts. It highlights issues of racism as represented in the literary works of varying racial and cultural perspectives, but more pointedly in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah. Throughout, it considers both the obvious and subtle ways through which racism has continued to indiscernibly define and prefigure nearly all facets of Euro-America’s engagements with the Black man, and particularly, how racism shields the narrative voice in Heart of Darkness from relating a fair account of being of the natives in the text. As the work progresses, one witnesses a clear evidence to assert that stereotypical beliefs about the Black man still holds sway in the West of today; and that there seems to be deliberate effort at ensuring that these stereotypes unquestionably aspire to - and achieve - the status of truth and social

acceptability. Anchored on the stipulations of post-colonial literary theory, this work therefore provides textual evidence with which to challenge the often unstated assumptions – both lay and academic – that racism is either being overhyped these days or has been completely eradicated.

Aside from arguing that Joseph Conrad’s narrative tells vigilant readers more about the West than it actually does about Africa, it questions the “neutrality” of the narrative voice in Heart of Darkness. And, consequently, calls for interpretive restructuring in the minds of the readers of the text.
As a reality check of some sort on racism, the work targets primarily at furthering ongoing debates on the discourse on racism; and this is borne out of a conviction that discussions on the subject ought not be a one -off task that is signed on and off at irregular intervals. Thus, this work is aimed at shedding new light on the complex and increasingly imperceptible ways of manifestation of racism as represented in these primary texts; in the end, though, it morphs into a rallying “cry” for all to, more than ever before, re-ignite interest in racism as a contemporary challenge which ought to relate conspicuously with Africa’s contemporary scholarship priorities.


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Title Page
Abstract
Table of Contents

Chapter One: Introduction
1.1       Racism: An Introductory Overview
1.2       The Doctrine of Racism: Towards a Balance in Definition
1.3       Racism and Colonialism
1.4       Racism as an Undefeated Challenge
1.5       Racism in the Twenty-First Century
1.6       Why the Menace Persists: Towards a Holistic Understanding of Racism
1.7       Racism in this Research
1.8       Research Problem

Chapter Two: Literature Review
2.1       A Brief Account of Racism in Literature
2.2       Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and the Question of Racism
2.3       Racism: Critiquing Chinua Achebe’s Conrad
2.4       Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah in the Battle against Racism

Chapter Three: Theoretical Framework and Research Methodology
3.1       Theoretical Framework: Post-Colonial Literary Theory
3.2       Issues in Post-Coloniality
3.3       Research Methodology

Chapter Four: Portraits of Blackness: Reading Racism in Heart of Darkness and Americanah
4.1       Introduction
4.2       Titles and Literary Narratives
4.3       Narration and Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness
4.4       Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah and the Colour Question
4.5       Hair as Metaphor of Racism in Americanah
4.6       Resistance versus Racism: Dialogue between Americanah and Heart of Darkness

Chapter Five: Literary Evaluation and Conclusions
5.1       Literary Evaluation
5.2       Conclusions
            Works Cited

CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION

1.1        Racism: An Introductory Overview


Unarguably, racism as a subject of inquiry has dominated – and continues to dominate – discussions in the academia, and even beyond. At a cursory glance, and especially following the depth of research and effort channelled towards its elimination, one may be tempted to hurriedly dismiss its continued existence in this era of globalization and submit that racism has been thoroughly thrashed, convinced that it no longer retains any status of validity as a subject upon which scholars and researchers should exercise thought. In this regard, therefore, it is not unusual to hear some express sentiments to the effect that racism as a challenge to humanity has been defeated. For instance, in Chimamanda Adichie’s latest literary output, Americanah, one of the characters, distinctively described as “a dreadlocked white man” (4) is very uncomfortable with racism as a subject even for a casual conversation, and he swiftly avers that racism “is totally overhyped these days, black people need to get over themselves, it’s all about class now, the haves and the have-nots” (4).


At any rate, this “dreadlocked white man” is merely one out of the many who currently hawk this opinion. In fact, just a few lines later, another character, “the man from Ohio” (4), also defensively argues that the “only race that matters [now] is the human race” (4). Clearly, the claims and counter-claims as to whether the scourge of racism has been eradicated or not continues to generate and dominate arguments. But disagreements and debates are integral parts of the academia; and literature, by its very nature, has never been a quiet enterprise; it has appropriately shown itself to be a “noisy” adventure, and, in the view of this research, the noisier, the better. Thus, it is not odd that literary texts continue to generate endless controversies, and tempers flare so high over discourse formatives in works of literary art.

1.2        The Doctrine of Racism: Towards a Balance in Definition

Like very many concepts, opinions on racism have always been polarised. It has been defined as practices, views and actions that reflect the belief that humanity is divided into distinct biological groups called “races,” and that members of a chosen race share attributes which make the group less desirable, more desirable, inferior or superior. In other words, racism is built on the belief that all members of one racial group have superior traits and abilities specific to the group. It permits ranking of races based on superiority. In fact, supremacist ideology is the bedrock of racism.

Thus, in his Race, Science and Politics, Benedict Rose submits that racism is “the dogma that one ethnic group is condemned by nature to hereditary inferiority and another group is destined to hereditary superiority” (52-53). Noticeable in Benedict’s submission here is an inextricable link between racism and “nature” as an unquestionable justification for the superiority of one race, on the one hand, and inferiority of another race, on the other hand. Consequently, perpetrators of racism have basked in the euphoria that they are mentally, culturally, biologically and even physically superior to members of other races. In this regard, therefore, the views of Johnson H.H. is worthy of being reproduced here, for it lends credence to the point being highlighted. Again, as a White man, Johnson’s view below represents, to a very large extent, the West’s perception of Africa and its occupants. He writes in his A History of Colonization of Africa by Alien Races that the:
Negro in general is born a slave. He is possessed of great physical strength, docility, cheerfulness of disposition, a short memory for sorrow and cruelties...Above all, he can toil hard under the hot sun and in unhealthy climates of the torrid zone. He has little or no race-fellowship, that is to say, he has no sympathy for other negroes (146).....

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