“It was unearthly, and the men were—No, they were not inhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst of it—the suspicion of their not being inhuman. It would come slowly to one. They howled and leaped, and spun, and made horrid faces; but what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity—like yours—the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. Ugly. Yes, it was ugly enough; but if you were man enough you would admit to yourself that there was in you just the faintest trace of a response to the terrible frankness of that noise, a dim suspicion of there being a meaning in it which you—you so remote from the night of first ages—could comprehend. And why not?”
Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella The Heart of Darkness is a difficult book, both employing the tropes of colonialism and racism while also seeming to criticize the colonial enterprise in passages such as the one above. In this episode, we explore the ambiguity present in this work, inspired by the author’s own trip up the Congo in 1890, and the human rights actions that followed its publication.