Slavery has been with us since the Egyptian times and with it prejudice towards certain humans have also come about. In Conrad's Heart of Darkness these prejudice feelings are reflected throughout the story by the characters and their descriptions. The main character, Marlow shows much prejudice feelings towards the native black slaves by much of his descriptions and actions towards them. One of the most noticeable prejudice descriptions that Marlow gives to us is in the way in which Marlow describes the Themes River in two different positions. He first describes the river as being a place where many people seek to follow their dreams. In a way, his descriptions are like a great fantasy with great feelings of serenity and full of liveliness.
This description of the river also contained many words of color; this Marlow rarely uses to describe events. The description of the river going upstream was extremely different from the former description. Marlow described it as this 'The air was warm, thick, heavy, and sluggish. There was no joy and brilliance of sunshine. The long stretches of the waterway ran on, deserted, into the gloom of overshadowed distances' (Conrad 2: 16). Upriver was where all the natives lived and this is how it is described, quite the opposite of what he had thought before.
Marlow feels extremely uncomfortable going to this area, he even says that it seems as if the large trees hanging over the river swallow the boat up as they move up. These words give the impression that this area is very uncivilized and even animal like. Marlow constantly feels that something is watching him and he called this watching monkey tricks (Conrad 2: 2). Obviously referring to the natives watching him.
Yet another description that Marlow gives to us that is somewhat different is in the reactions of Kurtz's girlfriends to his departure and death. We first meet Kurtz's native girlfriend. Her descriptions were much of her savage appearances. Marlow refers too much of her jewelry as barbarous ornaments and gifts of witch-men. This he does not know but only assumes so. When he describes her facial expressions, they aren't very human like but more like an animal.
'Her face had a tragic and fierce aspect of wild sorrow and of dumb pain mingled with the fear of some struggling... ' (Conrad 3: 4). It seems as if this native woman is not supposed to have feelings and it is dumb that she is having them. On the other hand, Kurtz's girlfriend in Europe was not considered dumb for having emotions of pain and sorrow. Marlow in fact describes this woman with more respect. Marlow talks about how her hair caught in the light a glimmer of gold (Conrad 3: 16).
Once again color is used here but not in the description of the native woman. Basically, Kurtz's English girlfriend is considered 'normal' and the native girlfriend is just a foreign object trying to be normal but is degraded because of her race. Besides Marlow's descriptions, his actions were prejudice also. What was wrong was not in what he did but what he did not do. He saw all the natives that were slaves being tortured to work in unbearable situations. They were in pain and in poor health, but Marlow doesn't do anything in order to help them.
Yes, Marlow did give the one sick native a bit of bread but what good was that to do; he was almost dying. The prejudice of everyone else in the society during that time prevented Marlow from doing more then he could have. Marlow was extremely passive and would not be the one to rebel against the regular norms of that time. Holding himself back made the prejudice overcome him and he no longer had that feeling of caring which he once did for the one ill native. With all these prejudice descriptions and actions it is clear to see that Marlow was very bitter and unable to accept people for whom they are. These descriptions give the audience a very vivid picture of what the white people of this time period thought of others that were different from them.
Marlow could have been the one to take a step and change the old ways of thought but his passiveness prevented him from this. Then again, how good would the story be if Marlow was an extremist and rebelled against racism. We would not get that view of what the mind of the earlier Englishmen was like. Hopefully people learn about how prejudice times used to be instead of following them.