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Why exactly are the Europeans described as pilgrims so many times and the Africans as savages in Heart of Darkness?

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2009-03-13 15:39:31
2009-03-13 15:39:31

a) Well, one reason is that it was a common European perception at the time. Much like the "pioneers" or "settlers" who first came to America... they fought "savages" as well. We as a human population tend to dehumanize anyone we want to conquer or abuse, so that we can justify the actions somehow. It is okay to take someone's land and way of life if they are uncivilized and more like animals that humans... that's the idea. Also, the author wants to say something about this clash between races and civilizations... he wants us to feel a certain way about the characters that we encounter. Depending on how the labels are applied and how he writes his characters, we learn to love or hate the characters, and place blame for the events that happen in the book. The author guides our perceptions by the language he chooses. It doesn't mean that the author thinks of Europeans as pilgrims and the Africans as savages, but that he wants us to think about those interactions and those labels, and consider that bias as we decide what we think about the characters.

b) 'Pilgrim', as used by the narrator to describe the passengers, is an expression of contempt. He wishes to contrast the modern sightseer or tourist, who travels to satisfy their curiosity in reasonable comfort, with the pilgrim of the medieval period who travelled, sometimes barefoot, in the spirit of religious conviction. By lumping his fellow Europeans indistinguishably together, the narrator invites the reader into his own sense of isolation. 'Savages' is a generic term that a man such as the sea captain might be expected to use at this period to describe the native peoples he encountered on his travels, particularly when in conversation with men of similar background. 'Savage', literally 'forest dweller', was applied by Europeans to people whose appearance did not at all correspond to their own. The narrator uses the normal language of his period, thereby highlighting the contrasting abnormality of the situation he faces.

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