So I'm re-reading Heart of Darkness right now, keeping in mind allegations from peers that the story's description of native Africans is racist. What I find most striking, and also perhaps very controversial, is how Conrad describes the natives as "prehistoric" - that is the very word he uses. This is a stronger and more poignant description than "uncivilized" or "primitive" - while it implies the other notions, it is also distinctly romantic. For no race or people is prehistoric, but Conrad is abstracting the natives into something more strange and frightening than the popular conception of them at the time as brutes. They are not just different; they are completely alien: walking ghosts from the irretrievable origins of humanity. One can see how this concept is romantic in its abstraction and frightening in its vision. At the same time, it is completely wrong; Africans had not been unaffected by the ages as Conrad asserts - they have their own culture, their own inheritance. It is wrong but it is romantic, and it adds a fantastic feel to the story. It is also not Conrad's conception, but Marlow's.
Do you think this conception of the natives as "prehistoric", incorrect but poignant, is at all offensive or racist? It adds to the story, and the story would not be the same without it. It would not have that fantastic feel. If you do find it to be offensive and racist, would you ascribe it to Marlow or Conrad? It seems to me that, in order to assert the book racist, it would have to be Conrad's prejudice as well as Marlow's.