Othello and heart of darkness

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19 March 2016

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In both Shakespeare’s Othello, and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, they pertain to racism and jealousy. Racism goes about when someone believes that they’re the superiority of a particular race. It’s treating people differently whether it’s positively or negatively just based on the color of their skin. As for jealousy, it’s more like an insecurity in which you feel or show envy of someone’s achievements and advantages or simply even just the person themself. In Othello, Jealousy is a major theme throughout the play, seen as early as the very beginning of the play and begins to deepen. Racism also plays a role in the play because it was written between 1600 and 1605 which was a time where ethnic minorities were so unimportant they were nearly ignored. A black man rises and obtains a position as a general in Venice, trusted and very much respected by his fellow “white leaders.” In Heart of Darkness, jealousy applies in which the Kurtz’s general manager is jealous and “plots his downfall.” Racism applies when Conrad talks about the way the colonial expansion in Africa led to the spread of Racism.

In the Heart of Darkness, it’s centered on both a sailor, Marlow and his upriver journey to meet Kurtz. Kurtz is reputed to be a man of “great abilities” and also set out to be idealistic. Marlow takes a job in which he is a riverboat captain who happens to be obsessed with Africa in which he later encountered an obsession with Kurtz. When Marlow first heard about Kurtz he’s “not very interested in him” (1.74) yet, after later hearing the story about Kurtz “turning back to the jungle” he suddenly gained interest. It’s as if Kurtz has done what Marlow can only dream of. After meeting Kurtz, Marlow begins to resent him and exclaims that “He’s no idol of mine” (3.6) and it began to seem as if he decide as if Kurtz is actually just “childish” more or less like a helpless, selfish man filled with ignorant hopes and dreams of being rich and powerful. Marlow also compared him to a child by saying he’s “not much heavier than a child” (3.29)

Kurtz on the other hand is a “star agent” of the company and works in true ivory country located deep in Africa; he’s an ambitious man whom has to act like god or a leader of some sort to lead “primitive people” to civilization or “proverbial light.” Due to being a person with such success and advantages, jealousy applies. Kurtz’s manager is a basically mediocre Company Employee which gives him a reason to be envious. He both lives and works at Central Station. He is jealous of Kurtz’s success and speaks irrelevantly and also has a creepy smile described as “seal applied on words to make the meaning of commonest phrase appear absolutely inscrutable” (1.52) In other words, his irrelevant words or meaningless talk ends up seeming profound due to his smile. Because of The Manager’s “machine like” personality it’s a contrast to Kurtz’s idealism; this makes him envy Kurtz more is because of Kurtz popularity with the Company in Europe and feared being usurped.

Racism in Heart of Darkness was used differently because instead it was used by Conrad, the author himself. “The thought of their humanity-like yours…Ugly” (2.4) which shows the racism he had towards “blacks” because when being compared to a black man’s humanity he was plain out disgusted by it. A second example was when he first saw a black man and said, “A certain enormous buck nigger encountered in Haiti fixed my conception of blind, furious, unreasoning rage, as manifested in the human animal to the end of my days. Of the nigger I used to dream for years afterwards” which shows racism simply because the term nigger was used more than once in a discriminating way. A final example pertaining to racism is general, which readers can see how racist the Europeans were towards the blacks not only because they were turned into slaves and how European people seem to think that the Africans aren’t equal to them.

In Shakespeare’s Othello, one of the main focuses is jealousy and how jealousy can destroy lives. Othello is a general in the service of Venice and has a friend that goes by the name of Lago whom is highly ambitious. Othello promotes Michael Cassio to a higher position of being a personal lieutenant causing Lago to be jealous. Lago begins a malicious “campaign” against the “hero”. Othello then elopes with Desdemona, but Lago beings plotting against them both. Othello then becomes both suspicious and jealous of Desdemona & later confides in Lago that he plans to poison Desdemona. Then, plots and murders begin to ensue and Othello remains to the castle to kill his “innocent wife”. After killing her Emilia tells Othello the truth about the Lagos scheme, leading Othello to wounding Lago & killing himself and Lago Later kills Emilia. Throughout Othello the use of jealousy was used throughout the play.

An example of jealousy was used when the position was given to Michael Cassio said by Lago, “One Michael Cassio, a Florentine…In all soldiership but he sir, had the election…” (1.1.2) In other words, Lago is claiming that he hates Othello because Othello passed him, Lago, over a promotion and giving “one Michael Cassio” instead of him, which indicates his jealousy of not getting the promotion. Another quote which relates is when Lago then says that he hates Othello because he’s heard a rumor that Othello has been “hooking up” with Lago’s wife although he said right before that he hates Othello because Othello which shows that he’s being insecure and letting jealously get to him by saying, “The Moor” passed him over for a promotion, “I hate the Moor: and it is thought abroad…He has done my office” (1.3.12) Racism was used often in this book as well due to Othello being black and Lago is already envious of Othello.

After building up the hatred for Othello, Lago discriminated against Othello in which he said, “Every now, now, very now, an old black ram is tupping your white ewe…” (1.1.9) meaning that his daughter, Desdemona eloped with Othello calling him the black ram because he’s black and saying that he is sleeping (tupping) with his daughter. Another quote where racism was used in Othello was another quote using animal imagery to talk about black people “grounded” in the idea that both black men and woman are inhuman, he said, “…I am one sir, that comes to tell you your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs, you’ll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse” (1.1.7) also once again stating that Othello and Desdemona are sleeping together. A final quote said by Lago again was, “She in spite of nature… To fall in love with what she feared to look on!” implying that Desdemona’s love for Othello is unnatural and she would never fall for a black man.

In conclusion, both Othello and Heart of Darkness pertain to Racism and Jealousy which applies in their own way. In Heart of Darkness The Manager was jealous of Kurtz for Kurtz’s success and popularity, meanwhile in Othello, Lago was jealous of the fact that he didn’t get a promotion. Jealousy can basically destroy lives. As for Racism, there’s no point in it. In Othello, it was different from the way jealousy was applied in Heart of Darkness because the author in Heart of Darkness stated things in a racist manner; whereas when racism took place in Othello, it was used by the characters or “actors” of the play rather than it being said by the author. Yet, both plays used animal imagery when speaking about racism.


Conrad, Joseph, and Joseph Conrad. Heart of Darkness. Richmond: Oneworld Classics, 2009. Print.

Shakespeare, William. Othello. London: Folio Society, 1955. Print.

Website Title: – Wikiquote
Article Title: Othello
Date Accessed: March 07, 2014

Website Title: Shmoop.com
Article Title: Heart of Darkness Theme Quotes
Publisher: Shmoop University, Inc.
Electronically Published: November 11, 2008
Date Accessed: March 07, 2014
Author: Shmoop Editorial Team

Website Title: by Joseph Conrad
Article Title: Heart of Darkness and the Congo Diary Quotes Date Accessed: March 07, 2014

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"Othello and heart of darkness" StudyScroll, 19-Mar-2016. [Online]. Available: https://studyscroll.com/othello-and-heart-of-darkness-essay. [Accessed: 29-Sep-2023]

StudyScroll. (2016). Othello and heart of darkness. [Online]. Available at: https://studyscroll.com/othello-and-heart-of-darkness-essay [Accessed: 29-Sep-2023]

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