Within”Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe and “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad,the authors provide the various distinctions of Africans within literature. Within”Heart of Darkness”, Joseph Conrad magnifies the perspective of whitecolonisers, who are prone to the representation of African natives as Neanderthalsand more profoundly, primitive.
Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” providesthe vastly untold account from the other side, setting out to reduce theinformation asymmetry into the biased portrayal of the native community, byproviding the unheard account from the African perspective. This essay willprovide key insight into themes that permeate throughout the two novels toprovide a comprehensive conclusion of the effects of colonialism within theAfrican communities. As aresponse to the stereotypical depiction of African communities by Europeanauthors Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” provides a significantly polarisedaccount, displaying the intricacy of their infrastructure and societies inwhich they reside. The arrival of the colonial people within the Igbo communitybrought with them their own system of governing, religion and social principles.Through the visage of Reverend Smith, we’re presented with the desire of thecolonists to impose their own religious belief system upon the natives. TheIgbo community are by distinction polytheistic: they worship various differentGods, each intertwined with different aspects of nature.
These religiouscustoms are followed diligently and without fail, with particular emphasisprovided to the ancestral spirits egwugwu, with an encounter with them causinguproar as seen when “the women and children sent up a great shout and took totheir heels. It was instinctive.” This displays their distinctive belief inthese Gods and how significant their tales within the community have become totheir daily endeavours. However, the colonialists are quick to dispel thisnotion, openly pro claiming that “Your Gods are not alive and cannot do you anyharm. They are pieces of wood and stone”.
The use of the word “pieces”signifies the trivial nature with which the Igbo religion was regarded by thecolonists. Yet, the attitude towards the Igbo religion would be renderedimmaterial had this not been acted upon, as many cultures evidently havedifferent belief systems, due to their varying levels of education and exposureto different religious concepts. Okonkwo’s community only become victim to the colonialconformities once upon colonialist influence, their religious figures began tobe defiled. Enoch’s removal of theegwugwu mask signalled the adverse effects that colonialist radicalisation wasbeginning to have on the community, as within a short time span of having beenexposed to the European religion he was quick to discard the beliefs of his ownculture. Although it is apparent that colonialism has begun to slowly erode theculture within the Igbo community, thus foreshadowing how their community willeventually “fall apart,” the challenging of religious practice and idolisationis far less devastating than the wholly different role adopted by the colonistswithin “Heart of Darkness.” Religious practice is almost entirely absent due tothe descent into madness, incentivised by the incessant desire to harvest theabundance of natural resources available.
This desire, brought by the presenceof the colonists, with Kurtz being of significant influence has resulted in thesubdued and controlled nature of the native Congo people. This highlights themalleable nature of the African communities within both “Heart of Darkness” and”Things Fall Apart” to the pressures of colonialist rule, as regardless of theinitial opposition posed by both communities to the amendment of their culture,they are inevitably just victim to the expansionist desires of the Europeannations. Okonkwo was highly revered among the nine villages,and word of him even spread beyond the confines of the villages. The indeterminatenature that Achebe uses to indicate the frame of Okonkwo’s outer limits can beseen as a reflection of the limits in the awareness of the tribe with regardsto its place in space and its location in the world.
This can be viewed assynonymous with the somewhat vague definition adopted for the tribe’s name, Umuofia,or “people of the forest.” This name in many ways acts as a doubleentendre in relation to the locale of the novel, firmly situation theircommunity within the adherence of the natural world. The constrained dimensionin which the tribe’s sphere resides has a large influence on their sphere ofexistence, which Achebe can be viewed as doing to enrich the focus of thenarrative writing on a community whose intimacy within the world at firstappear a source of strength, illuminating the relatively intense nature of thesociality experienced within the African community that bolsters a perceptionof attained equilibrium within the structure of the native community. However, discrepanciesbetween the colonial and native attitude and landscape can also be highlightedin the significance of differences in traditional practises within the twotexts. To a certain extent thetribe can, to a certain extent, be seen as victims to the dreary mundane natureof the daily tasks they undertake.
The relevance of time acts as a motifthroughout the novel, creating and moulding the potential worldview through theprocess and principle of ceaseless life, ascending beyond the confines of timeand space, more so evident as it permeates the presumed eternal presence of theancestors. This shows that the domain of the egwugwu was situated between thepane of life and death, existing in a perceived purgatory that allowed them tofrequently travel to the realm of life. This principle of an easy transfer intothe land of the living was capitalised upon, typically adopted with morevehemence upon the death of one of the elders, as the older men were believedto have a stronger alignment with the spirit of the ancestors due to theemphasis provided on age in relation to their spiritual ascendance. One of the focal pointsthat can be observed Achebe’s criticism is the identification of Conrad’sbelief that there is a direct correlation between maintaining strict principlesand order to the potential ability for tragedy to occur upon the arrival ofEuropean travellers into the “Heart of Darkness.
” This is shown by the colonists’acceptance of cannibalism within the native community, upon the premise theywill not overstep the imposed boundaries. The natives within the novel can beidentified with the description “savages with wild eyes” using a vastlyundeveloped language, consisting predominantly of strategic grunting and shortphrases, surfacing in the form of violent babbles. The African culture can beseen as victim their false portrayal upon the discovery of European settlers,who want to emphasise and inflate their apparent role in African nations tobring them into “civilisation” and the significance of their industrialisationon African nations. Africa is portrayed as somewhat of an “other world,” withthe presence of appearing in ways to somewhat constrain the intelligence andrefinement of Europe. In the occasional referral to the African natives as ‘specimen’,Marlow comments on how one African is an improved specimen due to his abilityto fire up a vertical boiler. This point is then further expanded upon in the explorationof the meaning upheld in the two rivers in the “Heart of Darkness”.
Travellingup the Congo River is perceived as retracing and going back in time also beingseen as the “earliest nine beginnings of the world” and how the Rives Thames hadalso once been a dark place, but upon change became light and peaceful. Therepresentation of Africa appears to be that of a prehistoric earth with theexistence of a lack of civilisation particularly evident within the men, asthey sometimes appear to be going about in a “black and incomprehensiblefrenzy”. The Africans are then further developed by being shown as “leaping andhowling” although they are subsequently described as not inhuman, giving riseto the belief that they do maintain an element, or part essence, of a civilisedpeople. This may be identified as the point in which Marlow realizes that thesetribesmen are in fact identical to him within their human nature, although hestill maintains the notion that they are brute savages. He later goes on toprovide imagery of their faces, displaying them through saying they are like “grotesquemasks”, and maintain strong muscles, energy and a “wild vitality”. Achebe’s writing of”Things fall apart” can be seen as his belief as an opportunity to showcase theintelligence of the native African people within their respective communitiesand he aimed to covey that they did have a peaceful and highly structuredexistence before the arrival of colonialists. In one of his separate writingshe highlights the context of the writing of “Things Fall Apart” stating, “I’m an Ibo writer, because this is my basic culture;Nigerian, Africa and writer…no, black first, then a writer.
I must see what itis to be black and this means being sufficiently intelligent to know how theworld is moving and how the black people fare in the world. This is what it meansto be black. Or an African, the same.” Identity is clearly highlighted here asof significant importance in the writing of this novel. As we know it, thecontemporary nature of African culture has been highly influenced by Europeanculture and society. Achebe aims to go beyond this typical, and wholly limitedviewpoint and display the strong African identity.
However, what cannot beoverlooked is the fact that as equally as he is influenced by the politicaloccurrences pervading at the time, Conrad also conforms to the typical socialnorms and viewpoints of his time. The involvementof European influence within African nations came purely due to a desire forexpansionism and the right to claim homage to the development of untouched andunbothered regions within the world. The ‘Bond of 1844’ can be marked as theintroduction of Britain’s significant involvement in West Africa. The Bond of1844 provided Britain with the legal rights to trade in Ghana previouslyreveres as the “Gold Coast”. The discovery of precious minerals and valuableresources such as copper, cobalt and gold led creation and development of tradelinks between Ghana and Europe. This was mutually beneficial in the beginning,with Europeans improving infrastructure, education and healthcare in exchangefor these much valued resources.
However, it was these trading links thatprovided the platform for retain to increase their political significance dueto increased interdependence, which ultimately resulted in Britain eventuallytaking control. This was followed by other European countries such as Germanyand France who had gained significant footholds within other African nations.Their significant power within these African countries gave rise to theexploitation and enslavement of natives, forced to conform to ideologies theywere unfamiliar with and an implementation of a religion that challenged theirtraditional customs. However, a substantial hindrance to their ability toharvest the minerals they sought came in the form of the Gold Coast’sdeclaration of independence in 1957. This caused a deliberation among theEuropean nation to the way in which they should divvy the remaining nationsamong themselves.
The independence of the Gold Coast may also have acted acatalyst for the decolonisation of Africa, as it indicated they were no longerwilling to suffer under oppressive rule. This example was supported by otherAfrican nations such as Tanzania and Togoland who sought, and eventuallyobtained their independence. Unfortunately, the situation did not go so wellfor all the countries, and one example of this is Nigeria, Chinua Achebe’s homecountry.