Within”Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe and “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad,the authors provide a lens into the different perceptions of Africa withinliterature. Within “Heart of Darkness”, Joseph Conrad highlights theperspective of the Caucasian colonialist, who are prone to the representationof African natives as Neanderthals and to a greater extent, primitive. ChinuaAchebe’s “Things Fall Apart” can therefore be perceived as a direct response tothis somewhat ill-informed notion, setting out to reduce the informationasymmetry into their portrayal by providing the unheard account from theAfrican perspective. This essay will provide key insight into themes thatpermeate throughout the two novels to provide a comprehensive conclusion of theeffects of colonialism within the African 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 and societies in which they reside.
However,the main protagonist Okonkwo does manage to override this portrayal, conformingto the perceived ignorance of the African natives, and stereotypes associatedwith the African community. The arrival of the colonial people within the Igbocommunity brought with them their own system of governing, religion and socialprinciples. The arrival of Reverend Smith marks the desire of the colonists toimpose their own religious belief system upon the natives. The Igbo communityare by distinction polytheistic: they worship various different Gods, eachintertwined with different aspects of nature. These religious customs arefollowed diligently and without fail, with particular emphasis provided to theancestral spirits egwugwu, with an encounter with them causing uproar as seenwhen “the women and children sent up a great shout and took to their heels.
Itwas instinctive.” This displays their distinctive belief in these Gods and howsignificant their tales within the community have become to their dailyendeavours. However, the colonialists are quick to dispel this notion, openlypro claiming that “Your Gods are not alive and cannot do you any harm. They arepieces of wood and stone”. The use of the word “pieces” signifies the trivialnature with which the Igbo religion was regarded by the colonists. Yet, theattitude towards the Igbo religion would be rendered immaterial had this notbeen acted upon, as many cultures evidently have different belief systems, dueto their varying levels of education and exposure to different religious concepts.Okonkwo’s community only become victim to the colonial conformities once uponcolonialist influence, their religious figures began to be defiled.
Enoch’s removal of the egwugwu mask signalledthe adverse effects that colonialist radicalisation was beginning to have onthe community, as within a short time span of having been exposed to theEuropean religion he was quick to discard the beliefs of his own culture.Although it is apparent that colonialism has begun to slowly erode the culturewithin 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 limited awareness of the tribe with regards to its placein space and its location in the world.
This can be viewed as synonymous withthe 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 prestige adopted by the recurringrituals which are encountered within the culture, coupled by the sporadicportrayal of the numerous characteristics within the collective nature of itsimagination, it is ensured through all this that time is experienced not as a continuallyfluctuating medium: lived intensely and cyclically, in the mode of duration.This relevance of time acts as a motif throughout the novel, creating andmoulding the potential worldview through the process and principle of ceaselesslife, ascending beyond the confines of time and space, more so evident as itpermeates the presumed eternal presence of the ancestors.
This shows that thedomain of the egwugwu was situated between the pane of life and death, existingin a perceived purgatory that allowed them to frequently travel to the realm oflife. This principle of an easy transfer into the land of the living wascapitalised upon, typically adopted with more vehemence upon the death of oneof the elders, as the older men were believed to have a stronger alignment withthe spirit of the ancestors due to the emphasis provided on age in relation totheir 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.