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Essay: ‘An image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness’ by Chinua Achebe

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  • Subject area(s): Literature essays
  • Reading time: 4 minutes
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  • Published: 2 February 2022*
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  • Words: 1,163 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 5 (approx)
  • Tags: Things Fall Apart

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In the essay, “An image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness,” Nigerian born professor Chinua Achebe outlines in the novel a respectable argument critical of certain parts in Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Through the separation and critical over-analysis of certain parts and particular sentences, Achebe obviously and successfully declares his outlook of Conrad as a racist. Nevertheless, Achebe appears predominantly devoted to the theme of African customs, although he can pick from many themes in the novel to concentrate on. Achebe’s work sparked a revolution in literature, he was able to present the world and history as seen through different eyes. He gave voices to those who were beforehand unheard of.

Although Achebe applauses Conrad’s gift in writing he acknowledged Conrad’s representation of colonialism but distinguished too little criticism of fundamental racism, which has been an essential point of debate in his essay. Achebe starts of his essay by criticizing Conrad’s contrast of Africa and Europe. How “Heart of Darkness projects the image of Africa as “the other world” the antithesis of Europe and therefore of civilization” (An Image of Africa, page 338) Achebe problem in not simply with the point that Africa is seen as opposite of Europe, but that it is seen as non-existed. Achebe believes that “It is not the differentness that worries Conrad but the lurking hint of Kinship of common ancestry” (An Image of Africa, page 338) that Conrad is frightened which is why he is seeing Africa as a faint place still filled with the violence that was once captured by Europe

Achebe discoveries mistakes with Conrad for spreading “comforting myths,” claiming that Conrad frolicked into the Western world’s stereotyping of Africa, declaring that Conrad had opinions that degraded Africans. Deeming that Conrad felt that Africans predominantly spent their time participating in ruthless behavior which Conrad viewed as romantic. Conrad would encourage Africans to “to being in their place” (340) What that meant would they would be shouting, singing, “clapping their hands and stopping their feet”. Achebe thinks that Conrad does not appreciate Africans acting in a European manner. Another problem that Achebe’s has with Heart of Darkness is that Africans are seen as unintelligent because Conrad reports that they do not communicate even between themselves. Which makes it seems as if Africans are fundamentally less than Europeans.

Achebe disapproves of the use of narrator Marlow. Marlow is seen as a literary device Achebe believed “Certainty Conrad appears to go to considerable plains to set up layers of insulation between himself and the moral universe of his history” (342) Achebe states that it not a successful effort because

But if Conrad’s intention is to draw a cordon sanitaire between himself and the moral and psychological malaise of his narrator his care seems to me totally wasted because he neglects to hint however subtly or tentatively at an alternative frame of reference by which we may judge the actions and opinions of his characters” (342)

What Achebe means by that is that Conrad had the power to pull back when it came to the structure narration but somehow, he thought it was essential to integrated but Achebe deems that Marlow shouldn’t be viewed as a serious character.

Achebe also speak to momentarily about women. How the Native African women is apparently Kurtz’s mistress while Kurtz has a white fiancée back home. Nonetheless, he does determine something fascinating that “the most significant difference” between the two women is “one is implied in the author’s bestowal of human expression to the one and the withholding of it from the other” (Page 341) Achebe believes that there is a lack of human communication and characteristics which is contributing to the abundant amount of racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe twisted the west’s viewpoint of Africa an observation that until then had been constructed exclusively on the observations of white colonialists, interpretations that were far more different than Achebe’s’ well-known castigating of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Things Fall apart was sort of a response to novels resembling Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, his choice of language in the novel is political. Achebe wanted to accomplish cultural revitalization inside and throughout English.

About Okonkwo, a leader in an Igbo village in Nigeria in the 1890s as he deals with his personal struggles as well as impact of British Colonialism on a traditional African man. In a forthright and suggestive style, Achebe illustrates in a way how a culturally rich and well-governed civilization, Umuofia, is threatened by the appearance of Christian missionaries and British colonists. Which a prevailing topic in Achebe’s novels a connection of African tradition with modernism specifically as personified by the colonialism. Okonkwo is an imperfect conqueror, but his endeavors to antagonize the forces transforming his village address an elongated history of an anti-colonial battle. It destroys the stereotypical European portrayals of Native African.

Achebe’s style of writing appeals profoundly on the verbalized custom of the Igbo people. He intertwines traditional tales into fragments of his stores, informing community standards in both the content and in the form of storytelling. Between “An image of Africa” and “Things Fall Apart” gender roles of men and female in society tends to be a major theme throughout the stories. In Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo’s desperate manhood suppresses everything and anything “feminine”. After murdering his adopted son, he feels horrible, he asked himself “When did you become a shivering old woman” (page 795) he asked himself again

You are known in all nine villages for your velour in war.

How can a man who had killed five men in battle fall to pieces because he has added a boy to their number?

Okonkwo, you have become a woman indeed. (page 795)

Okonkwo interpretations anything that is feminine as disgusting and weak, the remorse is troubling him. Okonkwo rejects all feeling, he believes that feeling guilty for his adopted son is a symbol of limitation and feminineness, two features that are appalling to him.

In this novel, the women tend to be submissive, quiet and nonexistent from positions of authority. However, in the Igbo community there is a need for feminine, in chapter 14 Uchendu and Okonkwo converse about “Nneka” (Mother is supreme).

A man belongs to his fatherland when things are good and life is sweet.

But when there is sorrow or bitterness he finds refuge in his motherland.

Your mother is there to protect you.

She buried there.

And that is why we say your mother is supreme. (page 822)

People go to repent of their sins the priest will offer absolution during your confession. When man has done a wrongdoing, he is banished to his motherland, where he will expect to find not only forgiveness but sympathy. The mother figures are capable of giving their adolescent something the fathers will never be able to and that is unlimited sympathy.

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