Comparing Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

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Comparing Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

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A Heart of Darkness that lies in Africa

Concerning the people and the continent of Africa, both Joseph Conrad and Chinua Achebe write in different perspectives that relate to each other. In both Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, the authors take the readers through a journey into Africa with descriptive events and varying viewpoints. In Heart of Darkness, Africans are regarded as nothing more than inhuman props as Conrad shows Africa through the eyes of a European colonist. As a response, Achebe published Things Fall Apart to counteract the stereotypical views of Africans as functioning human-beings. Therefore, these novels go hand in hand with each other to produce an deeper understanding and display of African and European society.

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Clearly, Heart of Darkness presents European prejudice and the issue of race that Achebe declared Conrad as a “bloody racist” (Watts). Achebe adds: “the image which Conrad projects of African life could hardly be called flattering” from the descriptions of Africans by Conrad (Mongia). Conrad is accused of dehumanizes the natives that Marlow encounters in Africa to “savages,” “shapes,” “creatures,” and “shadows.” Using powerful descriptions and imagery, Conrad continues to degrade natives and compare them to animals. Going through the river, Marlow “sees a dog in a parody of breeches and a feather hat walking on his hind legs” suggesting that these savages are animals merely acting civilized (Conrad). Also, Conrad grants speech to the blacks only for them to be condemned as cannibals saying “Catch ’im … Eat ’im!” However, if Conrad were to be deemed a racist, it would be more for his treatment of whites than blacks. Blacks are associated with energy, vitality, and natural dignity resulting in the cannibals appearing as "dignified," the helmsman "athletic," the African woman as "savage" as well as "superb," "magnificent," and "gorgeous" (Robertson). From these descriptions, blacks manifest life qualities. Although Conrad offers many positive comments on Africans, Achebe chooses to ignore them. According to Conrad, it is the Europeans and White civilization that are deemed hollow, repressive, and deathly. They fail to see their depiction of exploration into Africa damaging to native communities in Things Fall Apart. In addition, Heart of Darkness points out the devastating critique of white progress, white idealism, white materialism, and white exploitation happening during Conrad’s era (Robertson). All in all, Heart of Darkness can be perceived that Western civilization is as barbarous as African society may seems to colonist.

On the other hand, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe tells the tale of an African tribe of Umuofia from the inside detailing the before and after effects of the appearance of the white men. Achebe’s use of colorful imagery and vivid details showcases the African community of Umuofia living in rhythm with nature and order. “All the grass had long been scorched brown, and the sands felt like live coals to the feet” give the reader the simulation of physical contact of both nature and man. We see Achebe's achievement of bringing Africa and new life to the novel through "the young people [running] about happily" and "the earth quickly [coming] to life" (Robertson). Also, Achebe translates the speech of the tribe into simple, grammatical English with Ibo idioms and proverbs. In comparison to Conrad’s Africans that lacked human expression, there is a sharp contrast compared to Achebe’s Africans who have more capabilities than merely expressing themselves through grunts. However, it is not Conrad’s fault that he gave Africans a lack of speech since it would be another fifty years before Africa’s English would have Things Fall Apart been made possible to publish.

In both novels, the authors shows valuable features of civilization. Achebe showed the key features of tribal society including the solidarity, social ritual, cruelties, and injustices (Watts). Conrad showed elements of European civilization being sophisticated and the humane outlook represented by Marlow and its refusal to accept the equilibrium with the environment (Watts). Heart of Darkness is not a comment on Africa but an examination of the West and European civilization. Thus, Conrad presents this perspective of his era on Africa in his book as a way to save it in history. Published in 1899, when imperialism was extreme and the Boer War was approaching, the book reflects the beliefs and attitudes of Conrad’s era. With that in mind, it is not a surprise that the text of Heart of Darkness is shaped with an audience who pushes forth imperialistic values (Mongia). The imperialistic values of back then displays Africa comparable to animals and savages judging the author’s description. That is why, if Achebe accept Conrad’s historical and cultural location, Achebe cannot charge him with racism if his views had been shaped by the moment.

Therefore, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe resemble each other in that both novels display European and African civilization including cultural and social beliefs. Heart of Darkness features the European’s darkness of the human heart, and Things Fall Apart radiates the culture of the African communities. These novels offer perspectives of Africans from a European and African viewpoint. Keeping in mind the fact that there is a large difference between the year Heart of Darkness and Things Fall Apart were published, this signifies the shifting views of society as time progresses.

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