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Things Fall Apart and Heart of Darkness: A Study of Colonialism

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In ‘Things Fall Apart’ and ‘Heart of Darkness’ discuss the impact on culture of colonialist rule

European nations implemented and spread their forms of government, religion and culture to the countries that they had colonised such as the Igbo tribe in Nigeria and the Fang tribe in Congo. Colonial rule has been the core event in Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’ and Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’. Both authors portray the culture before and after the colonisation and allow the reader to self-perceive whether colonialist rule has impacted the cultures in a positive or negative way.

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Prior to the British colonisation, Achebe in ‘Things Fall Apart’ portrayed the Igbo people as a strong and proud tribe, a tribe which did not accept a man to show “signs of weakness”. The Igbo tribe found entertainment in the sport of wrestling which was endeavoured an elite sport a male could take part in which was seen “throughout the nine villages and even beyond” demonstrating the popularity and importance of the sport. A man’s “personal achievements” would bring him “fame” and “honour” in wrestling so it was deemed that “cowards” such as Unoka, Okonkwo’s father, may not be exemplified as a man. Achebe also presented how the Igbo people followed democratic system which judged each man fairly according to the crime they may or may not have committed. This judicial system was carried out where the whole tribe would come to witness and carried forth by the “six elders” of the clan. Achebe reveals to the reader how the Igbo people have formulated a way of life in which works effectively for them.

The coming of the British slowly began to destroy the traditional cultures that existed within the Igbo society in ‘Things Fall Apart’. The British government would intrude on tribal matters and impose their own ways of solving the problem as they believe fit rather than allowing the Igbo people to settle their own issues, suitable to their customs. The first instance in which the British enforce their penal justice occurs when the six elders are taken for hostages and force the village to pay “two hundred bags of cowries”. This type of so-called justice illustrates the British in a harsh and malevolent light. Firstly, the Commissioner wants to bring in his men “so that they too can hear your grievances and take warning” when in fact the British are being deceitful and captured the six men, it highlights the corruption: there is no justice for the Ibo people. Furthermore, with regards to the deceitful nature presented by the Commissioner, it is evident that the British colonisers are oppressing the Igbo people; therefore it highlights to the reader how their impact on culture can be perceived as negative. The struggle of the protagonist Okonkwo emphasises how the shift in power has affected the culture and Okonkwo himself for he is “choked with hate”. Achebe utilises “choked” effectively here as the anger the colonists have rendered upon Okonkwo is almost suffocating: life threatening. “Choked with hate” also depicts how deeply enraged Okonkwo is and how he is essentially powerless in this situation. The effectiveness of Achebe structuring this so near to the end of novel is that it allows the reader to understand the aftermath of the colonisation, how it has impacted the Igbo culture and how it has rendered the most powerful men of the Igbo tribe powerless. However, Achebe also intended to show the readers what fractures existed within the Igbo culture. Achebe articulates how the protagonist “heard an infant crying in the Evil Forest, where newborn twins are left to die.” The Igbo people fear twins, who are to be abandoned immediately after birth and left to die of exposure. Abandoning new born twins is typically seen as a natural event that existed within the Igbo culture as twins were identified as an “abomination”; however, this rather inhuman act gives an indication to the reader that the forthcoming British colonisers may change these merciless and illogical actions. Although the eradication of new born twins was identified as the social norm in this particular culture, the reader most definitely will believe this act to be a malicious one.

Cultural divide and the imposition of western values which Achebe presents as corrupt are present in ‘Things Fall Apart’ as “the elders of the clan had decided that Ikemefuna should be in Okonkwo’s care for a while”. Ikemefuna has not been given a choice but has been placed under control by a higher power without regards to his own personal welfare and how Ikemefuna himself may feel on the matter: parallel to the British colonisers taking over. Achebe demonstrates how colonial rule has proved beneficial since it has disregarded the sadistic and rather inhumane procedures of the Igbo people such as how they promote cultural violence. For example, Okonkwo despises his father for he was a “coward” and “could not bear the sight of blood”. Within the Igbo culture the male was to prove his manhood through wrestling and gaining “titles” which in due course would bring “fame”. Achebe furthers the idea of the Igbo people promoting cultural violence for “Okonkwo never showed any emotion openly, unless it be the emotion of anger. To show affection was a sign of weakness”. Okonkwo hates his own flesh and blood for he portrays weakness as he doesn’t fight, therefore he is a “coward”. The Igbo people such as the protagonist Okonkwo are so fixated on the idea that anger and violence is the only way in which a man should conduct himself and how “the only thing worth demonstrating was strength” Through Achebe’s writing, it is clear that the vicious nature of the Igbo people, ultimately indicating to the reader that change is necessary and colonialism can promote positive change. This type of violence can be seen in certain practices they have such as ritual sacrifices and punishment for crimes, may that be paying a fine, exile, or even death in certain circumstances.

Nonetheless, although Achebe shows the cultural traditions of the Igbo people to have an abnormal way of dealing with matters; Achebe believes the European views toward Africans are mistaken. According to Diana Akers Rhoads, “the British have superimposed a system which leads to bribery and corruption rather than to progress.” By contrast, the Igbo people have formulated a democratic system which judges each man fairly according to the crime they may or may not have committed. The Igbo’s justice system involves all members of the community. The roles of judges are played by the “egwugwu”, which are citizens from the village who wear masks. The Igbo people discuss how the masks represent the ancestral spirits of the village and as a result, pass judgment upon the accused. Each person who brings a complaint to the “egwugwu” gets a trail in which both sides will plead their case in attempt to prove their innocence, such as prosecutors and defenders in a legal court. After hearing both sides have pleaded their case, the judges will discuss and confer with one another, and then decide the best course of action. Often, if the case requires the person whom committed the crime punishment, it will be a very public one, usually carried out by all members of the village. However, all this changed when the missionaries arrived. The Igbo people become subject to laws and punishment which are none of their own, but merely demonstrate “humiliation and domination”. As a result of the corruption following the British hierarchical system it demonstrates the negatives of colonial rule in this segment and highlights how the British have superimposed and have administrated change in the Igbo people’s form of government which did not require change for it was functioning well prior to the British colonisation.

In comparison to Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’, Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ shows traits of the European colony in Africa for its greed and brutalization of the native people. On the other hand, the native people, their inland and their behaviour is portrayed and described as somewhat peculiar and barbaric. “And this also,’ said Marlow suddenly, ‘has been one of the dark places of the earth.” To proclaim the land to be one of the “dark places of the earth” suggest to the reader that the native’s must possess barbaric qualities in order to maintain living in such a place, it illustrates a dreary, ominous setting. Through an ominous setting, the coming of the colonisers can render change, positive change on this “dark place”, the natives lands current situation could not worsen therefore the colonialism can promote change and through change progression will come. It induces the idea that culture is not stagnant; change is definite, and is necessary for the Fang people if they wish their culture to flourish, rather than remaining motionless and continuing the violent lifestyles they live.

Although Conrad presents the Europeans as forthcoming to bring to change to this “dark place” highlighting to the reader the positive impacts of colonialism, the motifs of horror and pain inflicted on the natives are also exhibited. The terror is accentuated through Kurtz final words “The horror! The horror” In general terms, “The horror” refers to what Kurtz has witnessed which is the exploitation of Africa and the brutalization of the native people. Through Kurtz’s distress, the reader is able to perceive a distorted view on whether the European colonists and the colonial rule in fact are beneficial to the existing culture in the land or if they are simply making situations worse, prior to Mr. Kurtz falling ill, him and his Conrad’s would raid village after village due to his infatuation in obtaining more ivory, up until the point his head “was like a ball—an ivory ball”. Conrad accentuates Kurtz’s distress through the repetition of the phrase “The horror!” in order to exhibit Kurtz’s extreme psychological pain as a result of all the brutalization and evil he has foreseen. Colonization hasn’t been beneficial.

‘Heart of Darkness’ has been widely discussed due to Chinua Achebe referring to Conrad as “a bloody racist” and the novella itself “an offensive and totally deplorable book that de-humanized Africans”. Achebe also expressed Conrad as someone whom, “blinkered… with xenophobia,” which is also imminent in ‘Heart of Darkness’ for Conrad articulates “to look at him was as edifying as seeing a dog in a parody”. The comparison between the dog and the Fang people illustrates a degrading attitude towards the Fang people, it accentuates their “barbaric” nature. Furthermore, Conrad had also incorrectly depicted Africa in opposition to Europe, highlighting the “barbaric” nature of the Fang people perceived in the ‘Heart of Darkness’. Achebe believed that as a result of placing Africa in contrast to Europe, depicting it in such an unwarranted way it creates a disconnection from civilization itself with the people of Africa. Conrad’s articulations of Africa in ‘Heart of Darkness’ ignored the “actual artistic accomplishments of the Fang people who inhabited the Congo River” enunciated by Chinua Achebe. With regards to Achebe’s thoughts on Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ you can argue that the book was written from a biased point of view so the readings in the book onto whether colonial rule impacted the culture of the Fang people are irrelevant. There is simply no way of indicating whether the Fang people were bettered or worsened as a result of colonialism.

Ultimately, I believe although colonial rule has shown beneficial in some aspects such it has stripped the rather callous and ludicrous practices of the people such as how they exalt cultural violence and have been illustrated to live in such “dark places”, the European colonists have taken hostages of the “six men” and brutalized the natives. In addition, the colonisers have intruded in a land which is not theirs and enforced, rules, religion and government upon the natives without their consent even though they had functioned well enough prior the colonisation.

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