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Europe Versus Africa in Heart of Darkness Essay


A Part from Africa

Joseph Conrads Heart of Darkness illustrates Marlows realization of the whole universe beat in the darkness (90). However, the dichotomy Conrad exposes between Europe and Africa outweighs the similarity. Chinua Achebe comments on the difference by writing Things Fall Apart. Achebe illustrates the complexity of one African man and this character challenges Conrads stereotypical view of Africans in Heart of Darkness. Heart of Darkness fails to display the complexity of Africans. Achebe utilizes the characters in Things Fall Apart by showing complexity. In addition, the difference of cultures and languages between tribes reveals more examples of individualism, which Conrad fails to demonstrate. Achebes Things Fall Apart counters Conrads primitive view of Africa through the Ibo tribes social complexity and diverse culture.

Achebes development of characters is one of his arguments against Conrad. He reveals different personalities of characters thus layering the Ibo tribe with different roles in their society. Achebe also shows that there is a hierarchy in the tribe. Even the women have roles in the Ibo tribe; they are the links to the past and future: It was Ekwefis turn to tell a story (Achebe 1065). Okonkwo, the protagonist, is contrasted with his father. Okonkwo promises to himself that he would not be like his father, someone who is susceptible to failure, Unoka, the grown-up failure (Achebe 1024). Okonkwo does not want to present any sign of failing, unlike his father: He was afraid of being though weak (1049). Even though Okonkwo seems like a man with no emotion, he was not a cruel man, [however] his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness(Achebe 1028). This underlying fear of weakness then affects him when the colonialists come to the Ibo tribe. He wants to drive the Christians out and argues with his tribe to rid of them. He stands by his decision by neglecting weakness because, that is what a man does (Achebe 1093). These complex characteristics and efforts to preserve his dignity oppose Conrads assumptions that Africans lack purpose and character.

The Ibos rich culture also counters Conrads view of the antithesis of Europe and therefore of civilization (Achebe Image 108). Parables are told throughout the story. Achebe uses parables to parallel with the characters. The tortoise parable employs the relation with Unoka. The tortoise is full of cunning just like Unoka is such a man that he always succeeded in borrowing more (Achebe Things 1066 1024). After the tortoise scams the birds his shells broke into pieces (Achebe Things 1067). This also relates to Unoka, as when he dies he had taken no title at all (Achebe Things 1026). The parables are universal, which shows the richness of the culture. It also shows the history of the Ibo, that Conrad fails to notice as he comments the prehistoric men (62). Their rich culture is then told with Ibos own language. Things Fall Apart was purposely written in English to portray the communication in a tribe. Achebes characters never speak with informal language: His sweet tongue can change fire into cold ash(Achebe Things 1109). Conrad presents that Africans speak through incomprehensible grunts (Achebe Image 111). The sophistication the way the characters speaks and thinks, however, demonstrates the different languages between the tribes. Achebe points out that language is too grand for these chaps; lets give them dialects (Image 117) which Conrad fails to present.

Heart of Darkness depicts Africa as the other world. Africa is set up as a foil to Europe (Achebe Image 108). Conrad denotes Africans as savage and inscrutable (83). This implies that Africa is a place where civilization crumbles. However, Achebe challenges this idea by illustrating that the African tribes have their own set of rules. His characters lives are affected through these sets of rules. Ikemefuna is one of these characters. He comes to Okonkwos household because Ikemefunas father had taken a hand in killing a daughter of Umuofia (Achebe Things 1029). His fate is then sealed because of these sets of rules. Having rules and laws, shows that each tribe is complex. It also counters the idea that Africans are savage. Having justice sets the ideas that Africans are civilized like Europe.

With rules, comes beliefs, and Achebe demonstrates that each tribe has their own sets of beliefs. The tribes believe in polygamy and polytheism. The former is the practice of more than one wife, and Okonkwo has three, and the latter is the practice of worship of many gods. Included in their practice of polytheism is practice of their own personal god, or their own chi (Achebe Things 1030). Achebe demonstrates that A man could not rise beyond the destiny of his chi(Things 1080). Achebe expresses that this is a god of great significance that can foretell ones future. It is also custom to make sacrifices to the gods: Every year I [Unoka] sacrifice a cock to Ani, the owner of all land I also kill a cock at the shrine of Ifejioku, the god of yams(Achebe Things 1030). Achebe displays the importance of ritual and religion in Ibo society. Even though the set of beliefs dictate how life should be lived, they still show the diverse culture the tribes have in Africa.

Other writers that try to counter Conrads portrayal of Africans uses negritude, a literary and ideological movement in their reaction to colonialism overly positive image of Africa (Rukavina Screen 5). However Achebe uses Things Fall Apart to observe and report. His writing style ties together the complexities and different perspectives of Africa. According to Achebe, any society, like the Ibo, is flawed and complicated. He shows the complex picture, which Conrad denies of Africa and its people. Through his writing, he returns what was shredded of Ibo: their humanity.

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