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Things Fall Apart

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Autor:  anton  01 November 2010
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In Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart the life of a man named Okonkwo and the tribe of Umuofia is depicted in three chapters which each represent a significant era in the tribe. In the first chapter, Achebe describes the life of the native African tribe before the coming of the white man. This chapter enables the reader to understand and respect the life of the Igbo. The second chapter describes the beginnings of colonialism and introduction of the white man. Suddenly, the Igbo way is questioned. The natives lives are turned upside down as they search for a way to understand the new religion and laws of the Europeans. The third chapter describes the effect of colonialism on the Igbo tribe. This section explores the many ways which the Igbo people try to adapt to the new society. From the suicide of Okonkwo to the abandonment by other tribe members, it becomes apparent how difficult it was for the African’s to adjust to the change. Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness tells of an English man named Marlow and his journey into the Congo and interest in a colonist named Kurtz. Marlow is the narrator of the novel. He describes the natives and the Europeans from a somewhat objective view. He finds colonialism questionable, but also cannot relate to the Africans. Kurtz is the antagonist who exploits the Africans to make money by selling ivory and subsequently goes insane. Both novels depict the colonization of Africa, but each has a markedly different perspective on the African’s lives which were irreparably altered when Europeans came to conquer their land and convert them to Christianity.

Conrad’s descriptions of the Africans are inherently racist. The text is full of demeaning descriptions and negative thoughts about the blacks. “The thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. Ugly" (Conrad 32) Conrad refers to the natives as niggers and compares their looks to animals. “He was there below me, and, upon my word, to look at him was as edifying as seeing a dog in a parody of breeches and a feather hat, walking on his hind legs.” (Conrad 33) These passages and attitudes toward the natives promote the view of the natives during colonialism of Africa in the way that Achebe’s district commissioner sees it, “He had already chosen the title of the book, after much thought: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.” (Achebe 209) This attitude is condescending and insulting. Both novels show the disregard that the Europeans had for the people whose lives they were changing. It is apparent that the Europeans did not see the blacks as people at all, but some sort of middle ground between white humans and monkeys. The declaration that the African tribes were not passive and were primitive is much of the story in Heart of Darkness and the idea that Achebe is trying to dissuade in Things Fall Apart.

Another major difference, which also implies racism on the part of Conrad, is the difference in the ability of the African’s to communicate in a well thought out and complex language. In Things Fall Apart the men and women of the Igbo tribes communicate in a way that is different than the Europeans, but is by no means inferior. The tribal language is decorated with proverbs. “As the Igbo say, ‘When the moon is shining the cripple becomes hungry for a walk.” (Achebe 10) It is obvious by the complex social structure and elaborate ceremonies that communication between the Igbo is not lacking. In Heart of Darkness, the African’s not only speak like imbeciles, but are cannibals as well. “’Catch ‘im,’ he snapped, with a bloodshot widening of his eyes and a flash of sharp teeth – ‘catch ‘im. Give ‘im to us.” ‘To you, eh?” I asked; ‘what would you do with them?’ ‘Eat ‘im!’ he said, curtly, and leaning his elbow on the rail, looked out into the fog in a dignified and profoundly passive attitude.” (Conrad 36) Marlow speaks well, but his black shipmate can barely complete a four word sentence.

It is easy, however, to see why the African culture was alarming to the white man. Okonkwo participates in the murder of a boy that lived in his house for several years. “As the man who had cleared his throat drew up and raised his machete, Okonkwo looked away. He heard the blow. The pot fell and broke in the sand. He heard Ikemefuna cry, “My father, they have killed me!’ as he ran towards him. Dazed with fear, Okonkwo drew his machete and cut him down. He was afraid of being thought weak.” (Achebe 61) Evil children who died in the village were treated appallingly. “The medicine man then ordered that there should me no mourning for the dead child. He brought out a sharp razor from the goatskin bag slung from his left shoulder and began to mutilate the child. Then he took it away to bury in the Evil Forest, holding it by the ankle and dragging it on the ground behind him.” (Achebe 78-79) Similarly, there are times when Marlow in Heart of Darkness shows sympathy and understanding toward the natives. “Yes; I looked at them as you would on any human being, with a curiosity of their impulses, motives, capacities, weaknesses, when brought to the test of an inexorable physical necessity.” (Conrad 37)

Some differences in the thoughts and writings of Joseph Conrad versus Chinua Achebe can be attributed to the time in which they each wrote their perspective novels. Clearly, Conrad’s novel was written during the nineteenth century in which colonialism was at its peak. The terms and descriptions used by Conrad to describe the blacks were used commonly. Achebe’s novel was written after colonialism and possibly in response to the attitudes and beliefs of African’s and colonialism in the previous century. In his time, the descriptions of the Africans would be considered uncommon and insulting.

Both authors expose the horrors of colonialism. Despite Conrad’s racism, he successfully exposes the discrepancies between the ideal of colonialism and the reality of violence. “And then that imbecile crowd down on the deck started their little fun, and I could see nothing more for smoke.” (Conrad 62) In the novel itself, Conrad describes colonialism as “the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience and geographical exploration.” (Conrad 68) Achebe shows the humanity of the Igbo as well as the destruction brought on by the interfering Europeans.

Works Cited:

Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. 1959. New York: Anchor Books, 1994.

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. 1902. Ed. Stanley Appelbaum. New York: Dover Publications, 1990.

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