Within displays their distinctive belief in these Gods and

Within
“Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe and “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad,
the authors provide the various distinctions of Africans within literature. Within
“Heart of Darkness”, Joseph Conrad magnifies the perspective of white
colonisers, who are prone to the representation of African natives as
Neanderthals and to a greater extent, primitive. Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall
Apart” provides the vastly untold account from the other side, setting out to
reduce the information asymmetry into the biased portrayal of the native
community, by providing the unheard account from the African perspective. This
essay will provide key insight into themes that permeate throughout the two
novels to provide a comprehensive conclusion of the effects of colonialism within
the African communities.  

 

As a
response to the stereotypical depiction of African communities by European
authors Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” provides a significantly polarised
account, displaying the intricacy of their infrastructure and societies in
which they reside. The arrival of the colonial people within the Igbo community
brought with them their own system of governing, religion and social principles.
Through the visage of Reverend Smith, we’re presented with the desire of the
colonists to impose their own religious belief system upon the natives. The
Igbo community are by distinction polytheistic: they worship various different
Gods, each intertwined with different aspects of nature. These religious
customs are followed diligently and without fail, with particular emphasis
provided to the ancestral spirits egwugwu, with an encounter with them causing
uproar as seen when “the women and children sent up a great shout and took to
their heels. It was instinctive.” This displays their distinctive belief in
these Gods and how significant their tales within the community have become to
their daily endeavours. However, the colonialists are quick to dispel this
notion, openly pro claiming that “Your Gods are not alive and cannot do you any
harm. They are pieces of wood and stone”. The use of the word “pieces”
signifies the trivial nature with which the Igbo religion was regarded by the
colonists. Yet, the attitude towards the Igbo religion would be rendered
immaterial had this not been acted upon, as many cultures evidently have
different belief systems, due to their varying levels of education and exposure
to different religious concepts. Okonkwo’s community only become victim to the colonial
conformities once upon colonialist influence, their religious figures began to
be defiled.  Enoch’s removal of the
egwugwu mask signalled the adverse effects that colonialist radicalisation was
beginning to have on the community, as within a short time span of having been
exposed to the European religion he was quick to discard the beliefs of his own
culture. Although it is apparent that colonialism has begun to slowly erode the
culture within the Igbo community, thus foreshadowing how their community will
eventually “fall apart,” the challenging of religious practice and idolisation
is far less devastating than the wholly different role adopted by the colonists
within “Heart of Darkness.” Religious practice is almost entirely absent due to
the descent into madness, incentivised by the incessant desire to harvest the
abundance of natural resources available. This desire, brought by the presence
of the colonists, with Kurtz being of significant influence has resulted in the
subdued and controlled nature of the native Congo people. This highlights the
malleable nature of the African communities within both “Heart of Darkness” and
“Things Fall Apart” to the pressures of colonialist rule, as regardless of the
initial opposition posed by both communities to the amendment of their culture,
they are inevitably just victim to the expansionist desires of the European
nations.

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Okonkwo was highly revered among the nine villages,
and word of him even spread beyond the confines of the villages. The indeterminate
nature that Achebe uses to indicate the frame of Okonkwo’s outer limits can be
seen as a reflection limited awareness of the tribe with regards to its place
in space and its location in the world. This can be viewed as synonymous with
the somewhat vague definition adopted for the tribe’s name, Umuofia, or
“people of the forest.” This name in many ways acts as a double
entendre in relation to the locale of the novel, firmly situation their
community within the adherence of the natural world. The constrained dimension
in which the tribe’s sphere resides has a large influence on their sphere of
existence, which Achebe can be viewed as doing to enrich the focus of the
narrative writing on a community whose intimacy within the world at first
appear a source of strength, illuminating the relatively intense nature of the
sociality experienced within the African community that bolsters a perception
of attained equilibrium within the structure of the native community.  

 

However, discrepancies
between the colonial and native attitude and landscape can also be highlighted
in the significance of differences in traditional practises within the two
texts.

 

To a certain extent the
tribe can, to a certain extent, be seen as victims to the dreary mundane nature
of the daily tasks they undertake. The prestige adopted by the recurring
rituals which are encountered within the culture, coupled by the sporadic
portrayal of the numerous characteristics within the collective nature of its
imagination, it is ensured through all this that time is experienced not as a continually
fluctuating medium: lived intensely and cyclically, in the mode of duration.
This relevance of time acts as a motif throughout the novel, creating and
moulding the potential worldview through the process and principle of ceaseless
life, ascending beyond the confines of time and space, more so evident as it
permeates the presumed eternal presence of the ancestors. This shows that the
domain of the egwugwu was situated between the pane of life and death, existing
in a perceived purgatory that allowed them to frequently travel to the realm of
life. This principle of an easy transfer into the land of the living was
capitalised upon, typically adopted with more vehemence upon the death of one
of the elders, as the older men were believed to have a stronger alignment with
the spirit of the ancestors due to the emphasis provided on age in relation to
their spiritual ascendance.

 

One of the focal points
that can be observed Achebe’s criticism is the identification of Conrad’s
belief that there is a direct correlation between maintaining strict principles
and order to the potential ability for tragedy to occur upon the arrival of
European travellers into the “Heart of Darkness.” This is shown by the colonists’
acceptance of cannibalism within the native community, upon the premise they
will not overstep the imposed boundaries. The natives within the novel can be
identified with the description “savages with wild eyes” using a vastly
undeveloped language, consisting predominantly of strategic grunting and short
phrases, surfacing in the form of violent babbles. The African culture can be
seen as victim their false portrayal upon the discovery of European settlers,
who want to emphasise and inflate their apparent role in African nations to
bring them into “civilisation” and the significance of their industrialisation
on African nations. Africa is portrayed as somewhat of an “other world,” with
the presence of appearing in ways to somewhat constrain the intelligence and
refinement of Europe. In the occasional referral to the African natives as ‘specimen’,
Marlow comments on how one African is an improved specimen due to his ability
to fire up a vertical boiler. This point is then further expanded upon in the exploration
of the meaning upheld in the two rivers in the “Heart of Darkness”. Travelling
up the Congo River is perceived as retracing and going back in time also being
seen as the “earliest nine beginnings of the world” and how the Rives Thames had
also once been a dark place, but upon change became light and peaceful. The
representation of Africa appears to be that of a prehistoric earth with the
existence of a lack of civilisation particularly evident within the men, as
they sometimes appear to be going about in a “black and incomprehensible
frenzy”. The Africans are then further developed by being shown as “leaping and
howling” although they are subsequently described as not inhuman, giving rise
to the belief that they do maintain an element, or part essence, of a civilised
people. This may be identified as the point in which Marlow realizes that these
tribesmen are in fact identical to him within their human nature, although he
still maintains the notion that they are brute savages. He later goes on to
provide imagery of their faces, displaying them through saying they are like “grotesque
masks”, and maintain strong muscles, energy and a “wild vitality”.  

 

Achebe’s writing of
“Things fall apart” can be seen as his belief as an opportunity to showcase the
intelligence of the native African people within their respective communities
and he aimed to covey that they did have a peaceful and highly structured
existence before the arrival of colonialists. In one of his separate writings
he highlights the context of the writing of “Things Fall Apart” stating, “I’m an Ibo writer, because this is my basic culture;
Nigerian, Africa and writer…no, black first, then a writer. I must see what it
is to be black and this means being sufficiently intelligent to know how the
world is moving and how the black people fare in the world. This is what it means
to be black. Or an African, the same.” Identity is clearly highlighted here as
of significant importance in the writing of this novel. As we know it, the
contemporary nature of African culture has been highly influenced by European
culture and society. Achebe aims to go beyond this typical, and wholly limited
viewpoint and display the strong African identity. However, what cannot be
overlooked is the fact that as equally as he is influenced by the political
occurrences pervading at the time, Conrad also conforms to the typical social
norms and viewpoints of his time.

 

The involvement
of European influence within African nations came purely due to a desire for
expansionism and the right to claim homage to the development of untouched and
unbothered regions within the world. The ‘Bond of 1844’ can be marked as the
introduction of Britain’s significant involvement in West Africa. The Bond of
1844 provided Britain with the legal rights to trade in Ghana previously
reveres as the “Gold Coast”. The discovery of precious minerals and valuable
resources such as copper, cobalt and gold led creation and development of trade
links between Ghana and Europe. This was mutually beneficial in the beginning,
with Europeans improving infrastructure, education and healthcare in exchange
for these much valued resources. However, it was these trading links that
provided the platform for retain to increase their political significance due
to increased interdependence, which ultimately resulted in Britain eventually
taking control. This was followed by other European countries such as Germany
and France who had gained significant footholds within other African nations.
Their significant power within these African countries gave rise to the
exploitation and enslavement of natives, forced to conform to ideologies they
were unfamiliar with and an implementation of a religion that challenged their
traditional customs. However, a substantial hindrance to their ability to
harvest the minerals they sought came in the form of the Gold Coast’s
declaration of independence in 1957. This caused a deliberation among the
European nation to the way in which they should divvy the remaining nations
among themselves. The independence of the Gold Coast may also have acted a
catalyst for the decolonisation of Africa, as it indicated they were no longer
willing to suffer under oppressive rule. This example was supported by other
African nations such as Tanzania and Togoland who sought, and eventually
obtained their independence. Unfortunately, the situation did not go so well
for all the countries, and one example of this is Nigeria, Chinua Achebe’s home
country.