Colonialism in Chinua Achebe and Joseph Conrad’s Novels

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Many literary criticisms have found similarities between these two narratives because their setting is similar and address issues that are superficially similar. These narratives are Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Although the books have many themes and topics in common, this paper will focus on how the authors portray colonialism and imperialism in Africa.

The paper will also illustrate that the authors had different fundamental purposes on culture. Chinua Achebe is a Nigerian acclaimed author whose narrative ‘Things Fall Apart’ revolves around the life of Okonkwo who hails from the fictional Umofia Village. The death if Okonkwo at the end of the story symbolizes the end of his tribe and culture. Achebe refers to the culture of the Igbo people as the Ibo culture. Furthermore, his death portrays the pain that Igbo people experienced due to the change in the balance of power. The people of Umofia who were used to ruling themselves were now being ruled by the white men who had colonized Africa. Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is based on the experience of the author as a ship captain in Congo. Conrad uses the protagonist, Charles Marlow, to form the basis of his story. He narrates Charles’s the impression of the Congo basins that had been raided and colonized by white men (Conrad 33). The forests of Congo are deep, dark and largely infested by diseases. Both Heart of Darkness and Things Fall Apart center on circumstances that instigate the awe-inspiring yet terrifying conflux of colonialism and imperialism. However, while Achebe’s narrative is narrated from the perspective of the colonized persons, Conrad’s narrative is narrated from a perspective of the colonizer (Achebe 23).

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This paper tries to highlight the similarities as well as the differences in both stories by exploring underlying facts on imperialism and colonialism. Both novels illustrate fundamental aspects of the nature of human beings, both in the context of how they deal with the issue of violence and subjugation, and the interracial confluences. In its content, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is an illustration of the African issues provoked by colonialism, while Herat of Darkness is an illustration of the cruelty of the colonizers from the West. The effects of colonialism on the people of the Igbo culture are evident. When the white men entered the village of Umofia, led by Mr. Brown, they antagonize Okonkwo’s clan. Although Mr. Brown was fond of the tradition of the people of Umofia, Reverend James Smith is strict and intolerant. On visiting Okonkwo, Obierika informs him that their village is invaded by white people who have destroyed other villages including the village of Abame. The colonizers forbid them from worshiping their gods citing idolatry. Smith is more zealous and forces the people of Umofia to convert to Christianity to be relieved and set free (Hawker 56). When Enoch tries to unmask the egwugwu, the village retaliates by burning down his compound and the Whiteman’s church. The events in this narrative reveal how the village was unhappy with the colonizers who were trying to force a new religion on Umofia. Upset by actions of the village, the District Commissioner orders the arrest of the elders of the Umofia village (Hawker). While in jail, Chinua Achebe reveals that the elders were insulted and tortured physically. Although the Igbo were unhappy about colonialism, the author reveals that they were incapable of retaliating. For instance, after Okonkwo returns to the village of Umofia, he executed a Whiteman with a machete and thought the rest of the village would join him in the uprising.

To his surprise, no one joined him but instead allowed the remaining court messengers to escape. In the narrative, Okonkwo admits that the Whiteman is clever and has succeeded in killing the Igbo culture which he held dearly. The introduction of a new religion by the colonizer was meant to tear the village apart by undermining the values of the village. Okonkwo is saddened that his son has abandoned his tribe to join Christianity. Before his death, Okonkwo admits that the colonizer had put a knife a the cultural values of the people of Umofia and there is nothing they could do to stop them. Evidently, the white missionaries succeeded in throwing away the practices and customs of the Igbo tribe. They (missionaries) have forced the people of Umofia Village to convert to Christianity arguing that their beliefs were founded on idolatry and untruth. Achebe’s novel offers readers an insight of the Igbo tribe before it was invaded by colonialist who changed every aspect of their culture (Achebe 64).

In Conrad’s narrative, the author uses his characters to illustrate how the colonizers dehumanized and depersonalized Africans. While the author does not bring out the resistance towards the white man, the texts in 'Heart of Darkness' seem to portray that Africans were opposed to the beliefs of the colonizer. Marlow believes that colonizers must use brutal force to conquer the weak ones. Marlow paints a picture of the wicked ventures of the colonialists including economic exploitation in Congo. The colonialists would sell ivory but give nothing valuable back to the community. Congo forests were famous for Ivory which was the main desire for the colonizers. During Marlow’s trip, he is stopped by the soldiers who had set up established outposts for collecting tolls and taxes (Johnson 59). According to Marlow, these establishments were ways of colonizers maintaining the claim on the land of the colonized.

The colonizers threw away the culture of the people of Congo and adopted foreign (European) laws that applied to the natives. Those who broke the law were punished by cruel acts or by hard labor. Marlow saw a group of natives chained together and were watched by one white soldier. These natives were termed as criminals and had to face the outraged law. Through his characters, the author portrays colonialism as aggravated murder and robbery with violence. While working at the Ivory Company, Kurtz has a soul filled with total blackness and darkness and views the lives of the natives as less significant. The Whites have selfish interests while the natives of Congo are spiritual and civil. The experiences of Kurt reveal the horrible effects that colonialism has on the native Africans. Marlow uses a bullet on the Negros forehead to symbolize how extreme violence threaded in the hands of the colonialists (Conrad 49).

While Achebe’s narrative ‘Things Fall Apart’ and Conrad’s narrative ‘Heart of Darkness’ are written from different perspectives, the effects of colonialism on the culture and lives of Africans are evident. Both stories illustrate the brutal and physical assaults by the colonizers to the native Africans. Evidently, colonialism changed the way Africans ruled themselves and became ruled by the Whiteman’s law. The introduction of Christianity killed the African culture and beliefs that had been held dearly. In fact, the colonizers forced Africans to quit their beliefs and tribe and join Christianity (Hawker 77).

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Colonialism in Chinua Achebe and Joseph Conrad’s Novels. (2020, December 01). WritingBros. Retrieved February 25, 2024, from https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/colonialism-in-chinua-achebe-and-joseph-conrads-novels/
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Colonialism in Chinua Achebe and Joseph Conrad’s Novels. [online]. Available at: <https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/colonialism-in-chinua-achebe-and-joseph-conrads-novels/> [Accessed 25 Feb. 2024].
Colonialism in Chinua Achebe and Joseph Conrad’s Novels [Internet]. WritingBros. 2020 Dec 01 [cited 2024 Feb 25]. Available from: https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/colonialism-in-chinua-achebe-and-joseph-conrads-novels/
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