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Suppressed Horror: Conrad’s Western And Achebe’s African Revelations On Colonialism

2036 words - 8 pages

Whereas Conrad presents the people of Africa and their culture as barbaric and inferior to Western culture, Achebe vehemently insists that Igbo culture, although not without its flaws, shares common elements of civility with Europe. Conrad’s moral justification of colonialism heavily relies on the questionable assumption that Africa and its inhabitants are unrefined. He portrays an Africa urgently requiring the implementation of civilization, whereas Achebe defends Africa with a compelling personal illustration of the civilized Igbo culture. Conrad’s description of Marlow’s expedition to Africa as “[setting] off for the center of the Earth” suggests that he believes Africa is not only beneath Europe, but also developmentally behind Europe (Conrad 10). The dehumanization of Africans is especially apparent in Conrad’s labeling of an African as “a thing monstrous and free” (32). The notion of the “monstrous” savages being “free” exposes Marlow’s innate fear of a brutal people unchecked by civilization. Moreover, Marlow describes observing a native, an “improved specimen,” as amusing as watching a “dog in a parody of breeches and a feather hat” (33). Associating the African with a circus act belittles the African to either a source of entertainment or a forced laborer. Marlow’s enthrallment with the African parallels his interest in the Congo River, which “[fascinates] [him] as a snake would a bird” (6). Up against Conrad’s powerful prose reproaching Africans, Achebe “sets out to illustrate that before the European colonial powers entered Africa, the Igbos ‘had a philosophy of great depth, value, and beauty . . . and above all, they had dignity’” (Achebe, qtd. in Rhoads 61). Notably, the caveat “before the European colonial powers entered Africa” implies that much of the downfall of Igbo culture is the fault of the Europeans. Unlike Conrad who describes African natives as “howl[ing] and leap[ing],” making “horrid faces,” Achebe writes that among the Igbo people, “the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten” (Conrad 32; Achebe, Things 7). Achebe’s portrayal of Igbo culture provides a comparatively more refined example of African civilization as Conrad’s primitive Africans are supplanted by people who value intellect and wisdom.
In contrast to Achebe’s civilized descriptions of the Igbo people, Conrad uses disparaging language like “brutal, monstrous, . . . dark . . . so constantly in talking about Africa that the people of Africa begin to be tinged by the qualities that these words connote” (Singh 43). When observing the Africans, Marlow displays a perverse fascination of his “remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar” (Conrad 32). While he concedes that the Africans are at least the same species as him, he still makes a clear distinction between the savage Africans and the stately Europeans. In a scathing indictment of Conrad, Achebe suggests that there is a “desire . . . in...

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