Things Fall Apart Contradicts Stereotypes And Stereotyping In Heart Of Darkness

1752 words - 7 pages

Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart Contradicts Stereotypes in Conrad's Heart of Darkness

In "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness," Chinua Achebe criticizes Joseph Conrad for his racist stereotypes towards the continent and people of Africa. He claims that Conrad propagated the "dominant image of Africa in the Western imagination" rather than portraying the continent in its true form (1793). Africans were portrayed in Conrad's novel as savages with no language other than grunts and with no "other occupations besides merging into the evil forest or materializing out of it simply to plague Marlow" (1792-3). To Conrad, the Africans were not characters in his story, but merely props. Chinua Achebe responded with a novel, Things Fall Apart: an antithesis to Heart of Darkness and similar works by other European writers. In Things Fall Apart, Achebe tells the story of an Ibo man, Okonkwo, and the tragedies which he has to endure. Africans are represented as individuals capable of speech, not just one massive conglomerate of natives. Their customs are not regarded as eccentric or bizarre, but as the norm-functioning no differently than the variety of Western customs do. And the land itself is described as a mix of towns and farms, not a mysterious land which breeds insanity. In almost every respect, Things Fall Apart contradicts the stereotypes set up in Heart of Darkness.

Achebe opens his lecture, "An Image of Africa," with the story of a student who sent him a letter saying how he was "particularly happy to learn about the customs and superstitions of an African tribe," not realizing that "the life of his own tribesmen in Yonkers, New York, is full of odd customs and superstitions" as well (1784). Western thought perceives African culture and religion as customs and superstitions rather than just an alternative form of culture and religion. Calling them superstitions is not merely using alternative vocabulary, but is a conscious degradation of the practices. In Things Fall Apart, the religious practices of Okonkwo's tribe are taken very seriously and the white man's religion is described as crazy and their god as merely a fetish. However, the villagers do not fail to notice that "the white man's fetish had unbelievable power" when the men who built a church within the evil forest failed to die as they should have (149). Rather than dismissing the European religion because of its difference, the locals noted its power even though they did not understand how it worked. After conflict with the new church, the village "decided to ostracize the Christians" (159). The new converts were pushed outside of the community because they had become involved with the strange, foreign superstitions and customs. Through the tribe's relation with the new church, Achebe reversed the roles that African and European religion had played in previously existing colonial literature: the European religion became mere superstition while African...

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