Comparison of Conrad’s and Achebe’s presentation
of Africans, colonizers and colonialism
12 October 2007
Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, both take place in the heart of Africa and center around the idea of colonialism held by the European powers in 19th century. The differences between the two novels are ironically as apparent as “black” and “white”. As we begin to think about why Conrad and Achebe have used so different tones on such a similar subject, we feel like we are solving a mystery plot. While reading Heart of Darkness we feel as if we are led through a never ending, dark, damp, gloomy and stinky corridor and the novel ends in an atmosphere which is darker, gloomier and filled with hostile people or maybe creatures. After reading Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, immediately our minds revert to a nearby region in Africa, to Umuofia, and we begin to think whether Nigeria is on the same continent as Congo, and if these dark creatures staring at the boat from the riverbank, are really related to Obierika, or even to the never smiling Okonkwo, who are in our minds sharing palm-wine and breaking kola seeds. Conrad’s and Achebe’s different approach to the themes of “voice of Africans”, “presentation of colonizers” and the “effects of colonialism” distinguish the two works from each other.
The voice and presence of Africans differ clearly in two works because Conrad is looking through the perspective of the colonizer and Achebe, from that of the colonized. As stated in the introduction, Conrad has been dreaming of seeing the “dark continent” since childhood and has managed to go to Congo with the ambition to explore it. Marlow, just like Conrad, has always had the interest in maps and he decides to go to this journey after seeing Congo’s map on a shop window. As Marlow says when he is telling his story, “It had ceased to be a blank space of delightful mystery- a white patch for a boy to dream gloriously over. It had become a place of darkness,” (p 22) we can realize that the mysterious land he was expecting to see didn’t end up being enjoyable and frightened him. We know that when Conrad first travelled to Congo, he was actually shocked with what he saw; but although he was surprised and horrified, he thought all the savage acts of white men as a part of reality and a necessity to keep this colony functioning. The way he refers to natives as “black things”, “criminals” or “unhappy savages” with no indication of pain in his feelings shows that, as a “civilized” European who is a stranger to this new land, he convinces himself very easily to the idea that the Africans should be treated as “savages”. When he sees a young African reclining against a tree with sunken eyes, waiting for his death, it is not his condition that strikes him the most but he is more interested in where he might have found the white thread tied around his neck. Also when he admits to himself that the accountant had “verily accomplished something difficult” (p 37) by teaching a native woman to do the station tasks, we once again understand that he doesn’t see them as of his equal and in some sense regard them as primitive beings with no intellect. Even if Conrad, as a writer who has become a citizen of Great Britain, one of the leader countries of colonialism, regards all the atrocities in Congo as dark memories, he does not help the African voice to be heard and does not provide any chance for an African to express himself properly, except a native’s words, “Mistah Kurtz, he dead!” (p 112) On the other hand, Achebe is no stranger to this land. He is in fact one of the dark mysterious figures, watching Marlow's boat, sailing up the river. Naturally he has a very different story to tell. In Heart of Darkness, we are given a surreal view about the Africans. On the contrary, Achebe's success, is presenting them as human beings, with names, no different in characters and in...