After the American Revolution ended in 1783, other colonies of the Americas began to win their freedom from the European homeland. After much of the European presence had been lifted from the continents, Europe began to focus much of their imperial power on areas close to home, their southern neighbors in Africa. Much of the same methods that governed rule in the new world were used: it was to convert those who they had been trading with for centuries to European philosophies on religion and government and to plunder their lands of natural resources and precious materials. Not much ever changes when it comes to colonization, just the oppressors and the oppressed.
However, there are several points that have to be addressed: what is it like to be colonized, are the colonizers really helping matters in the colonies, or making more turmoil for them, and why are the colonies being colonized in the first place? The two novels that really capture both sides of imperialism are Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.
As the title implies, Things Fall Apart centers on the tale of Okonkwo and how things fall apart for him and his people. Set in the present day country of Niger, Achebe describes the rise and fall of a hero to his people, someone who one day represents all the tribe stands for and the next they are taken over by Europe and he no longer stands for the ideals of his tribe.
In the novel, Achebe describes a culture rich in tradition, with customs that go back generations to the day of the tribes creation. They have festivals, a governing council, an organized religion, and superstitions, similar to all cultures of the world, including Europe. The Ibo tribe holds a friendly competition of wrestling every year Page 2
during The Feast of the New Yam (pg. 46), where representatives of the all nine villages of the Ibo tribe were separated into two teams and wrestled for the glory of their village and their people. This is a parallel to boxing and other martial sports that are held in Europe. They also have an organized court system, were trials occur if two parties need an outside, neutral party to help settle a dispute. This is seen in Chapter Ten, where a wife-beater by the name of Uzowulu is trying to make his in-laws make his wife come to him. However, He is proven to be a chronic abuser and she ran away for her safety. In the end, he agrees to stop and as penance to his in-laws, will over them goods and food. While not on the same level of sophistication as European courts, it does, no doubt, get the job done and helps to keep the villagers in check.
The saying goes “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it”. This novel is a perfect example of how something that works is “fixed” in order to try to make it work better. In this case, it is the society of African tribes that is to be fixed by European Enlightenment and religion. Okonkwo is in exile after an incident occurred at a funeral, were he killed a man unintentionally. While exile isn’t the same as European imprisonment, it shares similarities: for a predetermined period of time, the exile is separated from the society that he is accustomed to and lives with his cousins and his kinship of his mother’s side of the family. This is not as extreme as prison, where the accused is separated from the entire outside world, left to almost rot behind his cell walls and bars, with rations given only a couple of times a day and left to ponder the severity of their crime and repent until the release of death or, if they were lucky, freedom. But, overall, the outcome is the same: the exile and the prisoner see that they have committed a crime and learn to Page 3
appreciate what they had in life. Okonkwo realized that he had it all: 3 wives at a young age, titles, land, and glory. He had a warrior’s life. By the his exile is over, however, things have changes: Christian missionaries began to convert many...