Chinua Achebe, a great African novelist, gave a detailed review of the work done by Joseph Conrad titled ‘Heart of Darkness’. This book gave an encounter of Conrad in Africa, especially parts of Congo and other regions of West Africa. The book gives an account of how Africa, as a continent and Africans, as the inhabitants of this continent, are yet to come to the civilization reality.
This book, just as the title suggests, portrays Africa in a very bad taste. It paints Africa as the heart of darkness. Just as their skins are, so are their deeds and their culture in general (Conrad 31). The book, well written with a good sense of humor and a deep understanding of stylistic devices, brings out Africans as people who are not only dark in their skin but also from their heart, as is reflected in their acts and their culture in general. Achebe says,
“I am talking about a book, which parades in the most vulgar fashion prejudices, and insults from which a section of humankind has suffered untold agonies and atrocities in the past and continues to do so in many ways and many places today” (Achebe 4).
Achebe appreciates the fact that when Conrad visited Africa, Africans were not as advanced in technology as was the western world. Africa was considered uncultured according to western standards, and whites had low opinion about them. He notes in this review,
“It was certainly not his fault that he lived his life at a time when the reputation of the black man was at a particularly low level” (Achebe 5).
He appreciates the fact that writings of Conrad might have been overshadowed by the then view of whites towards blacks. When they went to Africa, the whites found Africans a little too awkward in culture and the fact that they managed to manipulate them in their own continent was a proof enough that their way of life was far below that of whites. This is what is reflected in this book, ‘The Heart of Darkness’.
Achebe laments that the image painted by this novelist is still held by many people in the western countries, especially in the United States of America. This review was done this same time. Racism was real and Africans were treated as second-class citizens in this land. He recalls a discussion he had with a certain white man, a mature student in the college he was teaching. “What did I teach? Now that was funny, he said” (Achebe 1). Why would it be funny to teach African literature?
This was something that troubled Achebe so much. At the same institution, there were lecturers teaching American literature, Asian literature, literature of Greeks, and many other cultures across the world. However, it was funny teaching African literature because it was literature of the darks, dark from the heart, darkness that was so dark.
Actually, it was the dark culture of the dark Africans. This student developed interest to pursue this unit taught by Achebe not because he thought it would affect his life positively but because it was talking about a dark culture of the dark people with a dark heart, and above all, taught by a dark man.
Achebe was not amused. He notes that every society had its own culture. Therefore, trying to measure the level of advancement of one culture against that of another would be unfair. He also notes the bias in reporting. Early western researchers had prejudices against African culture.
He notes, “Travelers with closed minds can tell us little except about themselves” (Achebe 5). He goes ahead to note that China had developments that would be considered in western standards as more advanced than as compared to those in some European nations.
He notes, “The Great Wall of China is the only structure built by man that is visible from the moon. Indeed, travelers can be blind” (Achebe 6). Travelers who visited China were blind enough not to have seen this building but were keen though to have noticed the culture of the Chinese, which in the western scale of measurement was backward.
Achebe feels that Africa, just like any other region in the world, Africa should be treated like any other western nation. This is because people in Africa are also cultured. He feels that this book is too racist and is misplaced in the current society. “I am talking about a story in which the very humanity of black people is called in question” (Achebe 8). This statement brings out his resentment not only to the content of this book, but also to the general western society.
The United States of America is the only country in the world with representation of people from every corner of the world. It has people from different regions, with different cultures that sharply contrast. In addition, the country has experienced the highest level of discrimination because of integration.
He blames Conrad and other racist authors for contaminating the minds of others with negative information about Africa. “But even those not blinkered, like Conrad with xenophobia… Unfortunately, his heart of darkness plagues us still” (Achebe 9). He feels that there are those who would have different perceptions about Africa and its people if only they were given the opportunity to think independently.
However, because others such as Conrad have already people negative perception about Africa and its populace, it becomes very difficult to change this. He observes that, “it was and is the dominant image of Africa in the Western imagination and Conrad merely brought the peculiar gifts of his own mind to bear on it” (Achebe 11)
Africa, just like Europe, America, Asia, or any other continent in the world, has people with a culture they value for reasons known best to them.
Some of their culture, such as female circumcision, could be as retrogressive as human practiced in some parts of Europe and Asia. Furthermore, FGM could be likened to hosexuality, which is so rampant in many western countries today. Achebe wonders why Africans are perceived to be strange.
This is a matter of concern to Achebe. Africans are not criticizing these unnatural acts practiced in the west. Achebe wonders why should they criticize African culture. In Africa, homosexuality is not allowed in many parts. However, Africans have not stood out to hate whites because of that. Africans tolerate this behavior because they understand that not all people are the same.
It can be observed that Achebe is not against whites but he is against racism practiced by some members of society in western world such as Conrad. He notes that skin culture should not be used to differentiate society because every person is equal and has a right to exercise his or her fundamental rights.
Indeed, the US has incorporated laws that punish offenders s regards to racism. The First Amendment to the US constitution empowers all races. It gives people various fundamental rights and freedoms. For instance, each race has a right to participate in political processes. This means that any person can stand for any position as long as he or she qualifies. Furthermore, any individual in society has the right to vote for a preferred candidate.
Achebe, Chinua. Things fall apart. New York: Heinemann, 1996. Print.
Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York: Forgotten Books, 2008. Print.