Imperialism in Heart of Darkness and Things Fall Apart
In both Heart of Darkness and Things Fall Apart, both authors discussed the issues aroused by imperialism. Yet Conrad’s ambivalent stance on imperialism and Achebe’s opposition towards imperialism were clearly shown in these two books. In Conrad’s novel, Heart of Darkness, he exposes the cruelty of imperialism and showed sympathy for the oppressed African people. However, he was also influenced immensely by imperialism at that time. He consistently showed white superiority and discrimination against Africans in the book. While trying to condemn the imperialists’ crimes, he was also trying to defend the imperialists’ conquering was to safeguard the interests of the nation. In contrast, Achebe criticized imperialism and racism towards Africans in his novel Things Fall Apart. Achebe emphasizes African customs and resists Western colonial practices; he judges Europeans’ invasion for destroying African customs and harmonious atmosphere. In Things Fall Apart, Achebe not only wants to show his sorrow for the collapsing of customs and anger for imperialism, but also his hope to revitalize African traditions.
How Imperialism Destroyed African Life
The white people came, the paganism came, and the customs of Africans were falling apart. One of the most popular and successful methods towards conquering the new land is religion. By converting natives, colonies are able to gain substantial numbers of new supporters, thus enabling more stable colonial development. The author describes the prosperity of Africa and its rich traditions in the first part of the book. In the second part of the book, the Europeans arrived, they started to establish churches, government, and trading stores in the village. Some of the villagers gave up on their native religion, like Nwoye. In addition, many efulefu converted to Christian because they were regarded as worthless in their native religion. In some aspect, this new religion offered people like them a new chance to live their life without discrimination.
In this book, all the imperial behaviors are sharply critiqued, only excluding Mr. Brown’s. Mr. Brown was considered a good aspect of imperialism, he built schools and hospitals to help the natives, moreover, he respected African customs. In the way the Europeans established government in the village and forced the villagers to follow the judicial system they created. Among the villagers, one person expressed his disgust towards Europeans strongly and encouraged the villagers to fight back. That person was Okonkwo, the main character of the novel. Okonkwo was an outstanding man with courage and wisdom. He was born in poverty and had a “worthless” father who Okonkwo feared he would grow up as. Through his hardworking and strict self-regulation, Okonkwo won enviable family, businesses and respect. His fear of being like his father made him anxious to show his strength and ability. He would be a true hero and a successful leader in Umuofia, only if he did not live during the ear of imperialism. Okonkwo failed to achieve his goal due to the conflict against the whites. His son betrayed him and joined Christianity. Many of the villagers converted to Christianity, and he no longer had the courage to resist Western culture from enter Umuofia.
Obierika once said: “But [white man] says that our customs are bad; and our own brothers who have taken up his religion also say that our customs are bad. How do you think we can fight when our own brothers have turned against us? … [White man] has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.” (176) The village was falling apart, Okonkwo’s life was filled up with fear, anger, and despair. Because of Imperialism, Okonkwo lost his son, his chance for achieving his goal, his kinsmen and his life in the end. Okonkwo viewed imperialism as a destructive and unforgivable thing all along. Near the end of Okonkwo’s life, He asked: “Does the white man understand our custom about land?” (176) The answer is a No, the Europeans brought new culture into Africa, but they did not want to adapt to African culture. Imperialism was all about plundering resources, dominating the colonies’ politics and economics.
Imperialist Strategies Described in the Novels
In Things Fall Apart, most of the views regarding imperialism were made by natives. But in Heart of Darkness, white people made all the judgment and native people are constantly viewed as non-human. However, Conrad expressed a sense of white superiority resulted by imperialism in this novel as well. First of all, Africa was depicted as a place full of barbarism, native people in the inner station worshiped Kurtz and considered him as their god. Kurtz used violence to obtain the ivory and moreover, he wanted to control the natives. That is showing the imperialistic nature inside Kurtz. In the “uncivilized” land, Europeans considered themselves as gods to civilize the natives.
In Things Fall Apart, religion was used as the first weapon to break through the natives’ defense line. But in Heart of Darkness, religion did not appear, the colonists focused on wealth. They used violence to confront the natives. They took different approaches but all present imperial behavior.