The Good and Evil in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness and Ellen Forney's The Diary of a Part Time Indian

All human beings periodically experience the struggle between good and evil within them to some extent.  This inherent struggle within humans is frequently expressed in literature, and many authors allude to these opposing forces of good and evil within their characters.  It is important to note that the definitions of good and evil are strongly influenced by society nothing is consistent or constant.  Historically, the conceptions of what is considered to be good and what is considered to be evil has varied drastically from age to age as well as from nation to nation.

 In fact, these changes are so vast that often times perceptions of what is considered to be good in one age will be evil in the next. Living according to subjective perceptions of good and evil can be extremely controversial, and can even lead to destruction.  In literature, this concept of individuals living according to their standard of what is considered to be good and evil frequently leads to chaos.

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  The universe and human society are all in a state of utter collapse. This can be seen prominently in the novels Things Fall Apart, The Heart of Darkness, and The Diary of a Part Time Indian.  All of these novels include characters that struggle with good and evil, within themselves and in their surroundings. They give excellent example of how vividly the world’s condition varies in different time periods due to changing perceptions. They also show how living according to the principle of good and evil is flawed.

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In all cases where this principle is carried out there is destruction and chaos.

In the novel, Things Fall Apart, one of the most prominent underlying themes is good versus evil. During the time period this novel is set in, the characteristic of “manliness” is one of the most esteemed virtues man can have. The desire to achieve the most masculine status possible was the most influential driving force behind the actions of the character Okonkwo.  All of Okonkwo’s decisions stemmed from his pursuit to become“manly” and from his fear of “failure and of weakness”(Achebe 13)This desire to be a true man, could be considered good or evil, but it dictated all of Okonkwo’s actions in the novel.

This desire to be manly saved him many times. It saved him from poverty. Okonkwo’s father was lazy so they would often have no food. His dad could not support his family. Okonkwo’s pursuit of manliness led him to be a workaholic. Working tirelessly and only really finding pleasure in work. This attitude got him to be one of the most respected clansmen. Not only did he have enough food to supply his family he was a fighting warrior.

Okonkwo attempts to exhibit “manliness” by striving to reject everything his father was, and instead embrace everything is father was not. He even chose to grow yams as his crop because this was a sign of manliness due to the intensive labor needed to harvest them. Moreover, Okonkwo chooses to rule his family with a “heavy hand” based on his perceptions of what he considers to be good, or right.  His perceptions of what are right are clearly influenced by the driving force in him to be seen as a man.  This can be seen by his constantly beating his family and forcing them in fear of his random outbursts of violence. This violence earned him the name “roaring flame”(CITE!!).  This name was fitting for himdue to his aggressive, powerful, and strong-willed nature.

Perhaps the most evil action that resulted for Okonkwo’s pursuit of masculinity can be seen when he takes part in killing Ikemefuna, despite warnings not to become involved. Okonkwo’s desire to prove that he is a good manly clansmen once again take precedence and result in murder.  It can be seen that evil resulted from his desire for masculinity because he justifies his actions by believing that he made the “manliest choice possible”.  Clearly in this example Okonkwo’s belief of what is considered to be good and right in guided by his subjective perceptions.  Additionally, this subjective perception of what he considers to be good and evil lead to his last great blunderwhere he again does what he thinks is good and right thing and stands up and be a warrior. In this impulsive action to do what he things is right, he recklessly kills a messenger in his anger.  Again, his internal guidance of the conflicting forces of good and evil lead to the senseless death of a person.  Ultimately, his perceptions even led him to the grave, as he committed suicide due to escape the shift in society from masculine warriors to more passive clan.

Okonkwo’s desire to be a masculine warrior strongly influenced his actions throughout the novel, Things Fall Apart.  Additionally, Okonkwo’ssubjective discernments of what is good and evil are the main guidance of his actions on what is right and wrong.  Okonkwo’s views aligned with his society for the first part of the book when being a masculine, hardened warrior was prized.  As the age changed, however, and values became more feminine, perceptions of good and evil also changed.  Okonkwo began as a legacy, and was highly esteemed by his tribe members.  As society changed, he no longer held this title.  This radical shift exemplified in the novel shows how society influences individual’s perceptions of who they aspire to be and what they believe to be right and wrong.  With society ever evolving, and values always changing, people should be hesitant to trust and follow the subjective, conflicting perceptions of good and evil influencing their behavior.

The Heart of Darkness utilizes a similar theme of differing, subjective opinions of what is good and evil between cultures.  These differing viewpoints are important to observe, because they affect what people believe to be right and wrong. Marlow’sjourney to the Congo stemmed from his lifelong dream to travel to Africa and explore.  His original intent was to discover new land for the motherland. This dream and Marlow’s naïve ambitions are what influenced him to get on a steamer headed for the Congo. Marlow’s dream, in this novel, is the motivation guiding him to do what he believes to be right.

Marlow’s travel down the Congo River represents the journey one takes to discover the truth about himself. Moreover, in Marlow’s journey, the novel explores three levels of darkness.  The first level begins when Marlow arrives at the lower station and there is nothing but complete chaos. The station is described as covered with abandoned, rusted machines and people exploding things for no reason.  Moreover, the natives in the land are being treated like enemies and forced to dig senseless holes.  This scene is Marlow’s first glimpse into the heart of darkness, as he sees for the first time that everything around him is vanity and meaningless.

At the central station the darkness is more prevalent.  This darkness is symbolized when his ship sinks and he discovered that the parts to fix it will not arrive for several months. He talks to a bricklayer but there are no bricks in sight. More pointlessness everything he sees just does not make sense. All of the trader want to get appointed to the inner station to make real money but nobody really does anything to achive their goals. Through these obstacles, it is as if the Congo was warning him not to go any further, and that he had seen enough and should return home.  Marlow persists, however, because his dream to travel is driving him to continue as he believes he is doing what is right.

When he journeys to the inner station he encounters a heavy fog. In literature, fog symbolizing uncertainly. Additionally, fog not only obscures but distorts.  In the novel, fog is used to symbolize having some information, but being unable too clear enough to judge the accuracy of that information.  When Marlow’s steamer is caught in the fog, he has no idea where he’s going and no idea what kind of dangers lay ahead.  When he finally arrives at the inner station, it is clear that all sense of morality according to his standards is gone. He finds Kurtz living in a house surrounded by human heads.  This shows that Kurtz “went savage” and was overcome by greed. Kurtz transformation shows that his perceptions of good and evil had changed because he was subdued by the darkness within.

Symbolically, each station represents the journey into one’s own heart and mind. It portrays the seducing nature of evil that lies in the hearts of all men, and how under the right circumstances, one’s perceptions of good and evil can quickly become reversed. Although Kurtz and Marlow are similar, Marlow somehow does not get subdued by the darkness as Kurtz does. It shows that some people seem unaffected by the darkness within while others become engrossed with darkness.

On a broader level Conrad exposes “the horror” of colonization. Throughout the novel, Conrad portrays this almost as a necessary evil because without oppressing the natives and taking their land the world would be significantly poorer and have a worse standard of living. Everyone but people living in Africa cannot justly say that European colonization was evil.

In The Diary of a Part Time Indian, isolation is a major theme. When the European scame to colonize the Americas, they committed one of the occurrences of genocide in history. They forced Indians into minuscule portions of land, which Arnold referred to as“rez”.  The Indians were left trapped on reservations, plagued with poverty and alcoholism.  Unfortunately, many Indians resort to alcoholism to cope with the past traumas discussed in the novel.  This was devastating, because after suffering through multiple genocides to be trapped on a small piece of desolate land will easily drive one into a state of depression.

During the genocide referenced in the novel, it was considered “patriotic” to kill Indians in the name of “Manifest Destiny”and in the name of liberty. The annihilation of the Indians was defiantly evil act, however without this occurring America, would not be as it is today.  In addition to Arnold being born into a devastated society, he was plagued with health issues.  His heal issues cause him to be an outcast among the whites as well as his own people.

When Arnold transfers to Reardon, a white school, he runs into enormous conflict, as the Indians on the “rez” viewed Indians who went to white schools as a sign of betrayal, evil, and complete denial of the Indian culture.  Because of this, Arnold encountered much racism while attending Reardon.  Arnold made this decision, although he was ostracized by his own people, in order to pursue an education. To his people, what he was doing was evil. To Arnold, however, getting a decent education was the ultimate good.  He was not accepted by anyone outside of his family.  Even his best friend abandons him because of his decision to pursue what he thinks is good. To Arnold what he was doing was good, but to everyone on the reservation and in Reardon, what he was doing was evil. This reinforces that living according to what is good or bad right or wrong is extremely flawed. Nothing is consistent and everything is chaotic.

As clearly illustrated by these stories “when one joins himself to the knowledge of good and evil he falls into death and becomes complicated”(Lee).In all of these stories you see the vanity of living according to “the tree of knowledge of good and evil”. Knowledge, good, and evil are all of the same tree, they have the same source. When one touches good one touches the same source as evil, which is death. As clearly seen no government or organization can rescue the people out of this heap of collapse cause by living according to this principle. When the British government stepped in to “assist” the savage natives maybe some will see this as good but this good ultimately issued in death. The same is to be said about King Leopold of Belgium his intentions were extremely evil the result was death. Even in America the government approved the mass genocide of a race this was for the good of the people. There is however, another tree that we can partake of this tree being “the tree of life”. This tree is the embodiment of Christ. In this there is only one thing life. “There is no good, but life; no evil but life; no knowledge but life; and no death, but life. This is the tree of life”(Lee). The problems mentioned in this paper are not a matter of good and evil since they are one in the same; It is a matter of life and death. This is why living according to good and evil is flawed concept.

Works Cited

  6. Alexie, Sherman, and Ellen Forney. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. New York: Little, Brown, 2007. Print.
  7. Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: Anchor, 1994. Print.
  8. Allingham, Philip- White Lies and Whited Sepulchres in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness-
  9. Chomsky, Noam– History of US Imperialism lecture
  10. Churchill, Ward. Kill the Indian, save the man: The genocidal impact of American Indian residential schools. City lights books, 2004.
  11. Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness (Norton Critical Editions). WW Norton & Company, 2005.
  12. Devlin, Kimberly J. “The Eye and the Gaze in Heart of Darkness.” Modern Fiction Studies 40.4 (1994): 711–35.
  13. Gekowski, R. A. “Kurtz as the Incarnation of Evil.” In Swisher 80–86.
    Gose Jr., Elliott B. Imagination Indulged. Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 1972.
  14. Harkness, Bruce. “An Old-Fashioned Reading of Conrad.” Conradian32:1 (2001): 41. edited by Berglund Jeff, Roush Jan –  Sherman Alexie: A Collection of Critical Essays
  15. Lee, Witness.Redemption in God’s Plan Living Streams Ministry
  16. Lee, Witness. Life-Study of PsalmsLiving Streams Ministry
  17. Lipka, Jennifer “The horror! The horror!”: Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as a Gothic Novel
  18. Nee, Watchmen.Two Principles of Living. Living Streams Ministry
  19. Morrison, Toni –Goodness: Altruism and the Literary Imagination

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The Good and Evil in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness and Ellen Forney's The Diary of a Part Time Indian. (2021, Sep 24). Retrieved from

The Good and Evil in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness and Ellen Forney's The Diary of a Part Time Indian

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