Imperialism in “Heart of Darkness” and “Things Fall Apart”
Throughout the novels, Heart of Darkness and Things Fall Apart, both illustrate the complexity and the morality surrounding imperialism, which struck the continent of Africa in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. By comparing and contrasting the two different perspectives on the effects of imperialism shown in Heart of Darkness and Things Fall Apart, the authors’ messages correspond to the overarching message of the evils of imperialism, yet the little action that could be done to end it.
In the book Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, Marlow’s expedition through Africa gives insights to a cruel system embedded into suppressing minorities, stealing their natural resources, and claiming to be ‘civilizing the savage people’ of Africa. Marlow’s expedition shows the insight of a ranking member of the conquering force, giving his personal beliefs on the system of imperialism. While traveling down river, Marlow encounters the Chief Accountant; whilst having a sick native in his office ignores his cries for help and continues with his work (Conrad 32).
The inaction of the Chief Accountant symbolizes European society’s view towards the subjugation of other people of different ethnicity, and furthermore to not sympathize with the tormented and suffering natives; only sought after the resources that would further profit the nations imperializing the countries in the continent of Africa. In reaction to the atrocities that Marlow witnesses while traversing throughout the Congo; his depiction of what he thought was once morally right is now his own twisted reality He states that “it was as unreal as everything else – as the philanthropic pretense of the whole concern, as their talk, as their government, as their show of work.
The only real feeling was a desire to get appointed to a trading-post where ivory was to be had, so that they could earn percentages. They intrigued and slandered and hated each other only on that account—but as to effectually lifting a little finger” (Conrad 38). This further shows the hypocrisy that is enveloped by the European colonizers and the depth of corruption that usurped imperialism.
Marlow stated that there was no improvement in Africa like the Europeans had claimed, “unless the body of a middle-aged negro, with a bullet hole in the forehead…may be considered improvement” (Conrad 81). This further proves that the men on the expedition are only interested in their own monetary gain. Now while the novel Heart of Darkness showed the perspective of the imperialist force, we are shown the affect of imperialism throughout one’s own country through the eyes of the native people. In Things Fall Apart, the main protagonist’s life is torn to ruins after his homeland is subjugated to the system of imperialism.
In the novel Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, Okonkwo is well liked throughout his community but is banished for seven years. Once Okonkwo returns to his homeland, Umuofia, was already under siege by European mercenaries. These mercenaries disguised themselves as missionaries had arrived in Umuofia to carry out an assault on the political, cultural and social institutions that bound Okonkwo’s people together. The “locusts [finally descended]. They settled on every tree and on every blade of grass; they settled on the roofs and covered the bare ground. Might tree branches broke away under them, and the whole country became the brown-earth color of the vast, hungry swarm” (Achebe 38-39). This passage allegorically depicts the arrival of the colonizers.
The locusts have been coming for years, yet their significance in this passage is within the inevitable arrival of the European mercenaries, comes the wave of imperialism. This wave would strip the land of what resources would allow the people of the area to thrive economically. This would ensure the damned fate of Africa being plunged into internal conflict and other issues for centuries to come.
In addition to the previously mentioned; Obierka and Okonkwo later in the novel discuss how “the white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one” (Achebe 123). This discussion further illustrates the structure of Okonkwo’s society crumbling before him.
Achebe’s message throughout this passage is supposed to show how society throughout Africa was well established and had culture that played a significant role in it; yet was all interrupted when Europeans had arrived and started taking the resources important to developing a healthy economy. This provides another viewpoint of Achebe’s message that also aligns with Conrad’s message: that imperialism and civilizing the natives was just an excuse to extract the natural resources from the African continent.
Now, being able to see both author’s messages, we are able to deduce the comparisons and differences between both of these novels. One comparison throughout the point of the message is the helplessness that one may face whilst wanting to challenge the system of imperialism. Conrad was able to express Marlow’s distaste for his fellow crew members along his expedition as he started to recognize the brutal beatings that the Natives had to endure while oppressed.
Achebe also is able to portray the Native’s suffering by showing Okonkwo’s perspective of his society crumbling to ruins after the white men come and start conquering his homelands. These series of events lead to internal conflicts throughout the local tribes, causing ensuing anarchy and war to spread throughout the nearby area. One contrasting viewpoint would be the depiction of the natives. These differing viewpoints on the victims of imperialism can give us insight why white Europeans attempted to justify the subjugation of Natives. Marlow’s expedition finding these natives to be savages clears their conscience of torturing them; wanting to make them ‘civilized’ like themselves.
Whereas Okonkwo’s viewpoint shadowed how his well civilized and structured society became in ruin by the invading forces. Another different comparison between these two novels are on the potential source of where the desire to civilize the Africans originates. Potentially stemming from mankind’s green in Heart of Darkness to the simple subjugation and conversion of natives into what Europeans would have found acceptable. Another contrast that could be made would be that of the position of where the protagonists laid.
One protagonist being a part of the imperialist force; whilst the other is the Native that must be subjugated to these atrocities. When analyzing the previously mentioned ideas; this further supports the claim that both of the author’s messages support the idea that imperialism is evil, yet most individuals involved in the operation are unable to stop. They are unable to stop as they are obsessed with the idea of becoming rich out of excavating minerals out of the areas they colonize.
Throughout the novels, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, both novels are able to portray the harsh realities of imperialism. They portray the viewpoint of one Okonkwo who is subjugated to the brutalities that comes with imperialism. The other viewpoint would be the in eyes of Marlow; showing how he came for adventure and conquest and in the end finding himself to be lost amongst a sea of chaos. Okonkwo finds himself to be encapsulated by the destruction of his culture and society as whole; causing Okonkwo to take his own life. Unfortunately, when looking at what can be done by someone with little power and influence; they sadly alone cannot change the cruel tendencies that follow imperialism.