The European as a Savior of Native Africans

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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Category: Chinua Achebe
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 Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness remains as one of the greatest works in English literature. The novel has received many reviews since it was published with some praising it while others are criticizing. One of the critical reviews was written by Chinua Achebe in his book Things Fall Apart. Achebe argued that Conrad is a racist after depicting the African culture negatively. The author of the Heart of Darkness stresses that the western religion is better in civilizing the Africans as he argued that the Africans were living like savages.

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The author narrates the story of Marlow in his search for Mr. Kurtz, a seller of ivory, in his bid to redeem him from the heart of darkness and grant him lightly. Kurtz is not willing to leave Africa and orders some Africans to attack Marlow whose goal does not materialize as Kurtz dies before returning to England. On this sediment, Chinua Achebe stands tall in criticizing Conrad for depicting the African culture labelling him as a racist. From both Achebe and Conrad’s view, it is arguable that Conrad in the Heart of Darkness depicted the Africans as in the doom side who needed redemption. Conrad viewed the Europeans as the savior of the Africans from their disastrous way of living. 

Conrad in his novel points out that Africans are living in darkness by highlighting that the Europeans visit Africa is like going back to the beginning of the World. This is an implication that the Africans are living miserable lives and thus need someone to redeem them from the problems affecting the continent. In his view, Conrad demeans the life of Americans to the extent that he refers them into the specimen. Marlow describes an instance where in Africa he met with one improved specimen an issue that evidences Conrad’s degradation of Africans and their way of life.

This aspect further can be described as a way of showing the European nations are better than the Africans and for the Africans to reach their level should be civilized through colonization. For the Africans to be called people rather than specimen must be civilized that only should come through giving the Europeans a chance to spread the wave of civilization to the continent (Conrad, p.33). Therefore, by referring the Africans as specimen who needed some improvements depicts that Conrad saw the entry of Europeans in Africa as a way of redemption. 

The description of the two rivers highlighted in Conrad’s work, where sailing in the Congo River is portrayed as just returning to the traditional era at the formation of the world also highlights the untrue representation of Africa. He describes Africa as a region that has been left behind across the world that needs some changes and the author views this change can only be brought by the Europeans (Conrad, p.35). The author depicts an instance where he uses the Thames to highlight that his stance in Africa was doomed but after leaving he can experience peace and some light. This statement agitates Achebe as he steps out to criticize the idea where Conrad belittles the Africans by stating that they are living in the prehistoric era with uncivilized men who act in an unorganized manner. He depicts the Africans as people who do not have a comprehensive way of life. 

In connection to this, due to the disorganized way of life of the Africans something has to be done to make sure the Africans are alleviated from the prehistoric era. The mention of darkness in the novel in contrast to light where the blacks represent the doom side whereas the whites were representing light it is reasonable to that Conrad perceived that the Africans were sinking in problems and the only solution was to accept the European way of life (Conrad, p.36). so, it is evident that Conrad viewed the Europeans as the way to light that Africans needed. 

Achebe is angry and aims at changing the perception of the Europeans about the Africans. The Africans are viewed as a foil to the Europeans. He aims this critique on the view given by the British writer Conrad who felt that African culture was a fraud and it required some improvement or abolishment. This perception of the British was seen as a form of colonization to the Africans that should not be encouraged. Achebe argued for a situation where the Africans should be given a chance to preserve their way of life. He called for respect for the African culture that many Europeans viewed as a disability since during the times most Africans were bombarded with questions regarding their origins. 

People from Africa were strange to the European where it was hard for one to be welcomed easily in the European countries (Achebe, p.170). Therefore, to Conrad Africa meant something to the European and this form of disability could be rectified by the Europeans. It is evident that Achebe’s fight for the preservation of African identity was a critique of Conrad’s perception that Europeans were the savior of Africa. 

Conrad in his novel portrays the Africans as savages lacking speech and without daily works other than merging in the forests to gather fruits and hunt in search for their basic needs. The author describes the image of Africa in the western perception in his bid to show the evils of African culture. In this sense, Conrad in his work tries to create an opportunity for the European people to venture in Africa in their bid to instill morals, educate them and guide them into the working world (Conrad, p. 145). 

The author tries to compare the African way of life with theirs with bias discrediting the culture in their motive to spread their culture in Africa. This perception is contrasted by Achebe where he argues that Conrad was biased and failed in his work since he did not portray the true picture of the African continent. Hence, it is evident that Conrad’s description of the African people as savages who lack occupations rather than hunting and gatherings implies that he perceived the Europeans as the redeemers of the Africans from these woes. 

In conclusion, looking at both Achebe’s and Conrad’s works, it is evident that Conrad portrayed the Africans as people living in the prehistoric era with the only way out to modernization is the Europeans. The description of River Congo as walking in darkness also highlights the perception of Africa as people living in the traditional way who needs some redemption. The actions of Marlow who comes for Kurtz denotes the motive of Conrad who stresses that he wants to take him out of darkness to light and peace. 

In other instances, the author argues that Africans are specimen who need some improvement brings out the whole picture of the authors feeling toward Africa. Achebe’s agitation on Conrad’s argument and call for the preservation of African identity also confirm our thesis where Conrad wants Africans to abolish their culture. The author points out that Africans should be taught how to speak and also introduced to modern occupations to leave their cultural way of life that allows only hunting and gathering.

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The European as a Savior of Native Africans. (2021, Apr 26). Retrieved from