How things fall apart may “write back” to heart of darkness: revealing the unknown

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  • Publicado : 15 de junio de 2011
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Africa as a strange land of cannibals and savages where heathens inhabited is an invention created by the slave trade and later reinforced by colonialism. The idea that Europeans were merely saving Africans from themselves, from ignorance and brutality was spread around and one means was through literature.
This view reached its fullest in Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”. The maincharacter, Marlow, tells of a journey down the Congo River and describes his impression of the native villages along the riverbanks. We are told that "Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world."(Conrad: 1994). Despite admitting the limits of his own perception, he still casts Africans as a primitive version of himself rather than as potential equals:
“It wasunearthly, and the men were—No, they were not inhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst of it—the suspicion of their not being inhuman. It would come slowly to one. They howled and leaped, and spun, and made horrid faces; but what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity—like yours—the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. Ugly. Yes, it was ugly enough; butif you were man enough you would admit to yourself that there was in you just the faintest trace of a response to the terrible frankness of that noise, a dim suspicion of there being a meaning in it which you—you so remote from the night of first ages—could comprehend. And why not?” (1994:19)
These ways of describing the unknown has stereotyped the African people giving them and its’ natives anunknown and primitive face. That is why, in an attempt to change the portrayed stereotype imposed by the British Empire, Chinua Achebe wrote Things Fall Apart, among other books, to be published throughout the world. As well as Homi Bhabha in his essay Postcolonial Criticism, Achebe also states “how certain cultures (mis)represent other cultures thereby extending their political and socialdomination.” In this novel, Achebe writes back to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as a means of discrediting these blind “truths” in relation to culture, language and religion, and to go so far as to say the western influence helped to cause the blind perspective of Africa. An important point to make is that he does it through the use of English. He wanted to achieve cultural revitalization throughEnglish but he also captured the rhythm of the Igbo language and integrated Igbo vocabulary into the narrative.

WRITING BACK
In Things Fall Apart, Achebe gives voice to all the silent African voices in Conrad´s Heart of Darkness. In his book Africans are represented as individuals capable of speech and understanding, not just as one massive conglomerate of natives. To contradict Conrad´sdescription of the African setting, Achebe points out that the Ibo people have distinct political units-the villages-that communicate with each other and with other distant communities.
The land itself is described as a mix of towns and farms, not a mysterious land which breeds insanity. We see evidence of a developed geography and not just an impenetrable forest.
As regards their culture, Achebedescribes a set of systems and beliefs that represents their way of living. Their customs are not regarded as eccentric but described with precision as their culture and language is linked to it. “Among the Igbo the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten.” (1974:45)
The story portrays a society of people who have very rooted beliefs, acalendar which is based off of harvesting, as well as rules that present how the society should be run. Achebe also makes emphasis in picturing their complex religion. Whereas the European eyes saw them as heathers, we learn that the Igbo believe in numerous gods associated with nature and also on ancestors. The Igbo gods are mostly manifestations of nature and its elements which are linked to...
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