Chinua Achebe on “Heart of Darkness” | Is This Novel Anti-African?

Chinua Achebe on “Heart of Darkness” | Is This Novel Anti-African?

Chinua Achebe accuses Joseph Conrad a racist as well as anti-African due to his most prominent novel “Heart of Darkness”. In his essay/lecture “An Image of Africa [Wikipedia]”, he expresses his opinions that Joseph Conrad considers Africans inferior to white-men. Achebe thinks that Joseph Conrad has problems with “n i g g e r s”. It is, therefore, he has humiliated them while describing their condition. Although it seems to the readers that the novel is in African’s favor yet in hidden meanings, Joseph Conrad degrades them. Chinua Achebe raised objection even on the description of Congo river, provided in “Heart of Darkness”. He says that the writer glorifies the Thames River but when he comes to Congo River, he negatively intensifies it. However he does not raise any objection on colonialism. Only thing which Chinua Achebe finds offensive in “Heart of Darkness” is negative demonstration of “n i g g e r s”.

Allegation of Chinua Achebe on “Heart of Darkness:

Following are some allegations due to which Chinua Achebe charges Joseph Conrad as “a thoroughgoing racist”:

  • Conrad deprives Africans of language
  • No human expression on behalf of Africans
  • Conrad calls Africa antitheses to Europe
  • He also says that Africa is the other world
  • Africans have no civilization

Indeed, certain elements are there that mimic anti-Africans attitude of the writer. Chinua Achebe thinks that Joseph Conrad has not given Africans respect that they deserve. He quotes some examples from the novel and proves that Joseph Conrad deliberately uses offensive words against them. For instance, he uses soft words in demonstration of white-woman. He describes her nature and power through flowery language. But when it comes to Africans, he directly calls Kurt’z mistress a savage because she was an African.

There is no denying the fact that Chinua Achebe is speaking on behalf of Africans. His grief is the grief of every African living around the globe. It is also relevant to mention here that Chinua Achebe does not differentiate Marlow from Joseph Conrad. He observes that although Joseph Conrad has created a fictional character called Marlow, who narrates the story to his fellowmen, yet he is mouthpiece of Joseph Conrad. Hence, it is true that Joseph Conrad in the guise of Marlow narrates his whole experiences.

Justification of Charges by Chinua Achebe:

Chinua Achebe raises objections on “Heart of Darkness” and to some extent they are considerable because of their authenticity. It is true that Joseph Conrad has ignored the honor of Africans. He describes them mere slaves in the novel. Moreover, he has not given them tongue to speak. We hardly find any dialogue uttered from the mouth of any African. Besides, none of the Africans expresses his emotions in the whole novel. What we observe is their miserable condition. Joseph Conrad has written this novel against imperialism but he has not given mouth to Africans so that they can defend themselves. Somehow, he considers Africans inferior and white-men superior. He focuses mainly on colonialism and ignores that “n i g g e r s” are no more slaves but under colonial forces.

Purpose of colonialism is to make a nation better while obtaining benefits from his valuable resources. Joseph Conrad illustrates cons of colonialism. However, at the same time he underestimates the rights of Africans. He talks less about affects of colonialism but more about the greed of white-men. Marlow while narrating the story does not give any importance to “n i g g e r s” death. Meaning thereby, their death is not a serious issue for him. It is said that European countries always consider themselves superior to other countries of the world. Joseph Conrad kept this fact in his mind when he wrote “Heart of Darkness”. It is, therefore, he symbolically shows a difference between death of white-man and African in the novel.

“Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe and “Heart of Darkness”:

Chinua Achebe has rightly raised voice against the racism that he observes in “Heart of Darkness”. If “Things Fall Apart” is compared to “Heart of Darkness” then we find real difference between the opinions of both the writers. “Things Falls Apart” is about rights and values of Africans whereas “Heart of Darkness” has nothing to do with African culture. It gives a message that third world countries especially Africans has no norms and values at all. In addition, it portrays an image that Africans are uncivilized.

It is acceptable that “Heart of Darkness” shows brutality of white-men but at the same time it is contemptuous. As a result, people rightly defend Chinua Achebe because to some extent we discover racism in “Heart of Darkness”.

It has been proved that Joseph Conrad, to some extent, is racist because of the harsh words, he uses in his novel in description of Africans. He has disrespected them and has not even given them voice to speak and to talk. Like “Heart of Darkness”, “Things Fall Apart” and “Twilight in Delhi” also speak about colonialism in Nigeria and in subcontinent respectively but the difference between “Heart of Darkness” and both these two novels is that a decay of culture has been shown in former novels without disrespecting any nation.

Is “Heart of Darkness” anti-African?

After reading the whole novel, it cannot be ignored that Conrad deprives Africans of language, no human expression is seen on behalf of Africans, he calls Africa antitheses to Europe, and also says that Africa is the other world. Meaning thereby, they don’t know anything civilization.

But is “Heart of Darkness” anti-African? The answer is no. It does not seem anti-African from any angle. We know that two main continents have mostly been effected by colonialism. First is Africa and second is Asia. Joseph Conrad has written this novel against colonialism, therefore, whether directly or indirectly, it is obviously beneficial for Africans. Hence, “Heart of Darkness” is not against Africa rather it is for Africa.

Defense of Joseph Conrad:

In defense of Joseph Conrad, numbers of writers and critics have written essays, in which they tries to discharge the allegations. Joseph Conrad is not African. He does not know as much about Africa as much Chinua Achebe knows. There is difference between experiences and knowledge. Chinua Achebe is well aware with Nigerians culture but Joseph Conrad is among white-men, therefore, he is not aware with their norms. Moreover, Chinua Achebe should understand that primary purpose of “Heart of Darkness” was not to show decay of culture in Africa. Its purpose was to reveal the greed of white-men during the period of colonialism.

As far as the offensive words are concerned, may be they are misinterpreted by Chinua Achebe. Words are symbols, used to indicate something. It depends on the reader, how he interpret those words. He may construe their positive or negative meanings. It always depends on his knowledge and experience.

Joseph Conrad although has offended the Africans including Chinua Achebe by choosing the offensive words in “Heart of Darkness” yet the novel is not anti-African. Indeed, it has been written for the welfare of Africans as well as for the people who are under colonialism. Many of us do not consider him a racist nor anti-African. He is a true artist. May be he has offended the Africans but it does not seem a deliberate action. In defense of Joseph Conrad, it has been said that being a white-men, if he has written this novel against the greed of his fellowmen, then how can he be a racist? Furthermore, if the novel is against colonialism then definitely it is favorable for Africans.

Related Questions:

  • “Heart of Darkness” has been accused of being racist, anti African. Is this how you see it?
  • What are views of Chinua Achebe on “Heart of Darkness”