September 15th, 2010


Posted by jeannem in Uncategorized

“The real question is the dehumanization of Africa and Africans which age-long attitude has fostered and continued to foster in the world.  And a novel which celebrates this dehumanization, which depersonalizes a portion of the human race, can be called a great work of art.  My answer is no: No, it cannot.” – Achebe

I think that these sentences sum up Achebe’s p.o.v perfectly.  I felt that he is most upset at the fact that Conrad, in his novel, Heart of Darkness, portrayed the African people as sub humans, or not even human at all, like monsters or supernatural beings of some sort. 

Achebe states that he believes that Marlow’s views of Africa stems from Conrad’s own views.  He feels in fact that Marlow reinforces Conrad’s beliefs because of the similarity between thier careers.  Marlow’s character is one that hold’s the views of the time.  The things that they saw in Africa seemed shocking and atrocious to them.

Achebe, in his criticism, states that, “Africa is to Europe as the picture is to Dorian Gray- a carrier onto whom the master unloads his physical and moral deformities so that he may go forward, erect and immaculate.  Consequently, Africa is something to be avoided just as the picture has to be hidden away to safegaurd the man’s jeapardous integrity.”  People like Albert Schweitzer go to Africa, claiming to help and even doing so, but still refering to Africans as nothing more than their ‘junior brother’, rather than just their brother.  Even though Conrad’s character managed to see through all the terrible things brought on by colonization and the effects it had on people, but he still failed speak upon the uneqaulity between white and black people.  They are like Dorian Gray, trying to look good by seeming as if they are trying to help while hiding away thier indecencies in Africa as Dorian does in his protrait.  While back in England, your family and friends may think that you are doing great things in an effort to really help people, you are actually turning into a Kurtz typed person.

In my personal opinion I think that while Achebe makes his point well known, I feel that Conrad cannot be found totaly guilty for the offenses that he was accused of by Achebe.  I think that Heart of Darkness, and all its attitudes towards Africa was a product of its time.  The characters and the way they think are attuned to the common beliefs at the time.  Due to this fact, I don’t think that Conrad should be punished for something that was the prinicipal belief, things that he was probably brought up to think or was even heavily influenced by.  For example, if  Conrad were to have been alive in Nazi Germany, he would have dehumanized those in concentration camps, most likely the jewish, just like he supposedly does to the Africans in his novel.

And while I think that this is true, I do believe that The Picture of Dorian Gray reference is one that fits the English hyporacy of the time and really speaks to Achebe’s point.  I hate hypocracy as much as the next person, and I do think that people like Schweitzer, no matter the views of the time, had wronged the African people.  No matter how noble he thought he was being, he took one step in the right direction by acknowloging that the African people needed help, but two giant steps back when he refered to the African as his junior brother rather than just his brother, and believing that he was in fact a superior human.

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2 Responses to ' Achebe '

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  1.    beverly gross said,

    on September 16th, 2010 at 10:45 am

    quite persuasive, but I’m doubtful that Conrad would have tolerated nazism

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