Clashing Cultures in Things Fall Apart and Heart of Darkness
A culture defines what it's people perceive about evil, the place it gives to women, and its relationship with other cultures. The Ibo and European people in Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, have two distinct cultures that begin to blend when the white men come as missionaries and try to communicate and live together with the Africans. European culture also differs from native culture on the Congo rivers in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Only one man, Kurtz, really connects with the natives and then is taken away dying by his fellow Europeans.
Evil is defined by it's culture, whether it be how the culture accepts another culture and condemns as evil or identifying specific items as evil. In Things Fall Apart, the Ibo culture veiled the Africans as primitive natives who held their own different, seen as evil, ways and traditions. In Heart of Darkness, Marlow viewed the natives with whom Kurtz is staying with as evil and feels their evil when he met them after traveling down the river. Once he heard that Kurtz ordered the natives to attack his ship, his views changed a little. Marlow experienced the evil that Kurtz did, and the even had the sickness that Kurtz died from. In both of these novels, specific places represent evil things in different cultures. Europeans treat a church as holy ground but to the Ibo culture who didn't know Jesus, it was just a building raised by the white invaders who settled among them. Europeans found the Congo River and a town on it's banks and it was thought of as evil because they hadn't experienced living there or vines covering them as they traveled along the river added to their thinking of an evil atmosphere. In Things Fall Apart, the clan refers to a forest as an evil forest and they cast everything they deem into it. For example, twins were thought of as a curse when born so they were cast into the forest and left to die. The evil forest didn't seem so evil to the European missionaries who came because they hadn't adopted this particular belief of evil into their culture. In fact, the clan purposely granted land in the evil forest to missionaries for their church, believing evil would destroy them, but the missionaries did last until the church was burnt down by members of the clan. Evil is not taken lightly in the Ibo culture and abominations that are committed by members of the clan are dealt with and cleansed from the land so that others will not do the same thing.
A culture also defines the place of women in society and the treatment they receive from members within the society. Ibo culture regarded women as gentle , weak and obedient to their men. Some women had the status of a priestess and were therefore respected and treated as a deity instead of a common woman. The woman's job was in the house taking care of the children, preparing the meals, and raising easy crops. The men did the brave things such as fighting, hunting, and raising difficult crops. Along with gender crops, there were also gender crimes and stories. Men's crimes were seen as intentional and women were seen as not able to commit such terrible crimes so woman crimes were seen as unintentional. Men, such as Okonkwo, were able to commit woman crimes so why weren't women allowed to commit man crimes? That is just the way their culture operated. The stories that men told were about bravery and war and young men were expected to listen to this instead of fairy tales that women told. "So Okonkwo encouraged the boys to sit with him in his obi, and he told them stories of the land -masculine..... and was finally thrown by the cat." (53) While Nwoye feigned that he liked the stories that his father told to make him a man, he preferred his mother's that he had heard while growing up that kept his spirit gentle. When he pretended not to like his mother's stories, his father was pleased and didn't beat or rebuke him. Men were allowed to beat their wives as Okonkwo often did: "And when she returned he beat her very heavily." (29) The man was the head of their household and could do whatever he wanted and he women didn't fight back. To the Ibo, woman existed to fulfill every man's need and to serve them. In the 19th century Europe, women didn't have a high rank in society but there were better laws that protected them and they were treated better that in the Ibo society. Today in 21st century America, women hold the same offices as men and have the same rights as them also. To sum up, culture determines the woman's place in society.
Lastly, a culture decides how it will influence and treat other cultures and their people. In Things Fall Apart, the Europeans and Africans didn't understand each other at first they learned how to communicate and get along while learning about each other's beliefs and culture: "Whenever Mr. Brown went to that village he spent long hours with Akunna in his obi talking through an interpreter about religion. Neither of them succeeded in converting the other but they learned more about their different beliefs" (179). Certain individuals within the clan chose to interact with the missionaries and develop a friendship with them. At first most Ibo saw Christianity as abominable, and Christian colonists saw having many gods instead of one true God as wrong. Then as the clan started interacting with the missionaries, the Christian faith was appealing and changed many lives as they began to attend church and separate from their old ways. This was one of the ways that the Europeans changed the Ibo culture. Another way the Europeans influenced the Ibo culture was the addition of organized laws and a court system. The clan wasn't used to these courts and when some tried to rebel they were stopped by the more powerful force of the white men. In Heart of Darkness, Marlow didn't understand the strange night ceremony he followed Kurtz to, the heads on posts, and other traditions the natives had. He thought of the tribe as evil and wanted to save Kurtz from them instead of getting to know them as Kurtz had. This reaction was a result of Marlow's culture influencing him to think of the natives as evil while the natives had their own culture and thought of Kurtz as a god.
Cultures colliding can cause disagreement or friendship, depending on the two cultures involved and what is being discussed or forced upon them. In all three cultures that have been mentioned, Ibo, European, and Native, the culture itself has its own definition of evil, sets the place of women in society, and decides how they will handle relationships with different cultures.
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