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Things Fall Apart Contradicts Stereotypes and Stereotyping in Heart of Darkness

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Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart Contradicts Stereotypes in Conrad's Heart of Darkness


In "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness," Chinua Achebe criticizes Joseph Conrad for his racist stereotypes towards the continent and people of Africa. He claims that Conrad propagated the "dominant image of Africa in the Western imagination" rather than portraying the continent in its true form (1793). Africans were portrayed in Conrad's novel as savages with no language other than grunts and with no "other occupations besides merging into the evil forest or materializing out of it simply to plague Marlow" (1792-3). To Conrad, the Africans were not characters in his story, but merely props. Chinua Achebe responded with a novel, Things Fall Apart: an antithesis to Heart of Darkness and similar works by other European writers. In Things Fall Apart, Achebe tells the story of an Ibo man, Okonkwo, and the tragedies which he has to endure. Africans are represented as individuals capable of speech, not just one massive conglomerate of natives. Their customs are not regarded as eccentric or bizarre, but as the norm-functioning no differently than the variety of Western customs do. And the land itself is described as a mix of towns and farms, not a mysterious land which breeds insanity. In almost every respect, Things Fall Apart contradicts the stereotypes set up in Heart of Darkness.

Achebe opens his lecture, "An Image of Africa," with the story of a student who sent him a letter saying how he was "particularly happy to learn about the customs and superstitions of an African tribe," not realizing that "the life of his own tribesmen in Yonkers, New York, is full of odd customs and superstitions" as well (1784). Western thou...


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...nters many of the degrading stereotypes that colonial literature has placed on Africa. In his lecture, "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness," Achebe documents the ways that Conrad dehumanizes Africans by reducing their religious practices to superstition, saying that they should remain in their place, taking away their ability of speech, and depreciating their complex geography to just a single mass of jungle. Achebe carefully crafts Things Fall Apart to counter these stereotypes and show that Africa is in fact a rich land full of intelligent people who are, in fact, very human.



Works Cited

Achebe, Chinua. "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness." The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: Norton, 2001. 1783-1794.

Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: Anchor Books, 1994.


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