Chinu Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is a novel that contrasts sharply to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. In Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness he presents Africa in a very bad light and as an uncivilized country. In contrast, Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is a story about civilized Africa and their traditions. In Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness he justifies the slave trade and slavery. Achebe, on the other hand, represents African culture and customs and his people’s history by reclaiming the “images” of Africa that Conrad constructs in Heart Of Darkness.
Conrad views Africa as a population that lacks knowledge about culture and religion. Achebe takes responsibility for speaking about his people and their culture. Things Fall Apart and Heart Of Darkness both examine the importance of cultural influence and treat other cultures and their people in different ways. Culture is viewed as a part of people’s life. Culture can be defined as shared human patterns or ways of living. In many cultures some things are considered good and in some cultures they might be viewed as bad or evil.
In Things Fall Apart Ibo culture considers the arrival of twins as a curse so the Ibo abandon them in the evil forest and leave them to die. They also believe in many gods. Ibo people have various gods who they worship. When missionaries arrive in Umofia, they discover that their religious beliefs are different than one another. Mr. Brown goes to Akunne’s house to preach to him and they both sit and talk about their different beliefs. This shows that we can learn a lot from our fellow humans even if our beliefs are not the same. Neither of them succeeded in converting the other but they learned more about their different beliefs” Achebe (P179). In Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness, Marlow doesn’t understand the strange night ceremony he follows Kurtz to, and other traditions the natives have. He thinks of the natives as evil and wants to save Kurtz from them instead of getting to know them as Kurtz had. Marlow’s beliefs about the native culture influence him to think that they are evil. In his view native people are mindless and barbaric, and their beliefs are acts of evil.
Conrad describes Africa as an uncivilized country. “I don’t think a single one of them had any clear idea of time, as we at the end of countless ages have. They still belong to the beginning of time. Had no inherited experience to teach them as it were, and of course, as long as there was a piece of paper written over in accordance with some farcical law or other made down the river, It didn’t enter anybody’s head to trouble how they would live” Conrad (P 135). Conrad represents natives as uneducated and with no culture. His portrayal of Africans is akin to that of savages.
Achebe talks about Africans in his novel as civilized people with traditions and knowledge about their culture. Achebe describes the culture of native people in Things Fall Apart. The Ibo people carry out the various traditions that have been passed on from their ancestors. The “Week of peace” is a sacred time for Ibo people. In this week people do not use any harsh words to anyone. They live in peace to honor the goddess of the earth. They believe that if they disobey the goddess they will not receive her blessings and their crops won’t grow.
Another traditional way of honoring the gods is the New Yam Festival. At this time of the year, before the harvest begins, the Ibo people celebrate the joy of a new harvest year. At night they throw away the yams of the old year and all of the cooking pots and pans are washed. This is also a time to honor the earth goddess again and the ancestral spirits of the clan. The traditions and beliefs of natives show that they received the values and their way of living from their ancestors and they are living in a civilized country that is not as Conrad described “a dark continent”.
The women in Africa are viewed as very weak and obedient to men. In the Ibo culture the woman’s job in the house is comprised of taking care of the children, preparing meals for the family, and helping men with the easy crops. The men on the other hand do masculine things such as fighting, hunting and raising difficult crops. This was the way lbo culture operates. Some women were given a status of priestess and therefore were highly respected. However, powerless and weak as they might be in Ibo culture, women did have important roles.
In things fall apart Uchendu tells Okonkwo “Mother is supreme”. He explains that “ Its true that a child belongs to his father. But when a father beats his child, it seeks sympathy in its mother’s hut. A man belongs to his fatherland when things are good and life is sweet. But when there is sorrow and bitterness he finds refuge in his motherland. ” (Achebe P 134). Women have power and importance in Igbo culture that can be revered on some level that is why the women are priestesses. Women know more about life because they are the source of life.
This is why when a child is upset and depressed he or she goes to the mother to find the solution of the problem. Furthermore the first wife of a man in the Ibo society is given respect. The palm wine ceremony at Nwakibie’s obi illustrates this deference. Anasi, Nwakibie’s first wife cold not arrive on time so the others cold not drink before her. But in The heart of Darkness Conrad describes women as weak and fragile. He thinks that they should live in their own beautiful world. Throughout the story there are not that many instances of women interacting with people.
However, women’s roles in Things Fall Apart are acknowledged by their contributions to the farm and family duties. In addition, Achebe wrote this novel after reading Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness. He was outraged by the way Africans were perceived, he takes up the responsibility of teaching people about African culture and their beliefs. He represents African culture and by doing so he makes his point that Africa is a civilized country full of native people who have their own cultural beliefs. The missionaries’ arrival disturbs the unity and the ?? balance of what was once a very dignified society.