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Achebe vs. Conrad

            Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness has long been considered a classic. It is taught as an example of classically appreciated literature in high school and college classrooms across the world. However, as Chinua Achebe points out, there is another side to Conrad's famous work than simply a classic piece of literature. According to Achebe, the racism and blatant anti-African sentiments expressed throughout the novel bear closer examination and a rethink of Conrad's place in the upper echelons of literature.
             One of Achebe's main criticisms of Conrad is not his failure to acknowledge the similarities and links between Africans and Europeans, for he does mention this repeatedly, but rather his revulsion at such a kinship. In the beginning of Heart of Darkness, the narrator mentions "the great spirit of the past upon the lower reaches of the Thames" and mentions that "this too has been one of the dark places on the earth." The narrator is obviously referring to pre-civilized England, and the universality of savagery. However, by doing this he is, maybe unwittingly, implying that only that which is European is civilized, and this bringing of the light through "civilization" (colonization) is inevitable. He speaks with dread though, at the idea of a kinship between Africa and Europe, as though it was something he would rather not focus on. Achebe points out that Conrad's treatment of Africa sets it up as the antithesis of Europe. Conrad repeatedly belittles Africa as a nation through his narrator's fear and also with his treatment of Africa as a setting in general. Achebe refers to this treatment as a "prop.
             for the "disintegration of one petty European mind." . He bemoans the portrayal of Africa as a backdrop rather than a people, a culture (pg12), In his treatment of Africa, Conrad is serving up a nation as a dark mass to be borne and survived. Not human beings, but an unliving jungle devoid of light and hope.

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