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Much literature is devoted to Africa as a black continent, however, none of these pieces is discussed in such a way as Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness does. One of the most popular critiques of this work is Chinua Achebe’s paper titled “An Image of Africa”.
As for me, Chinua Achebe’s An Image of Africa is an unfair personal vision which was presented as the point of view of the whole mankind. Reading Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness it is possible to see the cases of prejudiced opinion about Africa and its citizens, however, this point of view is aimed at presenting the situation which was in the world.
The author’s idea is to show how European civilized people see Africa. It does not mean that Joseph Conrad is “a bloody racist” (Achebe 11), it means that Joseph Conrad has noticed the problems which existed in Africa and tried to show them to the whole world.
Chinua Achebe’s Unfair Judgment of Joseph Conrad’s Novel
Reading Chinua Achebe’s An Image of Africa, it is obvious that the author blames Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in racism and too negative attitude to Africa and its citizens.
Calling the author of a book “a bloody racist” (Achebe 11), the critic wants to convince the whole world that the ideas discussed in the novel are purely author’s ones and nobody is able to share those points of view.
As for me, I absolutely disagree with this statement as Joseph Conrad’s novel is the vision of African continent by simple European people.
That rude description of Africa and sometimes prejudiced opinion about people who lived there is the reflection of the social opinion of Europeans about the continent.
Saying that Africa is “the other world”, “the antithesis of Europe and therefore of civilization, a place where man’s vaunted intelligence and refinement are finally mocked by triumphant bestiality” (Achebe 32), Achebe does not mention the fact that this is not a personal point of view of Joseph Conrad, but the vision that was inherent almost to each civilized European.
It is not a secret that the vision of Africa in America and Europe was too prejudiced. Considering people there as uneducated, rude and only possible for hard work, civilized people usually contrasted Africans to themselves, therefore, Achebe’s blame personally to Conrad is groundless.
Reading the Caryl Phillips’ interview with Chinua Achebe aims at proving that Joseph Conrad is not a racist, the discussion opens many aspects which are not discussed in the book.
Chinua Achebe has perceived Conrad’s writing as a personal offence, he writes, “Conrad’s presentation of me is my problem and I have a responsibility to deal with it… I don’t come from a ‘half-made’ society as your ‘friend’ Naipaul would say.
We’re not ‘half-made’ people, we’re a very old people. We’ve seen lots of problems in the past. We’ve dealt with these problems in Africa, and we’re older than the problems. Drought, famine, disease, this is not the first time that we’re dealing with these things in Africa” (Phillips).
This statement helps see the personal offence on Conrad and his writing. That is why the critique of this person is that sharp and negative. Some words in Conrad’s novel offended Achebe and he expressed his offence through the dissatisfaction with the author.
However, why should not Achebe present his dissatisfaction about the society who encouraged Conrad for writing such a story, why the social opinion does not offence Achebe? These questions have remained unanswered.
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Colhoun is also sure that Achebe’s vision of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is wrong due to incorrect judgment of the same idea. Vice versa, Colhoun is sure that Conrad and Achebe are on the same side.
Colhoun is sure that Conrad did not want to offence anyone and Achebe’s dissatisfaction with the language used in the novel is explained by the unawareness of the time when Conrad lived.
Colhoun is sure that Conrad did nothing offensive, he just used the language which was common during the time he wrote (Colhoun).
Therefore, Chinua Achebe’s negative reaction to Joseph Conrad’s is just personal vision of the issue explained by the negative personal relation of the critic and the arguments he uses are just unsupported personal opinions.
Joseph Conrad wrote about Africa as it was seen for others and no one can blame him in prejudiced personal attitude to Africans.
Joseph Conrad was not a racist, this was a person who wanted to present the life of African people as it was seen by Americans and Europeans. Personal vision of Joseph Conrad as “a bloody racist” (Achebe 11) is just a personal statement which is not supported with any reasonable proofs.
Achebe’s arguments are based on the personal vision of the written text. It is Achebe who may be blamed in appropriate study of the background of writing before making such statements.
Of course, some facts and expressions in Conrad’s writing are rather unpleasant, however, the author wanted to show the real situation, not the one we see right now.
It is important to perceive Conrad within the frames of the time he wrote his novel, but Achebe failed to do it.
Achebe, Chinua. An Image of Africa: The Trouble with Nigeria. New York: Penguin, 2010. Print.
Colhoun, Jason. “An analysis of Achebe’s An Image of Africa: Racism in Heart of Darkness.” The Imperial Archive Project 30 Apr. 2002. Web.
Phillips, Caryl. “Out of Africa.” The Guardian 22 Feb. 2003. Web. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2003/feb/22/classics.chinuaachebe