I-Search Historical Literary Criticism

The late 19th century marked the apogee of the epoch of colonialism when Great Britain as well as many other European countries attempted to establish their control over less developed countries of the world, especially in Africa, Asia and America. The colonial policies targeted at the exploitation of natural resources of less developed countries and the use of local economies as the basis for the economic growth of European countries.  In the result of the colonization, the entire world had changed dramatically and many writers could not ignore the dramatic effect of the colonization not only on the local population but on Europeans as well. In fact, they attempted to reveal the essence of the process of colonization and convey the dramatic changes that occurred on the international as well as local level in the result of colonization. Among these writers, it is possible to single out Joseph Conrad, whose “Heart of Darkness” is a perfect illustration of the historical context in which it was written. In fact, this novel mirrors the epoch when Great Britain attempted to control the entire world and the sun never set in the British Empire. At the same time, Joseph Conrad was not the only writer who has noticed the destructive impact of colonization. In this respect, it is worth mentioning Chinua Achebe and his “Things Fall Apart”, where the author also reveals dark sides of the colonization and disturbing trends of the historical epoch when “Heart of Darkness” was created.

First of all, it should be said that both books reveal the essence of colonialism and its negative impact on people. Speaking about “Heart of Darkness”, it should be pointed out that the word ”˜darkness’ in the title is very symbolic since it implies that the period of European colonization and its consequences are really negative. In fact, darkness is traditionally associated with some evil power and European colonizers turned to be a real personification of this evil power as Conrad depicts it. It is worth noting that the narration by Conrad is quite realistic and true to life.

The author perfectly creates the realistic image of the life in colonized Africa. In such a way, he attempts to depict the reality of the historical epoch. Conrad underlines that Europeans that practically occupied African continent treated the local population as second-class citizens, whose inferiority proved to be beyond a doubt for colonizers. In stark contrast, Europeans practically played gods while they were in Africa.

In this respect, it is worthy of mention the main character of the book, Hurtz, who is a real tyrant terrorizing and oppressing the local population and remaining ”˜civilized’ with Europeans (Conrad 305). In such a way, this author perfectly conveys the cruelty and hypocrisy of European colonizers and total oppression of local population.

In this respect, it is important to underline that Europeans did view African population as well as other colonized people as inferior and, what is more, colonies was a source of cheap labor force and goods which were exported in abundance to Europe, including Great Britain, where they were used by local industries. Such a supply of raw materials and other products from colonies contributed to the unparalleled progress of European countries and steady degradation of colonized people.

At this point, it is possible to refer to “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe, where the author shows in details the effects of the colonization for the local population in Africa. Unlike Conrad, who actually represents a European or western view on colonization, Chinua Achebe attempts to show the other side of the colonization. To put it more precisely, the author perfectly depicts that the local population has a unique culture, which cannot be really understood by Europeans or even may be prejudiced by colonizers. For instance, the killing if Ikemfuna by Okonkwo because of the prediction of the oracle, is unimaginable to Europeans (Achebe 217). Nevertheless, such details prove the fact that African people had unique culture but their level of development was extremely low compared to Europeans that actually resulted in colonization which destroyed the local traditions and culture and either ”˜westernized’ or, what was widely spread, dehumanized the local population.

At the same time, the historical development of the world at the epoch marked the dominance of Europeans that is clearly seen from works of both Conrad and Achebe. The existing world order was apparently unjust and led to the cultural and economic degradation of Africa, as both works depict, but the similar trends were the characteristics of the colonization at large and other continents and territories colonized by Europeans also suffered from economic and cultural oppression and exploitation of the local population.

It proves beyond a doubt that Conrad attempts to show that colonization was not an act of bringing civilization to Africa and remote territories. In stark contrast, colonization was a historical error, from a humanistic point of view, since this was a process of oppression of Africa, which backwardness, both economic and technological, prevented the continent from the opposition or struggle with European colonizers. Conrad understood the destructive impact of colonization on the local population and, simultaneously, he warned about the negative effects of the colonization which could influence Europeans. He showed Europeans losing their face, transforming from humanists into arrogant and ignorant masters of the world who are drunken with their power to the extent that they believe they are the rulers of the world. Hence, they admit the possibility to neglect the local population and treat African people as domestic animals or tools with the help of which Europeans can build their own, brave, new world, where they remain in the dominant position, while all the rest people are supposed to serve to European masters.

In such a context, Achebe enhances the destructive effect of Europeans domination in the world since he reveals that African culture was unable to resist to European expansion. In his work, he expands the negative European influences on Africa from economic and social domains, which Conrad describes in “Heart of the Darkness”, to the cultural domain. In such a way, both works present a profound analysis of the policy of colonialism and its effects on both colonizers and colonized. Conrad was apparently right in his criticism of colonial policies and the work of Achebe proves that Conrad’s criticism was justified.  It is necessary to underline that colonization did not simply destroyed the culture and traditions of the colonized population but it also resulted in physical destruction and total oppression of the local population. At the same time colonization produced a negative impact on colonizers as well depriving them of basic humanist values they lost in colonies because of their unlimited power and technological superiority compared to the local population. Therefore, Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of the Darkness” can be viewed as a warning to the colonialist regime which was established in the world at the epoch. In fact, Conrad was one of those writers who could objectively assess the historical significance of processes which took place in the late 19th century and its destructive effects on the life of people worldwide. At the same time, his work proves that ideas of humanism had not died out by the late 19th century. In stark contrast, Conrad proved to be able to condemn colonialism, in spite of the seeming material benefits of the colonialist policies conducted by Great Britain and other European countries. However, Conrad apparently wanted to convince the audience that material benefits which Europeans received at the moment could not outweigh negative effects of the colonization since this policy was absolutely dehumanizing and devaluating traditional European humanistic and democratic values.

Thus, in conclusion, it should be said that Joseph Conrad was very skeptical about the progress of colonialism in the world in the late 19th century. In his “Heart of the Darkness”, the writer critically evaluates colonial policies and reveals the immoral essence of colonization. His views were supported by other writers of the epoch, including Chinua Achebe, who showed the destructive effect of colonization from within, from the part of African population.

Leave a Reply