How do the novels Things Fall Apart and Heart of Darkness differ in their portrayal of colonialism?

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iandavidclark3 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The representations of colonialism in Things Fall Apart and Heart of Darkness differ in a major way. In Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad depicts colonialism as a violent force deconstructing a society of savages and barbarians. In contrast, in Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe depicts colonialism as a violent force deconstructing a sophisticated and highly developed culture. As such, though both novels display the savage nature of colonial enterprises, Conrad makes the assumption that cultures subjected to colonialism are entirely primitive, whereas Achebe recognizes the nuanced, complicated, and culturally advanced natures of societies dominated by colonialism.

This distinction is critical. While Conrad's critique of colonialism is very important, it's undeniable that he depicts African cultures in a racist manner: native Africans are represented as primitive and less-developed than Europeans, and the latter are driven mad by the dark and "primitive" cultures of Africa. Achebe, however, depicts his native Igbo individuals as normal human beings: they can be virtuous and noble, they exist in a complicated social hierarchy, and they also make entirely human mistakes. Thus, Achebe's depiction of colonialism is ultimately harder to bear. While Conrad shows colonial powers destroying apparently "savage" cultures, Achebe shows colonialism destroying sophisticated and cultured human beings. In this way, Achebe truly gets to the heart of colonial injustice. 

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Heart of Darkness

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