While reading An Image of Africa, I was persuaded to take Achebe’s stand against Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as I felt that his anger was reasonably justified against Conrad’s supposed racism.
Achebe’s problem with the novella arises from the way in which language was appropriated by Conrad in his depiction of Africa and Africans and the insidious quality of Conrad’s narrative in reinforcing hierarchies of power that is based on racial lines. The article reminded me of the Gikandi article where Picasso denied the African artist any intellectual capacity by viewing him as an object for his art. Racism on Picasso’s part is not overt, but insidious as it dehumanises the African and this likewise seen in Conrad’s inferior depiction of the Africans.
Achebe opposes the use of binary oppositions in the depiction of Africa and Europe in the novella: “Heart of Darkness projects the image of Africa as “the other world,” the antithesis of Europe and therefore of civilisation” (Achebe, 338). However, I feel that the comparison of the Thames and the Congo is not reflective of Conrad’s worry about the “lurking hint of kinship” (Achebe, 338) or the desire to view Africa in opposition to the English. Instead, Marlow’s fixation on rivers as water routes for the civilisation project provides a parallel between the arrival of the Romans on the Thames and the civilisation of the British, with the British moving to Africa with the same mission. This conflation of the two worlds highlights the recognition of the self in the ‘other’ as an attempt to reappropriate the ‘other’.
The postcolonial reading of Heart of Darkness is an attempt to rethink fiction and critique colonial ideologies yet Achebe was perhaps too extreme in his critique of the text. While he was justified in his anger towards racism in Conrad’s novella due to the dehumanisation of Africans, he is similarly using “emotive words” (Achebe, 338) to persuade readers to join him in discrediting the inclusion of Heart of Darkness in the literary canon.