Comparing Images of India and Africa

I thought it was interesting that one of the first things that Achebe mentioned about Heart of Darkness is the projection of images of Africa as “the other world” and “the antithesis of Europe and therefore civilization.” In comparison to images of India in Forster’s Passage, Africa is painted in a much less flattering light.

Between my earlier post on the first few pages of Passage and Conrad’s illustration of Africa in Heart of Darkness, Achebe points out that Conrad very vividly paints a picture of a mysterious, “savage” land, in stark contrast to the wholly uninteresting, unremarkable Chandrapore to which we are introduced in the beginning pages of A Passage to India.

Perhaps Conrad’s–pardon the pun–strict black and white view is due to his being, as Achebe says, a “thoroughgoing racist.” Conrad’s voice, his nearly chant-like repetition of particularly colored words and phrases (Achebe makes a funny jab at his use of the word “nigger”) shows the reader a hardened, unrelenting view of Africa as the aforementioned antithesis to civilization.

I am unsure whether to agree with Achebe on Conrad not completely being held accountable for perpetuating his views on Africa due to his merely being a representative example of the Western ways of thinking at the time. However, I don’t know enough about Conrad himself to adequately assess whether he could be held more accountable for how he conveys Africa or not.

Revisiting Chandrapore: Second Impressions and Sympathy

Since the first lecture, I’ve been churning that introductory excerpt from A Passage to India over in my mind. I thought it curious that the reader is introduced in such an apathetic, even disinterested manner, to a place that should be (given the period) and usually is made extremely exotic.

I’m starting to think that perhaps it is a technique Forster uses to gain the reader’s sympathy for the land, the physical space and its contents (terrain and local people). In predisposing the reader to sympathizing with the people–Aziz–even in the introduction to Aziz as a character, one reacts as he does to the foreign British.

Perhaps it is romantic of me, but the way in which Forster sets up Chandrapore and characterizes Aziz seems to use a sort of reverse psychology, endearing the entirely un-interesting Chandrapore to the reader as if from the eyes of a local who sees flaws and treasures in the same glance, equally and indifferently. Aziz on the other hand, pulls a similar trick by presenting himself as a well-natured, good-hearted man when he visits his friend; highlights the previous impression of Chandrapore by admiring the beauty of his favorite mosque; but gives a strange second impression when he flares up at Mrs. Moore. His redemption occurs when the reader realizes that he does it out of love for his faith and place of worship  and he is readily willing to admit error and make peace with Mrs. Moore.

The interactions with the British in Chandrapore are made more real and the tensions between Aziz and Adela are emphasized by the sympathy and empathy the reader has for Aziz and Chandrapore over the foreigners.