Women as perpetrators of colonialism

Colonialism has been a much debated topic and for many, the focus has always been centered on how it functioned as a tool of not only European superiority but also, a tool for substaining the European patriarchal society. There were instances in the novel which seemed to uphold patriarchal beliefs such as when it was mentioned in the novel that “the women members of the club had no votes.” This corresponded to  our common belief of male domination and the helplessness of the women who were completely dependent on men for their survivor. Yet, after reading the novel, I felt that it made us looked at the position of  the European women in a different light.

The women in the novel seemed to enforce a system of colonialism of their own. This “system of colonialism” was evident in the way the European women entertained certain beliefs and how they sought to impress them onto the behaviour of the white men around them or in the way they judged the natives. Elizabeth exemplified this in the way she chose to uphold her beliefs about the “white man.”  This can be seen in “she was perfectly certain that that was not how white men ought to behave” and “she was grasping, dimly, that his views were not the views an Englishman should hold.” She also perpetuated this system of colonialism in the way she viewed marriage for it was said in the ending of the book that “her servants live in terror of her, although she speaks no Burmese” and “she fills with complete success the position for which Nature had designed her from the first, that of a burra memsahib.” To me, Elizabeth’s “colonialising” of her servants served as an re-enactment of the colonialism enforced by the European men. Here, it is suggested that the “white woman” functioned as a mirror for the “white man.”    

Contrary to the image of a “strong” woman created for the readers through her hunting trip with Flory, in her desperate attempts to find a husband in Flory and Verell respectively, Elizabeth perpetuated the stereotypical image of women who were completely dependent upon marriage  for their livelihood. This hence contributes to the idea that as much as men relied on colonialism to maintain a sort of pride, women also embraced colonialism to maintain order in their lives. As much as the fact that there were changes being affected, the colonial women were unwilling to adapt to the outcomes which these changes might bring and therefore, perhaps strove to uphold colonialism more than the men did. The novel hence, I felt, brought out another truth which we might have neglected with the knowledge which we were being equipped with to look at colonialism. It made us look at the cupability of women which not many of us would have regarded given the fact that the European women were always portrayed as victims in one way or another.

Of course, the flux in the impressions which readers get of Elizabeth in the novel also points out the flux of language.  The complexity of women as both victims and perpetrators shows that perhaps, there are more “truths” to be discovered and this is only possible through the use of language by other writers such as the Anglo- Indian other than the European himself.

Darkness and Truth

After reading An Image of Africa, it seemed to me that in Achebe’s claim of “the fact that white racisim against Africa is such a normal way of thinking that its manifestations go completely unremarked,” I feel that he has pointed out that it is all too easy to fall into the binaristic trap of imperialism, the Whites vs. the Africans. It is true that through imperialism, the Whites strongly enforced the stereotypes of races through literature and images. Indeed, stereotypes of Africans and even the blacks have been entrenched within societies which have resulted in countless discriminations and conflicts. In Achebe’s words, they are the group in mankind who “has suffered untold agonies and atrocities in the past an continues to do so in many ways and many places today.” Yet, one can argue that Achebe’s criticism of Conrad is unfair. There can be no clear lines drawn for imperialism did not only happen with colonialism but it also took place with civil wars in which the natives fought among themselves. It is ironic that just as Achebe accuses Conrad of hiding the truth through his writings, Achebe is also engaging in a form of manipulation in his writing.   

I felt that Achebe’s critique is hence a good example of modernism’s notion of the ambiguous truth. There can be no doubts that racism is a pervasive issue in the novella but contrary to what Achebe says of Conrad’s “obvious racism” which has not been addressed, I feel that racism was left as “the truth” which the readers have to shape for themselves. To me, I feel that the juxtaposition of the barbaric sounds the natives make and the words, language which the Whites communicate with have broken down the binaristic barrier of imperialism. Through this juxtaposition, it leads one to question the truth which Kurtz has seen and what Marlow allows himself to see.  The darkness which pervades the novella to me then, is “the formless truth.”