The title of a book may give the reader an idea of the story or it may make more sense after reading the book. The title Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad prepares the reader for something unpleasant.
The title Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe also gives the reader a hint of bad things to come. After reading both it is clear to the reader the titles refer to the terrible social issues caused by the appearance of European colonizers in Africa.
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The “darkness” is not just the absence of light typical in an African jungle. It is the mental and emotional dark side of the colonizers, and the dark result of their intrusion on African societies. There are many “things” that “fall apart” in Africa when the Europeans arrive. There is an immediate breakdown in communication between the two cultures. Then the domination and brutality of the Europeans causes the African society to “fall apart”.
Both books show the terrible result to the Africans at the hands of the Europeans. Both authors are very effective in bringing the reader “into” the story. However, each author uses different methods and styles to illustrate the social attitudes, issues and impact arising from colonization.
Joseph Conrad uses a narrator, Charlie Marlow, to tell the story of Heart of Darkness. Marlow is a sailor who tells his shipmates the story of how he had worked for a European trading company in Africa.
He was employed to take a boat up-river from a company headquarters to bring back Mr. Kurtz, their best ivory trader. Marlow soon witnesses the European attitude and treatment of the Africans. He describes the horrible scene of the Europeans’ slave laborers: “They were dying slowly—it was very clear.
They were not enemies, they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now—nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation, lying confusedly in the greenish gloom” (Conrad 64). One of the men who worked at the station was a clerk who tells Marlow “When one has got to make correct entries, one comes to hate those savages—hate them to the death” (Conrad 66).
Marlow learns that the behavior of the Europeans at their headquarters is just the beginning. Although Kurtz is the company’s best ivory trader, he is described as much more to Marlow: “He is a prodigy…an emissary of pity, of science, and progress, and devil knows what else” (Conrad 75). Marlow can begin to see the dark side of the company as the clerk relates Marlow is “of the new gang—the gang of virtue.
The same people who sent him specially also recommended you” (Conrad 75). Marlow discovers a report Kurtz had written for the company describing his experience in the jungle with the Africans. Marlow states that in light of all that happened, and would happen, the beginning of the document “strikes me now as ominous.
He began with the argument that we whites, from the point of development we had arrived at… ‘approach them with the might of a deity’” (Conrad 111).
It is obvious that Kurtz realized that with all of the “modern” European goods and weapons he would appear to the Africans as some sort of superior being. What would be even more ominous was Kurtz’ “note at the foot of the last page”: ‘Exterminate all the brutes!’” (Conrad 111).
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