Achebe on _Heart of Darkness_

Achebe on _Heart of Darkness_ - An Image of Africa: Racism...

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An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness Chinua Achebe, 1975 Chinua Achebe (born 1930) is a Nigerian novelist, professor and cultural critic. He is best known for his first novel Things Fall Apart (1958), which is the most widely read book in modern African literature. In the fall of 1974 I was walking one day from the English Department at the University of Massachusetts to a parking lot. It was a fine autumn morning such as encouraged friendliness to passing strangers. Brisk youngsters were hurrying in all directions, many of them obviously freshmen in their first flush of enthusiasm. An older man going the same way as I turned and remarked to me how very young they came these days. I agreed. Then he asked me if I was a student too. I said no, I was a teacher. What did I teach? African literature. Now that was funny, he said, because he knew a fellow who taught the same thing, or perhaps it was African history, in a certain Community College not far from here. It always surprised him, he went on to say, because he never had thought of Africa as having that kind of stuff, you know. By this time I was walking much faster. "Oh well," I heard him say finally, behind me: "I guess I have to take your course to find out." A few weeks later I received two very touching letters from high school children in Yonkers, New York, who -- bless their teacher -- had just read Things Fall Apart . One of them was particularly happy to learn about the customs and superstitions of an African tribe. I propose to draw from these rather trivial encounters rather heavy conclusions which at first sight might seem somewhat out of proportion to them. But only, I hope, at first sight. The young fellow from Yonkers, perhaps partly on account of his age but I believe also for much deeper and more serious reasons, is obviously unaware that the life of his own tribesmen in Yonkers, New York, is full of odd customs and superstitions and, like everybody else in his culture, imagines that he needs a trip to Africa to encounter those things. The other person being fully my own age could not be excused on the grounds of his years. Ignorance might be a more likely reason; but here again I believe that something more willful than a mere lack of information was at work. For did not that erudite British historian and Regius Professor at Oxford, Hugh Trevor Roper, also pronounce that African history did not exist? If there is something in these utterances more than youthful inexperience, more than a lack of factual knowledge, what is it? Quite simply it is the desire -- one might indeed say the need -- in Western psychology to set Africa up as a foil to Europe, as a place of negations at once remote and vaguely familiar, in comparison with which Europe's own state of spiritual grace will be manifest. This need is not new; which should relieve us all of considerable responsibility and perhaps
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This note was uploaded on 01/11/2010 for the course HIST 015 taught by Professor Patch during the Spring '07 term at UC Riverside.

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Achebe on _Heart of Darkness_ - An Image of Africa: Racism...

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