Achebe’s Inability to Understand Conrad’s Heart of Darkness Essay

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Achebe’s Inability to Understand Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

A fierce Achebe radically condemns Conrad as "a thoroughgoing racist" in his article, arguing that Heart of Darkness is not a piece of great literature, but "an offensive and deplorable book" (Achebe 1791). He structures his argument around a few central ideas, such as the grotesque perception of the Africans by the protagonist, the antinomy between the Thames and Congo River, the lack of historical fact, and the parallel between the African and the European women, among others.

Achebe misinterprets Conrad's work, and exhibits opacity to the narrative's message. He seems to purport, as any reader, a subjective interpretative reading of Conrad's book, with the peculiarity
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The reader has another type of anxiety than the one mentioned by Achebe: s/he anxiously waits to see if any truly significant contact with Africa, its people, or its culture occurs throughout the book. Instead, the phrase "Nowhere did we stop long enough to get a particularized impression," is emblematic, and indicative that this contact does not, and probably will not happen (Conrad 19).

Conrad assumes no task of presenting a good, objective or factual image of Africa, as Achebe would prefer; instead he critically exposes a refraction of this image in the European white middle class tainted perception. Indeed, many "normal readers," whom Achebe credits to be "well armed to detect and resist" underhand activity from the part of a writer, read into the novel its universal psychological implications that override Africanness or Europeanness. Marlow remains insulated from any real contact with the local culture; his stuck-to-the-river journey serves to preserve a confused and contemplative attitude in him, rather than an involved state of mind. His African experience comprises very little fact, proves mostly sensorial, observant and rather interested in itself as an object of study than in the surroundings. Describing the Other's eyes or looking into them serves just as a mirror. Legend has it that Narcissus contemplated his beauty in the lake daily, and ended up drowning in it. After his death, jealous nymphs came and whined to the lake, his closest
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