Sample English Literature Review: The Destructive Clash of Cultures
When cultures meet they are bound to experience ripple effects. Yet, no culture can be said to be superior to the other. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness exemplify the destructive clash of cultures. The clashes epitomize themselves in various aspects.
In Things Fall Apart, the conflict and chaos are seen not only in the fall of the protagonist, Okonkwo, but the imminent fall of the whole culture. Okonkwo, it should be remembered, is the symbol of the Igbo culture. He is depicted as a ruthless disciplinarian and wrestler. He stands in defiance to the encroaching influence of the European missionary inroads that seem to threaten the day to day way of life of people. The society values strong men, but it seems with the advent of the missionaries, the society seems to have forgotten the value of strong men. Eugene in Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus is viewed by his sister as simply a product of colonialism. This is the same colonial onslaught Okonkwo was not afraid of at all. Eugene himself an Igbo, assumes a British accent than an intrinsic love for the language itself. Though he does this to please the white religion’s folk, Okonkwo on the other hand is seen to detest the white missionaries’ teachings. In Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness, we are told of the experiences in the Belgian Congo. Marlow’s head is measured prior to departing to the Congo. He is warned about what long periods staying with people from in "hostile” environment could do. We are told of how Marlow’s predecessor got transformed from a gentleman to a violent person when he stayed for long periods in the Congo. This is a reflection of the destructive clash of convergence of culture. One culture is depicted as hostile, backward by members of the other culture.
Religion forms the platform upon which the cultures clash. Okonkwo, we are told, broke into "derisive laughter” (Achebe 146), when the white missionaries set out to evangelize. Eugene, on the other hand, views Africans as pagans who worship both wood and stone carvings (Adichie 39). In fact, Obierika, a wise man from Umuofia, unravels how clever the white man is. He says the white man came with his religion and with time cut the bond that held the community together by winning several souls to his side (Achebe 176). The same can be seen in Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus. Catholicism has now taken over from the traditional spiritual beliefs of the Igbo. Religion and its effects is clearly brought about in the texts. Okonkwo’s traditional African religion is an integral part of his culture.
The Igbo believe in a personal chi (god). Everybody in the Igbo culture believes in having a personal chi. Okonkwo may not appear pious in the eyes of the new faith propagated by the missionaries, he has great respect for the gods. That is why he readily complies without any resistance when he is banished for seven years due to having killed a clansman and committed an inadvertent crime against the goddess of earth. (Achebe 124). The duality of religion is seen in Adichie’s work based on what the Catholicism does. Religion is also used to destroy culture when it purports to build it.
Catholicism takes control of Eugene. During Mass, the parish Father refers to the Pope as "papa.” Eugene is overzealous and wants to appear pious as much as possible to his contemporaries. Just like Okonkwo, Eugene seems to be more fanatical about his new faith. Eugene becomes extremist. He does all this in order to paint his family as outstanding. He values model society. The destructive nature of his religion comes to the fore. Conrad critiques religion too. In the novel there, are two groups: the pilgrims and the natives. The pilgrims are portrayed as quite a bloodthirsty, just like the natives. Both groups are interlinked by their respective religious beliefs. Marlow’s religious background makes him look down upon that of the natives. In fact, he refers to it as witchcraft. In Achebe’s Things Fall Apart we see the way new converts are confused about the new faith.
A story is told of an overzealous convert who killed a sacred snake only for him to die later. This shows that the dead convert still feared the traditional gods. When the missionaries are given space to build a church in the evil forest, the whole village is surprised that nothing happens to them. This makes the missionaries get their first converts. To Okonkwo, joining Christianity was a feminine thing to do. He hated Nwoye with passion when he (Nwoye) converted to Christianity and went to the mission to learn how to read and write. His poor relationship with Nwoye, his son, is pointless – it is due to his personal failure and blunder and not as a result of divine will.
Imperialism is propagated by the visitors as a way of imposing their culture on the native community in the three novels. Okonkwo in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart feels that the old way of life is fast disappearing with the coming of the white missionaries. It is this reason that makes him fight hard, despite that leading to his destruction.
Just like other human beings, Africans had found their way of living with one another in peace, in a society based on rich traditional beliefs and values. The whites viewed this way of co-existence with a lot of bewilderment. The same applied to the natives. Joseph Conrad’s novel, The Heart of Darkness equally shows the writers sharp criticism of imperialism viewpoint in the Heart of Darkness. As imperialism took root in the society, the society began to lose its glue. Okonkwo feels that the change being experienced in the society is not for the better, and this grieves him a lot. His people lose the strength they once wielded.
The Heart of Darkness’ exploration of imperialism is quite complex. When Marlow travels to the Central Station and the Inner Station, he comes across several scenes of torture and a level of cruelty that borders on slavery. This is a depiction of how harsh the colonial enterprise was. There is hypocritical justification for imperialism in the novel when workers of the company refer to what they do as "trade”. The treatment of the locals is said to be "civilization”. Kurtz confesses that his forceful obtaining of ivory is not trade. He further views the treatment of natives as "suppression” and "extermination”. This rule through violence and intimidation is based on the thinking that one culture feels that it is superior to the other and, therefore, its opinion is the one that should be dominant. There is a lot of hypocrisy meant to justify imperialism that the natives are forced to bear. We see his perverse honestly leading to his eventual downfall. By this, the novel can be said to be offering a strong condemnation of imperialism.
Blacks in the Heart of Darkness are taken as objects in this cultural imperialism. Marlow views his helmsman as a machine while Kurtz’s African mistress is objectified as a mere statue. The issue of race is clearly shown in the novel. Marlow uses the black as a mere screen through which he can cast his dubious machinations. This dehumanization can be said to be bordering on some form of cultural identity crisis. All in all, this entire novel explores the deep hypocrisy and ambiguity which leads to moral confusion that has never been seen before.
Cultural clashes can be seen in the personal relations portrayed in the three novels. Parents who have been brought up under strict cultural settings than their offsprings and may end up clashing with their siblings who have been brought in a different period in life. This sometimes leads to warring generations. Eugene, as well as Okonkwo, epitomize this conflict. They both are involved in a conflict with their fathers. As seen earlier, Okonkwo’s greatest worry was ending up like his lazy father, who eventually got buried in the Evil forest. His father could not provide for his family. We are told that Okonkwo’s father was unable to think about the future, yet he liked making merry. He was also heavily indebted and, therefore, his family lived in abject poverty. Unoka loved playing his flute. It is said that the flute was the only thing he carried with him when he was left at the Evil Forest to die after contracting an abominable disease. Okonkwo’s resentment for his father grew because of the unceremonious disease. Further, the father left him nothing to inherit. His father’s failure catapulted him to work hard and achieve in life.
Eugene equally resented his father. He refers to his father as a pagan, "Godless” man (Adichie 39). Eugene is so full of himself. He says that he has made it in life courtesy of what the missionaries, Reverend, and the Sisters taught him. He goes further to state that his idol worshiping father could not have taught him anything. His detest for his father is so immense that he advises his children never to spend more than a quarter an hour with him whenever they visit him the countryside. Eugene refuses to fund his father’s traditional Igbo burial ceremony be conducted instead, though it was Papa-Manukau's wish that he be buried traditionally.
But both Eugene and Okonkwo’s trouble is not just with their parents but also with the children they sired themselves. Okonkwo later disowns his own son Nwoye. Nwoye had joined the Whiteman’s religion. Also, his father viewed him as being too soft in life. Okonkwo wanted the son to be masculine and aggressive, qualities that the son lacked. We are told Nwoye preferred being closer to his mother. He preferred listening to his mother's fables opposed to his father’s war stories (Achebe 53). Nwoye said that he converted to Christianity because the local culture could not answer certain questions. Firstly, he could not understand why a culture would demand Ikemefuna’s death. He could also not understand why twins were put in pots and left to die in the Evil Forest. In as much as his father could not understand him, he also failed to understand his father. We are told that had it not been that Nwoye resembled Unoka, Okonkwo would not have accepted him as his son. He found the son to be quite effeminate, something that he detested with passion.
Eugene’s son, like Nwoye questions his father’s ways. Eugene abused Jajan, his son for several years but later Jaja eventually got exposed to a peaceful life while he started staying with his aunt. Eugene at one time chopped off her little finger after failing two items in the catechism exam. His father used Catholicism to justify his gruesome acts on the son. As Jaja grows up, he discovers that his nefarious actions were unfair. Jaja, later on, refused to take Palm Sunday as a sign of defiance to his father’s behavior. Conrad’s Heart of Darkness sums up everything when he says that darkness is a symbol of darkness from the time a child is born. People are not afraid of the darkness itself that the potential that darkness holds.
In conclusion, it is quite clear that Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Chimamanda Ngozi’s Purple Hibiscus and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness illustrate the destructive clash of cultures. To show superiority, most people from diverse cultures engage in savage acts to prove their worth. However, in most cases, it is powerful that carry the day for some time. From the works, we learn that change needs to be embraced gracefully. Physical or macabre approach to the changing world can only lead to the destruction of society. The novels appreciate the tenacity of humankind since cultures are ever regenerating.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. Toronto: Anchor Canada. 2009. Print.
Adichie, Chimamanda. Purple Hibiscus. 2013. Internet resource. Print.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. London: Bibliolis, 2010. Print.