A Glimpse into Imperialism: The Colonizer and Colonized in the Heart of Darkness and On Seeing England for the First Time
Extending their power to dominate distant nations, imperialism was founded on the basis of western nations seeking social, economic, and political gains. However, the foremost goal of these Western nations was to gain greater influence on a global scale. The ensuing struggle for power often rendered the natives in a position of helplessness and led them to their imminent demise, surrendering the foundations upon which their society was built to these foreigners. In his book, The Colonizer and the Colonized, Albert Memmi characterizes this relationship between the colonizer and the natives and illustrates the destructive nature of imperialism. Memmi appropriately contends the blatant illegitimacy of imperialism by asserting that the colonizers rob the natives’ of their rights, destroy the natives’ culture, and proclaim complete dominion of the new land. First and foremost, Memmi correctly emphasizes the native’s loss of identity and rights due to the way in which the colonizers demean the natives to beings of little worth. In Conrad’s novel, the Heart of Darkness, an European sailor discusses his voyage to Congo. This character, Marlow, characterizes a colonized African man, who works as a fireman aboard the ship, as “a dog in a parody of breeches and a feather hat walking on his hind legs” (52). This inherently offensive comparison intimates that the fireman is a mere impersonation of a human and is entirely devoid of true human likeness and actions. Marlow proceeds to suggest that the European colonizers took advantage of the fireman’s lack of intellectual abilities by threatening the fireman with an “evil spirit inside the boiler” (Conrad 52).
In doing so, Marlow denounces the fireman’s intelligence and beliefs and implies that the colonizers hold enough power to exploit the natives’ supposed inferiority to their advantage. Prior to this crude portrayal of the fireman, Marlow alludes to a social hierarchy to confirm his superiority by marking the fireman as “other” and asserting that the fireman is physically “below” him (52). Subjecting the innocent fireman to crude racism, Marlow asserts that these African natives are bestial and lack the intellectual complexity of European males. This fallacy regarding the natives’ inferiority, both in the social and intellectual spheres, is what leads the colonizers to assert their dominance in a way that allows them to take the native’s place in society. With a mindset that further corroborates Memmi’s claims regarding the colonizers, Kipling also asserts the apparent inferiority of the natives with an aim to propagate support for imperialism; he refers to the natives as a “fluttered folk and wild…half devil and half child” (Kipling 1.6-1.8). By asserting that the natives are uncivilized, evil, and immature, Kipling insinuates that they must be assimilated and that they are unable to maintain themselves. Thus, Kipling, and like-minded colonizers, believe that the natives will never be anything more than colonized people and will indefinitely consider them as ‘lesser’.
It is this poor judgement that guides the colonizers to greatly restrict the natives’ rights. However, the manner in which the natives succumb to these judgements and its consequential outcomes is immensely detrimental. Orwell portrays these effects in “Shooting an Elephant”, a short story set in Colonial Burma, by describing a native who was “furious” at the murder of his elephant but was helpless because “he was only an Indian and could do nothing” (4). Although this native’s elephant is ruthlessly slaughtered by the British, he is overpowered by the colonizers’ ironclad rule. Furthermore, due to the way in which the colonizers have belittled the natives until they are of little value, the natives are not empowered to believe that they are a force to be reckoned with. Cumulatively, these imperialistic motives and the results of their actions directly relate to Memmi’s assertions that the colonizers reduced the identity of the natives to the label of “colonized people”. Furthermore, the natives’ gradual acceptance of this sentiment as an unavoidable way of life allows for the colonizers to successfully create a place for themselves while simultaneously lessening the extent of the natives’ freedoms. Furthermore, Memmi’s argument regarding imperialism is increasingly justified as it is apparent that colonizers destroy the natives’ culture and traditions. The initial effects of imperialism on a society’s culture is aptly depicted by Jamaica Kincaid in “On Seeing England for the First Time”.
Upon reminiscing on her childhood growing up in colonial Antigua, she remembers that “breakfast…was “Made in England” like almost everything else that surrounded us, the exceptions being the sea, the sky, and the air we breathed” (Kincaid 1). The colonizers instituted their own customs and culture in Antigua, dismissing the natives’ way of living as inferior to their own. In doing so, they stripped the Antiguan people of their defining characteristics, and all that remained of the untouched Antigua were parts that could not feasibly be changed. These remnants of uncolonized society, however, are not sufficient to maintain the natives’ cultural identity from disintegrating. In his novel, Achebe demonstrates the effects of this intrusion on a greater scale, “The white man not only brought a religion but also a government. It was said that they had built a place of judgement in Umuofia to protect the followers of their religion” (Achebe 155). Amongst the religion and system of government that have been rooted in the foundations of Umuofian culture, the missionaries institute their own religion and form of government. And when the clan and the white man’s system converge, it is the white man’s religion which overturns the clan’s hierarchy. Furthermore, within the white man’s religion, a prominent belief is to accept the weak and helpless. In doing so, the powerless, outcasted individuals of Umuofian society gain newfound power; this perturbs the hierarchical structure of the clan and leads to its impending collapse.
This utter destruction resulting from imperialism is corroborated by Yeats who asserts, “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold” (1.3). In doing so, he suggests the chaos the ensues upon the collapse of a specific system. Achebe’s also incorporates the aforementioned line in his novel, adding the context of imperialism to this line’s meaning. Thus, Achebe hints at the impending disintegration of the African tribal system due to the adverse actions of European imperialists. As Memmi proclaims in his novel, the natives’ social structure, customs, and organized way of living are all usurped by the ruthless imperialists who view natives as savages.Although detractors may dissent to the accuracy of Memmi’s arguments by asserting that imperialism is a service to help civilize the rest of the world, this civilization comes in the form of colonizers proclaiming complete dominion of the new land. In Things Fall Apart, the missionaries institute their own system of government which completely ignores the laws and structures that are already in place in Umuofia. Using this new system, the white men punish the clan leaders based on their own laws from their own country and declare “that must not happen in the dominion of our queen, the most powerful ruler in the world” (Achebe 194), implying that the citizens of Umuofia are subject to England’s system of justice and queen. Thus, these missionaries arrive with selfish intentions to expand their own power, rather than to help the natives develop their civilization and autonomy. Furthermore, the white men even declare that Umuofia belongs to the queen, which serves to usurp the existing society. These colonizers, exemplified by those in the Heart of Darkness, continually demonstrate a lack of respect for the natives by asserting, “get him hanged! Why not? anything – anything can be done in this country” (Conrad 58).
The manager from the novel announces that he can do as he pleases in Congo since he believes that there are no established laws or any form of regulation. Thus, the colonizers are not fueled by the desire to educate, civilize or help the natives, evident by the manager’s dismissive tone. In “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness”, Achebe responds to Conrad’s novel and argues that “Africa is…a carrier onto whom the master unloads his physical and moral deformities so that he may go forwards;” (Achebe 9) implying that Africa is just a means for Europe to amass greater power. However, in doing so, the colonizers usurp the natives’ civilization, leaving it in irreparable condition. As Memmi suggests, the colonizers unjustifiably create a place for themselves in the new land by substituting their own laws and asserting dominance over the natives. However, their primary objective is to gain more power, regardless of what effects this may have on other countries and its inhabitants. It is evident that this relationship, between the colonizer and the colonized, is not one that is of any benefit to the natives.In conclusion, Memmi’s representation of the relationship between the colonizers and the colonized is inherently correct as he asserts the illegitimate status of imperialism. Memmi accurately contends that the colonizers subject the natives to crude racism in order to limit the natives’ rights and pierce their culture. The most striking characterization of this relationship, however, is the way in which the colonizers shatter the natives’ identity because they are unable and unwilling to comprehend the true value of the natives’ culture and traditions. This dismissive nature culminates in a situation.
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Extending their power to dominate distant nations, imperialism was founded on the basis of western nations seeking social, economic, and political gains. However, the foremost goal of these Western nations […]