Darkness in Umuofia
We discussed a little in class about the relationship between Things Fall Apart and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Because of the argument some have made that Things Fall Apart is a response to Heart of Darkness, I wanted to look more closely at depictions of darkness in Achebe’s work. Specifically, I want to look at two mentions of darkness.
The first is in Chapter 2, beginning with “The night was very quiet. It was always quiet except on moonlight nights.” The following paragraphs describe the fear the citizens of Umuofia hold for the darkness. It is painted as a source of evil, with animals becoming “even more sinister and uncanny in the dark.” (page 9 in the 50th Anniversary Edition) I believe that this fear of the dark serves as a unifying feature between Ibo culture and “Western” culture – in “Western” culture, though it is portrayed differently, the darkness is also something to be feared; Joseph Conrad portrays this in Heart of Darkness. What is interesting in these few paragraphs in Things Fall Apart is that Achebe makes a clear distinction between “darkness” and “night.” “On a moonlight night it would be different” Achebe writes (10). Achebe makes it clear that this is a fear of darkness rather than night, and that leads me to believe that this is a response to Conrad, because this distinction is maintained throughout the novel.
The second section of the novel I’d like to examine is at the end of Chapter 23.
“It was the time of the full moon. But that night the voice of children was not heard. The village ilo where they always gathered for moon-play was empty. The women of Iguedo did not meet in their secret enclosure to learn a new dance to be displayed later to the village. Young men who were always abroad in the moonlight kept their huts that night. Their manly voices were not heard on the village paths as they went to visit their friends and lovers. Umuofia was like a startled animal with ears erect, sniffing the silent, ominous air and not knowing which way to run.” (196)
This passage turns on its head everything that was mentioned in the beginning of Chapter 2. At this point, the moonlight nights are equal to darkness, evoking the same amount of fear. The people of Umuofia feel and act as if it is dark even though it isn’t, and the question is: why? There’s the obvious answer; that the town is in shock over having some of their men detained and the threat of their leaders being hanged if they did not pay the white men. However, looking at it from the perspective that this novel is a response to Heart of Darkness, I argue that this new darkness that has settled over the town is because of the invasion of the white man. Though the white men had been working their way in before this, this instance is what shows the villagers that they had been invaded and are no longer in power. This serves as the antithesis to Conrad – in Heart of Darkness, the darkness from Africa invades the white colonizers, turning them “dark” as well; in response, Achebe shows that the white men were the ones to bring the darkness into Africa, and as such expanded the fear there.