The Oppression-Resistance Binary:
Authenticity of Representation in Two Post-Colonial Novels
This is an attempt to examine how the inferior representation of another establishes the oppression of that other.
For this study, I conduct a discourse analysis of two post-colonial novels, viz, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, looking at how language is employed in the depiction of oppressive descriptions and resistant actions.
The Injustice of Oppressive Domination
It has been argued time and again that the West often engages in a systematic misrepresentation of other peoples and cultures in historical and geographical reports.
Scholars like David Livingstone have stated that such misrepresentations constitute
1. “the projecting of an inferior or demeaning image on another [which] can actually distort and oppress…;” and
2. “denied recognition [which] can be a form of oppression…”
He states further that “the understanding of identity… operates with something like its own notion of authenticity.”
In The Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad shares this view as he condemns the oppression of others through misrepresentation thus:
“The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much,” (HOD, 7-8).
In The Poisonwood Bible, Kingsolver echoes this notion of the injustice of oppressive domination when she begins her narrative by considering, through the stream of consciousness of one of her main characters, what “an Africa unconquered altogether” might be like now, comparing that Africa to a “unicorn that can look you in the eye,” (p. 8).
Despite their expression of such opinions, however, both novelists go ahead to give descriptions of Africa/ns that oppress and distort the image of Africa.
Oppression through Inferior Descriptions
In The Heart of Darkness, Conrad projects Africans in several demeaning terms. He calls them:
- “a camp of natives…[or] enemies” (16);
- “criminals” to whom the outraged law had come, (18);
- “rebels” whose heads had been chopped off to adorn the stakes around Kurtz’s compound, (73);
- “savages” or “niggers” whose “black rags were wound round their loins, and the short ends behind waggled to and fro like tails;” and he refers to another as
- “an improved specimen” who looked like “ a dog in a parody of breeches and a feather hat, walking on its hind legs.”
In The Poisonwood Bible, on the other hand, a story about a phenomenon told by Africans is dismissed as “another fabulous tale from the dark domain of the poison-tipped arrows and bone-pierced lips” (p. 7), while reference is made to Africa itself as “the animal kingdom making hay in the kingdom of glory,” (p. 10). It is also suggested that Nathan fails at “subduing the untamed wilderness for a garden,” (p. 36).