Death as an aid to Transition between Cultures

According to their intended readership, writers use a variety of themes. The central subject on which a piece of writing is founded is known as the theme. Religion and colonialism are considered as two of the three novels' central themes. In the majority of African countries, religion had a significant impact on daily living. The authors describe how white men conquered Africa under the pretense of bettering conditions for the locals but ultimately settled on pursuing their own interests. For the invaders, Africa was a continent with abundant economic potential, the riches of which could only be discovered after colonization. Despite providing homage to the missionaries, Africans were viewed and treated as animals by the same people that they hosted. It is the rebellion and ills brought about by colonization that Chinua Achebe as well as Conrad attempt to explore. Sepulveda, in his exploration of the Americas, brings out the extent to which colonization in the western world was just as similar to that in the African continent. The cultural practices of Indians just like Africans were regarded as barbaric and required complete redemption. Attempt by the hosts in both states to resist colonization often led to conflicts and wars that eventually led to the death of many known wise men in the communities. In all three instances, death is used symbolically to signal a shift by the community from one cultural and religious state to another. As shall be evidenced later in the sections that follow, colonization is viewed as a killer of the host's cultural practices and is therefore shunned by most locals.

The missionaries, as portrayed by Chinua Achebe, invaded the Ibo land to erase the community's culture and bring about their own rules through religion. Although the Ibos love and adore their way of life, they are left with no option but to accept the new life that comes with the new religion. This gradual transition is signaled by the accidental killing of the python, the Ibo snake that was a symbol of the god of water (Achebe 116). Owing to the fact that water was an essential resource required to enhance the lives of the people of Umuofia, the python was essentially a symbol of their god. It was a part of their traditions and the consequences of its death undeterminable. The accidental killing of a representative of the gods signifies the great extent to which the colonizers had interrupted the people's traditions.

Like Achebe, Conrad consistently uses animal imagery to dehumanize Africans. Animal description is applied to Africans to provide justification for their deaths. Unlike Chinua, Conrad begins his novel with the European colonizers already in Congo. The Congolese people are regarded as barbaric cannibals whose crude means of life can only be reformed through civilization (Conrad 23). The novel opens up with a vivid description of the Congo River, which is the country's greatest resource, as a snake whose body moved across the whole country. It is in this river that the country's darkest secrets were held. Both Marlow and Kurtz present themselves as explorers who have come to explore the empty African space. Throughout this novel, it is apparent that the Europeans, just like the British in Things fall apart, are in Congo for economic interests. They disguise themselves as people with great knowledge than the inhabitants of the lands they invade.

The death of Okonkwo is an event used by the Achebe to help the society transition fully to the colonized state. The protagonist had been accustomed to receiving praises and glorification from his kinsmen. His desire to be great is evidenced by his continued attempt to hide his weaknesses from his clansmen after murdering Ikemefuna. The death of Ikemefuna brings out Okonkwo's human weaknesses and signals the beginning of the great warrior's destruction. This event is the first major event that is used by the writer to mark the climax of the novel and usher in the demise of the feared warrior as well as the people of the Ibo.

'When did you become a shivering old women', Okonkwo asked himself, 'you, who are known in all the nine villages for your valor in war? How can a man who has killed five men in battle fall to community pieces because he has added a boy to their number? Okonkwo, you have become a woman indeed'" (Achebe 45).

To Okonkwo, Ibo religion was an important cultural practice upon which their being had been bred. On returning from exile, Okonkwo is surprised to find that more of his clansmen had willingly abandoned their old traditions for the white man's traditions (Achebe 142). Realizing that no one would support his decision to fight the invaders, he resorts to kill himself. His death does not only signal the end of Ibo traditions but also inaugurates full adoption of the white man's traditions.

Like Chinua's Things fall apart, Heart of darkness ends with a demise of the protagonist. Death is used to symbolize end of a dynasty. Owing to the fact that Kurtz is equated to the European colonizers, his death symbolizes the fall of European civilization in Congo. The fall is facilitated by the colonizer's lack for moral restraint. By exploring the fall of the European empire, Conrad attempts to illustrate the savage nature of the human heart. Death to both Marlow and Kurtz is a mystery that occurs to humans unnoticed and without any warning. While on his deathbed, Kurtz slowly whispers the words "Horror! Horror!" before succumbing to his illness. These words, as used by Conrad, indicates the Protagonist's horror of one culture decimating the other in the name of civility. Unlike Kurtz, Marlow is able to survive his illness and attain redemption. He describes death as empty and hollow transition with no basis.

"I have wrestled with death. It's the most unexciting contest you can imagine. It takes place in an impalpable grayness, with nothing underfoot, with nothing around, without spectators, without clamour, without glory, without the great desire of victory, without the great fear of defeat, in a sickly atmosphere of tepid skepticism, without much belief in your own right, and still less in that of your adversary." (Conrad 48)

In Democrates Alter, the Indians are invaded by the Spanish who view them as barbaric creatures and half men not worthy of receiving any of nature's best gifts. The Spaniards believe that unlike the Indians, they posses greater gifts of prudence, talent, temperament, humanity and religion (Sepulveda 524). It is important to note that the Spaniards deem themselves as better beings than their hosts. On several occasions, democrates and his companion refer to the Indians as savage animals who, because of their uncouth nature and paganism, could not see the truth of the gospel they preached. Although Democrates mentions that St. Augustine had warned against forcefully imposing the gospel on pagans, the Spaniards believe that Indians were blinded by the false beliefs imposed upon them by the savage rulers. To be able to spread the gospel to the barbaric nation, it was pertinent that they kill these rulers

"These apostles are then the successors of the other apostles, that is, bishops and priests of the church, and preachers in all that pertains to the duties of preaching. And how can they preach to these barbarians if they are not sent to them, as St. Paul says, and how are they to be sent if these barbarians are not conquered first?"(Sepulveda 529).

The death of the rulers depicts the end of Indians' barbaric traditions and the adoption of the Spaniards way of life. Sepulveda illustrates how religion and civilization were constantly used by the invaders to colonize the state. Although a Spaniard, Democrates believed that every war waged against Indians should be justified by religious rather than political motives. In the long run, both agree that their hosts needed to hear the gospel even if it meant killing the traditional rulers.

Throughout Things fall apart, the white man is depicted as an evil doer who came to the community to cause destruction. Most of the aged men mourn the death of the Ibo traditions upon the arrival of the white man. They believe that the advent of the white man and his religion has brought evil to the community and his death must be perpetrated to bring an end to the invasion. This task is initially given to Okonkwo who fails to correctly undertake it thereby leading to his downfall. This is evident at messenger's murder scene where Okonkwo's anger is stirred by the interruptions made by the white man's messenger from Ibo clan. The messenger reminds him of the white man's order to have the meeting stopped or face the consequences of his actions. This is depicted in the following narration, "The man (messenger) stood his ground, his four men lined up behind him…. The white man whose power you know too well has ordered this meeting to stop." Angered by these words, Okonkwo draws his armor and slams it against the messenger who drops dead immediately.

Colonialism and imperialism are historical terms that most colonized nations can identify with. Although the authors are from three distinct races, they express a similar view on the western colonies and civilization of the illiterate nations. The authors equally reveal how religion acted as a platform for the colonizers to bring civilization to the hostages. Although the missionaries claimed they came to the community to spread true religion, their actions which include acquisition of power, contradict their stance. In the long run, the missionaries are depicted as ruthless power users who bring an end to life for those who did not comply with their rules. It is important to note how the writers utilize sarcasm in the novels. While the colonizers believe that they are knowledgeable and civilized, their actions which include thirst for power and wealth contradict their civility. They dehumanize the inhabitants of the communities that they colonize by constantly referring to them as animals and savages. To the contrary, it is the actions undertaken by the colonialists that appear to be barbaric. The writers use death consistently in their stories to show transitions between cultures. While physical death depicts transition from the physical world to the spiritual world, protagonist's death is used in these settings to show transitions between cultures.


Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. Great Britain: Heinemann, 1958. Print.

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Retrieved from

Sepulveda, D. G. Juan. Democrates alter; or on the just causes of war against the Indians.

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