Orientalism in The God of Small Things and Heart of Darkness

In a close reading of chapter 2, Pappachi’s Moth, in Arundhati Roy’s novel The God of Small Things, I noticed an allusion Roy included when Chacko was explaining the definition of Anglophile and Estes and Rahel describe a man who lived in a house across the river, Kari Saipu. He known as “An Englishman who had ‘gone native’” (Roy 51). This man is compared to a fictional character named Kurtz, apart of novel by Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness.

When I researched this book as well as the character Kurtz, it was extremely interesting to see that in the novel, Conrad apparently depicts the living styles of Africans as uncivilized, and Kurtz as one who desires to be almost a divine ruler over the native people.

Saipu is also described as a man “who spoke Malayalam and wore mundus. Ayemenem’s own Kurtz. Ayemenem his private Hear of Darkness” (Roy 51). This allusion to orientalism in another piece of literature (Kurtz versus Them) helped me as a reader draw the connection between Conrad’s character Kurtz, Kari Saipu in The God of Small Things and the significance of orientalism all at once.

“Ayemenem’s own Kurtz. Ayemenem his private Hear of Darkness”

(Roy 51)

One thought on “Orientalism in The God of Small Things and Heart of Darkness

  1. For the first 15 years or so of teaching AP Lit, Heart of Darkness was a centerpiece of the curriculum. The book is controversial because, maybe more than any other “classic” story in the Western literary canon, it combines a brilliantly innovative narrative perspective (Conrad plays with time and point of view in ways that makes GOST appear simplistic) and an ostensibly progressive theme (it is, on one level, a damning critique of Belgium’s imperialist exploitation of the Congo) with stereotypically racist portrayals of Africa and Africans.

    The novel was long considered just too important not to know, even though it had been called out as racist for quite awhile — most famously by the African writer Chinua Achebe, author of Things Fall Apart, which you might have read freshmen year. We use to read his critique of the novel right after we read the novel ourselves. It’s an eye-opening argument:

    Click to access Chinua-Achebe,-An-Image-of-Africa.-Racism-in-Conrads-Heart-of-Darkness.pdf

    It came out of lectures Achebe was giving in 1975, around the same time Said was articulating the argument that would become his book Orientalism. Both of these arguments — one about the Middle East, the other about Africa — are seen as foundational texts for what would become known in academia as “postcolonial studies,” a way to tie all of these critical perspectives about Western power and the developing world.

    Anyway, sometimes we study an idea alongside a novel just because it relates in some way. But in this case, it’s clear Roy — through her allusions to Heart of Darkness, among many other thigns — had this larger conversation in mind.


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