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“King Leopold’s Ghost” and “Things Fall Apart”: Colonists’ Crimes on the African Territories

The theme of European colonists’ crimes on the African territories is mirrored in King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild and Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

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King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild is a work of popular history, illuminating the questions of colonial desires of Europeans and their plans concerning Africa and Africans. King Leopold II used the humanitarian excuses as a cover for his true intentions of making a fortune and creating an empire of his own in Congo. International African Association was expected to oppose the slave trade, but in fact, it legalized Leopold’s activity on the international level. The book contains a plenty of historical facts, concerning not only the history of Congo, but involving Belgium’s ruler, King Leopold II and other important players of the period. Hochschild worked hard at every detail of his work, researching numerous sources, making the characters, places and events, depicted in the book, historically relevant. The personalities of Leopold II and his opponents are bright and realistic. The intended audience of the work is the historians, as the book structure and its language may seem boring to ordinary readers. The author aimed at increasing the awareness of the population concerning the history of Congo and imperialistic reforms in the country. When the historian students’ of this topic is checked, there is not much to speak about, as there are not enough resources concerning this period of the Congo history. Hochschild’s efforts to fill this gap were successful enough as the material is accessible for the unprepared students as well. The author uses the quotes from the primary sources and then repeats the same facts in the words of his characters. This feature of the book was often criticized but it can be explained by the format and style of the book. The quotes make the characters sound more convincingly, as the significance of the documents can not be denied. At the same time Hochschild used the opportunity to express his opinion concerning the depicted events and characters. The readers working with the elements of the primary sources are allowed to make their own conclusions and are encouraged for the further research of the topic. These excerpts from the historical documents not only demonstrate the author’s thorough work at the plot of the work but produce the impression of the connection to the past without the author’s intervention. Hochschild’s concern was not the narration of the events, the unbiased evaluation was not his concern as well. The author provides a thorough analysis of the historical period and personalities and gives his personal evaluation of the material, pointing out the errors or the correct decisions of the ruler and other important players.

The title of the book refers to the mutual misunderstanding between the representatives of the European and the African cultures. Both Belgians and Africans had certain superstitions concerning the opponent nation. The Africans were assured that Leopold II and his compatriots were the ghosts, and considering the evil, which the king brought to the country, it is not surprising that the native inhabitants hesitated, whether he was a human being. The title taken from the beliefs of the Africans demonstrates the author’s ability to empathize with the citizens of Congo of the late 1800s. The Africans were regarded to be at a lower level of development, but Europeans were only hiding behind the progressive slogans, while their only concern was gaining the personal profits. At the same time Hochschild depicted the bright characters of Leopold’s opponents, which tried to prevent his crimes against the humanity. The map is one of the most important symbols of the book, as Africa was unfamiliar to Europeans and the blank space was left instead of it on the European maps. Compiling the map of African territory Europeans filled it with their national content, ignoring the national color and the original names of the landscapes. The colonists were not interested not only in the cultural and historical peculiarities of the territory, but in the natural resources as well. The entire ethnicity was considered to be the Others, which were not treated as things, not humans.

Depicting the crimes of Leopold II in King Leopold’s Ghost in Congo, Adam Hochschild intended to educate the wide audience, providing a thorough research of the topic and managed to fill the gap in the historical studies.

The same theme of European colonists’ crimes on the African territories is reflected in Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. Portraying Igbo society before and after the European invasion the author managed to provide the chronological analysis of the depicted tragedy of Igbo ethnicity. The genre of the book is a novel, this fact predetermines the style of the narration. Being a work of fiction, this work does not claim to be a thorough research of the historical issue, but due to the illuminated questions required the author’s hard work at the historical facts and their evaluation. That is why the book may be interesting for historians, providing one of the perspectives of the historical events. The author narrates the life of Okonkwo and his family, involving many other characters for creating a picture of the entire Igbo society. The expression of the inner feelings of the characters is Achebe’s concern. The inner struggle of the main characters, while making the decisions whether to confront the white colonists or to obey them is depicted by the author. The portrayal of the characters is realistic, implying their inner emotions and anxiety. Hesitating and making right and wrong decisions make the characters moving, and provoke the readers’ discussion.

Protecting the humanistic principles and the universal values in his novel, Achebe depicts the social institutions and relations of Igbo, emphasizing the level of development of the society, which was induced to obey the white colonists and be assimilated by the European culture. Illuminating the struggle between the two cultures, the author uses the philosophical motif of the struggle between the changes and the tradition. Solving the philosophical dilemma, the characters choose their life position and the corresponding style of behavior. One of the main symbols of the novel may be regarded the locusts, referring to the colonizers, which come unexpectedly and change the landscapes and way of life of the native inhabitants “They settled on every tree and every blade of grass; they settled on the roofs and covered the bare ground. Mighty tree branches broke away under them; the whole country became the brown-earth color of the hungry swarm” (Achebe 74). The author decided to write his work in English, aiming at the European audiences and intentionally not translating separate Igbo words into English. Achebe wanted the present-day Europeans to understand the scale of the crime of the past. Emphasizing that some Igbo words do not have equivalents in the English language, the author leads the readers to the conclusion that the frames of the European culture appeared to be too narrow for understanding the peculiarities of Igbo ethnicity. “Among the Igbo the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten” (Achebe 17). The author proves that Igbo culture was unique and in some respects, it was even better developed than the European culture. Not taking into consideration the national color and ethnic peculiarities of the Africans, the Europeans were hiding behind the humanistic slogans, while their narrow-mindedness prevented them from realizing all the negative consequences of their crime and from feeling empathy with the black people. Every nation has different representatives, perhaps, Achebe’s depiction of the Europeans may be exaggerated, but it can be explained by the chosen perspective and the manner of presentation. The novel was expected to ruin the stereotypes concerning the African colonized villages. This book may be regarded as an answer to numerous distorted depictions of Igbo and many other African ethnicities by European writers and even historians.

Depicting the colonists’ crimes in Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe emphasizes the level of development of Igbo ethnicity, its language, and social institutions. The chosen manner of presentation allows the author to criticize the colonists and Europeans in general and find an unexpected solution for the philosophical dilemma of the struggle between the changes and the progress.

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Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart: With Related Readings. Paradigm. 2002: 232

Hochschild, Adam. King Leopold’s Ghost. Pax. 2002: 409.

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StudyCorgi. (2022, January 2). “King Leopold’s Ghost” and “Things Fall Apart”: Colonists’ Crimes on the African Territories. Retrieved from


StudyCorgi. (2022, January 2). “King Leopold’s Ghost” and “Things Fall Apart”: Colonists’ Crimes on the African Territories.

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"“King Leopold’s Ghost” and “Things Fall Apart”: Colonists’ Crimes on the African Territories." StudyCorgi, 2 Jan. 2022,

1. StudyCorgi. "“King Leopold’s Ghost” and “Things Fall Apart”: Colonists’ Crimes on the African Territories." January 2, 2022.


StudyCorgi. "“King Leopold’s Ghost” and “Things Fall Apart”: Colonists’ Crimes on the African Territories." January 2, 2022.


StudyCorgi. 2022. "“King Leopold’s Ghost” and “Things Fall Apart”: Colonists’ Crimes on the African Territories." January 2, 2022.


StudyCorgi. (2022) '“King Leopold’s Ghost” and “Things Fall Apart”: Colonists’ Crimes on the African Territories'. 2 January.

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