Brothers Under the Skin: Achebe on Heart of Darkness, explains the viewpoint of the author, Bruce Fleming, and his fundamental agreement with Achebe’s lecture in 1975 on the Heart of Darkness. Achebe believed the Conrad was racist, not just in his portrayal of the natives, but also in the “denial of common “humanity” to the Africans.” In other words, Conrad was focusing on the differences between the indigenous people’s and the Europeans, but he in no way portrayed the natives in the way he represented the Europeans. We never read of the thoughts and feelings or observations of the “Black forms,” they were barely characterized as humans.
Fleming disagrees with Achebe that novelists can forgo entirely this methodology of character representation and that other writers (Watts, Weeks, Naipaul, Thiong, and Brantlinger) hold opposing views with Achebe. Fleming gives a brief explanation of the stance each writer takes; however, the focus is approximately a summary of the lecture by Achebe. For readers who do not understand the connection Achebe’s writings have to Conrad’s work, Fleming’s article will clarify that relationship.
One of the strongest arguments that Achebe makes is that not even the most powerful Africans have command of speech in Heart of Darkness. “The only time Conrad allows them speech… they express themselves in a caricature of English… “Mistah Kurtz-he dead.”’ He uses this example in his lecture, using the pidgin within the confines of his formal elocution, to emphasize the difference between Conrad’s depiction and reality.
Fleming goes to deconstruct the speech (“diction and syntax”) and choice of story lines of Achebe’s lecture and his writing. He investigates Achebe’s premeditation in enabling the Europeans to comprehend Ibo concepts and customs and acknowledge them because they are contained in verbal communications the Europeans will appreciate.