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A Question Of Passion Or Responsibility in The Novels Heart Of Darkness, Things Fall Apart And Film Black Panther

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Throughout history and in literature, the classic war between passion and responsibility manifests, driving conflict between individuals, as well as drawing divides in characters’ minds. The novels Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, and Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe, as well as the film Black Panther epitomize that concept with the internal wars that rage inside each of the respective protagonists. Conrad’s main character, Marlow, compartmentalizes a debate between his thirst for discovery and duty to his country’s mission of ‘civilizing natives.’ Achebe’s lead, Okonkwo, experiences a similar mental struggle. However, he balances a passion for violence and bloodshed with a similar moral compass to Marlow’s, one that leans towards his culture’s traditions, as well as one that considers the best for his family. In the movie Black Panther, King T’Challa wars between following his desire to maintain the isolationist tradition of past kings, his beloved ancestors, or to follow what feels right in his heart and mind: defending his kin across the world and opening up Wakanda’s resources to their access. Heart of Darkness’ Marlow, Things Fall Apart’s Okonkwo, and Black Panther’s T’Challa wage internal wars with themselves, where private passions conflict with their moral duty, creating mental strife, hardship, and wear as a result.

Like the other two protagonists, Marlow, from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, faces the classic tale of a war between desire and responsibility. As he experiences an adventurous, albeit disillusioned life during his travels in Africa, Marlow begins to question the mission that the country he swore loyalty to assigned him. Since childhood, he experienced a thrill for discovery, an adventurous nature, and a passion for learning: “Now when I was a little chap I had a passion for maps. At that time there were many blank spaces on the earth … I would put my finger on it and say, ‘When I grow up I will go there’” (Conrad 10). This yearning, thirst for knowledge, and search for a noble exploration into both unknown places and human nature represent Marlow’s passion, one that motivates him to embark upon a perilous journey through the heart of Africa. While there, he fills the ‘blank spaces,’ traverses new lands, and encounters new people.

However, after he encounters the darker side of his comrades’ nature, doubt begins to grow in his mind, leading him to question his loyalty and duty to the “heavenly mission to civilize [natives]” (Conrad 9). One night, Marlow leaves camp and follows the ‘respected, all-powerful’ Kurtz. But, he becomes entangled in a skirmish with a native, an unnecessarily violent one that demonstrates the savage undertones of Marlow’s mission. Additionally, when discussing Kurtz, Marlow describes, “I tried to break the spell—the heavy, mute spell of the wilderness— that seemed to draw him to its pitiless breast by the awakening of forgotten and brutal instincts, by the memory of gratified and monstrous passions” (Conrad 110). Kurtz represents the opposite of both Marlow’s sense of right and wrong and his passion for exploring human nature, as Kurtz no longer focuses purely on his duty to represent Europe and civilize natives. Instead, the wilderness, as it begins to tempt Marlow, corrupts Kurtz to rely on savage instincts.

As a result, Marlow must decide whether to continue with this ‘supposed’ mission for his country, one that led to brutality and inhumane conduct, or to return to the simple life of sailing new waters around the world. With the second alternative, he could remain blissful and carefree about matters of state and continue exploring the civil, human nature of right and wrong. When Marlow begins to observe the effect of ‘civilizers’ on natives, and the reciprocal impact of the natives on beings like Kurtz, he debates the morals and ethics behind his mission, as well as the true motivations of his nation. His conflict represents the central theme of Heart of Darkness: maintaining one’s humanity, defined as following one’s passions and desires, as opposed to upholding one’s sworn duty, listening to orders, and following the example of colonizers to strip humanity from others. Moreover, the internal war waging in Marlow, which causes him to question his future actions and choices, relates to today’s militaries. One may wish to disobey an immoral or unjust order from a superior, but he or she becomes conflicted due to the legal nature or direness of the situation, duty to his or her country, or adherence to the mission.

Furthermore, Okonkwo, the protagonist of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, epitomizes the idea that passion and responsibility continuously collide with one another. His inclination towards violent displays of strength and superiority contradicts his innate, moral duty to his tribe, traditional culture, and the future of his family. Okonkwo’s bloodthirstiness becomes evident after the narrator’s first description of him, as well as from clanspeople’s observations: “He did pounce on people quite often. He had a slight stammer and whenever he was angry and could not get his words out quickly enough, he would use his fists. He had no patience with unsuccessful men” (Achebe 2). Coupled with his short temper, impatience for inferiority, and tendency to express himself with his fists, Okonkwo’s demeanor continually appears as if he will spring upon someone rashly. That countenance, supported by past skirmishes, leads his tribe to both fear and respect him. Also, in some cases, the rulings of the clan only exacerbate Okonkwo’s passion for violence: “‘That boy calls you father. Do not bear a hand in his death’ … Okonkwo drew his machete and cut him down. He was afraid of being thought weak” (Achebe 48). The clan elders decide that they must kill Ikemefuna for retribution. Although the boy stays with Okonkwo for some time, and his family and friends plead with him to take no part in the killing, Okonkwo’s violent nature ultimately wins the argument. But, Okonkwo justifies his violent action with the fact that the tribe ordered him to carry out the killing.

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However, in other circumstances, before violent events fall more out of hand and for the sake of his family, Okonkwo ignores his desire for conflict in favor of abiding by the peaceful decisions of his clan. Achebe states, “Okonkwo’s gun had exploded and a piece of iron had pierced the boy’s heart … It was a crime against the earth goddess to kill a clansman, and a man who committed it must flee from the land” (Achebe 100). After he violates the sacred festival peacetime and recognizes the severity of his ‘inadvertent’ crime, Okonkwo calms down and accepts the error of his ways. Because of his responsibility to listen to the tribe’s will, he does not protest his exile and moves away immediately to start over with a new reputation.

Nevertheless, throughout the novel, the constant mental struggle between his violent tendencies and duty to the clan wears Okonkwo down. Before taking action, he carefully considers which ‘side’ would win: destructive outbursts or compliance with the tribe’s orders. After the main conflict, Okonkwo realizes the moral and ethical issues of bloodshed, accepts his fate of exile, and moves tribes to start a new life. There, he develops a new persona and adjusts his values to focus more on crop prosperity, family care, and leadership in the tribe, as opposed to mindless violence. The contention between desire and duty highlights a connection to the audience’s world too: traditions and values that an individual like Okonkwo holds dear may conflict with the morals and ethics of one’s culture and any foreign cultures he or she encounters. This war parallels modern society, as when one experiences a world beyond his or her ‘bubble,’ his or her previous ways clash with the new society’s laws.

In addition, the film Black Panther presents a conflict between one’s personal interests and his or her obligation to others. This conflict appears in the form of King T’Challa’s internal war, where he debates whether to listen to tradition and continue past kings’ policy of isolationism or to act in the interests of his kin around the world, providing Wakandan resources to oppressed groups like African minorities. Even as a little boy, T’Challa follows in the footsteps of his father, learning about past kings’ decisions, as well as observing his father’s foreign policy choices and ruling precedents: “‘To keep vibranium safe … the Wakandans vowed to hide in plain sight … keeping the truth of their power from the outside world. And we still hide, Baba? Yes’” (“Black Panther” 3). From the beginning, tradition seeps into T’Challa’s life. But once his elders pass on, T’Challa becomes lost and confused about the path he should forge in the future for himself, his country, and his people. Accustomed to defending Wakanda and its people only, as past kings and Black Panthers did, when W’Kabi proposes introducing vibranium weapons, resources, and technology “‘to go out there and clean up the world’” (“Black Panther” 18), T’Challa adamantly responds that “‘waging war on other countries has never been our way’” (“Black Panther” 18). Likewise, he reminds Killmonger that “‘I am not the king of all people. I am the king of Wakanda. And it is my responsibility to make sure our people are safe … and that vibranium does not fall into the hands of a person like you’” (“Black Panther” 39). When people increasingly demand him to change Wakanda’s ways, a deep mental divide forms in T’Challa and takes a significant toll on him. He values his elders’ counsel, evident through his choice of traditional dress and sandals on his first day as the king to make a good impression. T’Challa admires kings’ past leadership styles and does not wish to take actions that directly counteract their efforts.

As such, T’Challa’’s viewpoint at one time represents a more isolationist perspective, where he cannot yet recognize his responsibility to people akin to Wakandans around the globe. Then, Killmonger, T’Challa’s ‘enemy,’ brings up good points, forcing T’Challa to question his decisions: “‘It’s about two billion people all over the world that looks like us. But their lives are a lot harder. Wakanda has the tools to liberate ’em all … didn’t life start right here on this continent? So ain’t all people your people?’” (“Black Panther” 39). When Wakandans witness the struggles of individuals and groups across other nations, they fail to comprehend why their prosperous, resourceful home-state refuses to come to the aid of those in need.

T’Challa’s internal debate of passion for his home over his duty to people around the world expands and manifests physically in the war with Killmonger. Wakandan people come to blows, killing their kin and fighting over their impatience to act and protect others around the world, as opposed to maintaining Wakanda’s secrecy and isolation. Increasing conflict and strife teach T’Challa a lesson: such debate does not benefit the overall health of the country. King T’Challa quickly realizes he needs to act and compromise with the opposition. He concludes: “‘You were wrong! All of you were wrong! To turn your backs on the rest of the world! We let the fear of our discovery stop us from doing what is right! No more!’” (“Black Panther” 49). As the wars begin to take their toll, T’Challa finally resolves to act in the best interests of both his subjects and similar people around the world. After declaring his initiative to the United Nations, T’Challa sets up outreach centers in other countries and delegates their leadership to capable and trusted family members and advisors. He eventually understands what it means to act as an example: as a leader to his people, as a progressivist generation to traditionalist ancestors, and as a country to the violent, outside world. The film’s significant internal and external conflicts represent its central idea on two fronts: an internal war raging inside the king and a physical war fought to represent that mental debate.

Literary works often share a common theme of warring desires and moral responsibilities, as exemplified by the conflicts in Heart of Darkness, Things Fall Apart, and Black Panther. Internal debates rage between one’s passions for, respectively, adventure, violence, or personal interests and one’s service to his or her country, the traditions and laws of a clan, and duty to protect one’s kin no matter their citizenship. This continuing conflict in history also symbolizes a realistic issue to audiences, allowing them to learn from the morals of the stories, seek to help others, and consider solutions to problems similar to those shown in the novels and film. For example, researchers raise a debate about using modern technology like Artificial Intelligence as weapons to help oppressed peoples or to advance technological developments beyond what scientists previously thought capable. However, this passion for innovation runs into the obstacles of ethical constraints and safety responsibilities. These literary pieces, with their theme of desire conflicting with duty, teach audiences a valuable, applicable life lesson: when considering one’s decisions and actions, one must ensure that passions do not run abound, but they instead possess ethic, moral, and legal limits to prevent a metaphorical war from manifesting into a physical one.

Works Cited

  1. Achebe, Chinua, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The African Trilogy: Things Fall Apart ; No Longer at Ease ; Arrow of God. New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2010.
  2. ‘Black Panther’ STANDS4 LLC, 2020. Web. 27 Jan. 2020. .
  3. Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. London, Capuchin Classics, 2010.

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A Question Of Passion Or Responsibility in The Novels Heart Of Darkness, Things Fall Apart And Film Black Panther. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved January 31, 2023, from
“A Question Of Passion Or Responsibility in The Novels Heart Of Darkness, Things Fall Apart And Film Black Panther.” Edubirdie, 17 Feb. 2022,
A Question Of Passion Or Responsibility in The Novels Heart Of Darkness, Things Fall Apart And Film Black Panther. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 31 Jan. 2023].
A Question Of Passion Or Responsibility in The Novels Heart Of Darkness, Things Fall Apart And Film Black Panther [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 17 [cited 2023 Jan 31]. Available from:
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