“The changes take place inside you know” the doctor warns Marlow in Heart of Darkness (9). Joseph Conrad, the author of Heart of Darkness, uses the words of the doctor to warn the readers of the changes Marlow faces on his journey. This journey was a physical journey to the heart of the Congo River, but it was also a journey into the depths of his own mind. As Marlow encounters three stations along the Congo River, he encounters three stations or levels in his mind. These levels in the mind have labels from Freudian psychology?the Superego, the Ego, and the Id. Conrad develops the three physical stations as the psychological stations of the Superego, the Ego, and the Id.
The first station Marlow encounters is the Outer Station. This station represents the Superego, which is “the division of the psyche that develops by the incorporation of the perceived moral standards of the community, is mainly unconscious, and includes the conscience” (American Heritage Dictionary). The Superego is the part of the mind which contains the standards of morality set by society. The Superego is also the section of humans that is a front, or a false face. People use their front to reflect what they think society wants to see. Marlow describes seeing an accountant in the Outer Station who represents the Superego: ” I saw a high starched collar, white cuffs, a light alpaca jacket, snowy trousers, a clear necktie, and varnished boots? in the great demoralization of the land he kept up his appearance” Marlow tells his audience (15). The accountant represents society and the influences of society on the Outer Station?the Superego. The European society as a whole is dominant at this station, and what society decides becomes the way everyone is. Just as the Superego is the part of man that is society, so is this Outer Station the part of this psychological trip into the mind. It starts with Marlow’s Superego at the fringe of who he is and what he wants society to see about him.
After the Outer Station, Marlow reaches the Central Station and his Ego. The Ego is “the personality component that is conscious, most immediately controls behavior, and is most in touch with external reality” (American Heritage Dictionary). The Ego consciously makes decisions for whole mind. The Ego also helps to control the Id, or the primal urges. It keeps the moral standards of the mind and is self-control. At the Outer Station, Marlow tells his audience, “I went to work the next day, turning, so to speak, my back on that station. In that way only it seemed to me I could keep my hold on the redeeming facts of life” (20). In Marlow’s case, turning his back on the station, or self-control, helped him to remain human. If he had not turned his back on self-control, he would have become empty and void of life as the manager was. He would not have been able to see anything good in life. At this stage of his journey, Marlow is struggling with keeping control of his urges, but he can do it because he is still at the Central Station, where his Ego still has control of his Id.
The Id is the final level in Marlow’s journey to the depths of his soul. Marlow reaches his Id when he reaches the Inner Station and Kurtz. The entire journey was undertaken in order to reach this goal. The Id is “the division of the psyche associated with the instinctual impulses and demands for immediate satisfaction of primitive needs” (American Heritage Dictionary). The Id is the part of man that harbors pure animal-like urges and desires. Perhaps the Id is the element of man that makes him do evil things. On page thirty-two, Marlow states that “the mind of man is capable of anything?because everything is in it, all the past as well as all the future.” Marlow is observing that man’s mind is extremely complex and is composed of all of these layers. All of the layers of the mind contribute to what man is capable of and, depending on which section is dominant, what man does. The Ego and the Id are often in conflict. “There is a conflict in every man, one that [all men] struggle with” (McErlane 2). This conflict is something that everyone faces everyday and it brings out our true self.
Although many people do not want to take the extremely emotional and arduous pilgrimage to the center of their minds, it is always worth the journey. As shown in Heart of Darkness, there are three stations along the trek to the heart of man’s soul. As he reaches each station, man struggles with understanding and recognizing another level of the mind. When a person chooses to make this journey, they must keep in mind that they might not like the truth they find in the end. Man cannot underestimate that truth, because it may be stronger than he may think. To understand the heart of the soul, man must look at every aspect, not just one element.
American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. 1975 ed.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York: Drover, 1990.
McErlane, Kelly. Sigmund Freud and Heart of Darkness. http://open.dtcc.cc.nc.us/eng111/webzine/mcerlane.html
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