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Conrad’s novel, Heart of Darkness, relies on the historical period of imperialism in order to describe its protagonist, Charlie Marlow, and his struggle. Marlow’s catharsis in the novel, as he goes to the Congo, rests on how he visualises the effects of imperialism.
Marlow’s “change,” as caused by his exposure to the imperialistic nature of the historical period in which he lived is one of the main concerns of our study.Because, Joseph Conrad develops themes of personal power, individual responsibility, and social justice in Heart of Darkness to reveal the evil produced by man who is seen as the product of society.
Marlow is asked by “the company”, the organisation for whom he works, to travel to the Congo river and report back to them about Mr. Kurtz, a top notch officer of theirs. When he sets sail, he doesn’t know what to expect. When his journey is completed, this little “trip” will have changed Marlow forever!
For Colleen Burke, Like a knight of the Round Table, Marlow sets off in search of strange adventures. He only gradually acquires a grail, as he picks up more and more hints about Kurtz. Like a knight he is frequently tested by signs he must confront, question and interpret. Among these signs we can count the title of the novel, the contrasts made by the narrator throughout the story, the jungle, the ivory trade, the shadows of the jungle, pilgrims, Kurtz, the painting of Kurtz and the last words of Kurtz, and the lies of Marlow when he returns home. On the other hand, since for us all these signs were applied by Conrad for one thing; that is to uncover the evil side hidden in man by plunging deep into the darkness of his heart with great courage in order to find what was laying there and to take it out to the daylight. That is why, Heart of Darkness is a story of one man’s journey through the African Congo and the “enlightenment” of his soul.
It begins with Charlie Marlow, along with a few of his comrades, cruising aboard the Nellie, a traditional sailboat. On the boat, Marlow begins to tell of his experiences in the Congo.
Heart of Darkness is set in the Congo. However, it is not really set in the Congo. Rather, it is a story that we infer takes place in the Congo, narrated by Marlow from a barge on the Thames. We infer that it is in Africa because we know that Conrad was there, and because of the images he uses. Heart Of Darkness is based on Conrad’s own experience as the captain of a West African river steamer in 1890. Conrad reveals the story of Marlow, the protagonist, who travels up the Congo in search of Kurtz, an ivory trader. Marlow’s voyage from the coast takes him past signs of Europe exploitation of the natives toward the “heart of darkness,” Where Kurtz, once an idealistic young man, is now the leader of what Marlow calls “unspeakable rites.” Conrad’s story hints at horrors that Marlow is unable to describe, leaving the reader to imagine actions that lie outside civilized human behavior.
The reality of Heart of Darkness is that the entire time, we never leave the Thames. During the time when Conrad wrote Heart of Darkness, and even before that, during the imaginary time when Marlow went to the Congo, the British colonial empire was at its height. Britain was the preeminent world power during the second half of the nineteenth century. She had colonies around the world, including India, Malaya, Hong Kong, and much of Africa. Britain controlled the Suez Canal, the east coast of Africa, and the route to the source of the Nile.
The images from the Thames in Heart of Darkness lend support to the argument that this is, at a basic level, a novel about imperialism. At the beginning of the novel, Conrad connects the Thames to the Congo. The Thames is “a waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth.” It is connected to the Congo like “an interminable waterway.” It is connected both symbolically and actually. It is connected physically as all rivers are connected to each other. It is also connected by shared humanity, and it is connected economically. One piece of the economic connection is the ivory coming out of the Congo, on its way to Europe. This economic connection is alluded to by the presence of London in the distance — the “monstrous town” — and by the gloom we now see as we sit on the Thames with Marlow — a lightness growing gradually darker, a sense of foreboding that intensifies. From the barge on the Thames, Marlow tells us, “And this also has been one of the dark places of the earth.”
The Congo was the place that brought about the “partition of Africa.” The partition of Africa was a momentous event. It took place between 1880 and 1890, and marked the beginning of the colonial era in Africa. Before the partition of Africa, many European countries had nothing but “toeholds” in Africa. These toeholds were economic and political claims to the coastal regions of Africa. Before the partition of Africa, the map of Africa was, for Europeans, a map with a big blank space in the center. Conrad later admits to a fascination with the big blank space. He writes:
It was in 1868, when I was nine years old or thereabouts, that while looking at a map of Africa of the time and putting my finger on that blank space then representing the unsolved mystery of the continent, I said to myself with absolute assurance and an amazing audacity which are no longer in my character now:
“When I grow up I shall go there.”
How was the Congo implicated in the partition of Africa? During the 1870’s, this region of Central Africa that we now call Zaire was the domain of Belgium. King Leopold II of the Belgians had created a personal empire for himself in this area of Africa. This was an area rich in ivory and other minerals, including diamonds. For this reason, it is natural for Europeans to be jealous of others and to be in competition with other countries in exploitation of the area.
The British, French and Germans were jealous that King Leopold owned such a vast rich area of Africa. To resolve the controversy they set up an international conference in Berlin in 1884. The conferencees, not an African among them, decided that all the nations of Europe should have free access to the interior of Africa — to the white spaces. They also decided that a country could not claim a region of Africa for its own unless there was clear evidence of occupation. The 1884 conference led to a scramble for colonies. King Leopold already had a head start. In 1878, he had hired an explorer named Henry Stanley to establish trading stations along the Congo river. Stanley had gone there before, and had essentially “opened up” the interior of Africa. In 1885, a year after the Berlin conference, King Leopold established the Congo Free State. The Congo Free State was not a Belgian colony, but a personal possession of King Leopold.
It was during this time that Conrad went to the Congo.
Marlow begins his journey as an ordinary English sailor who is sailing to the African Congo on a business trip . He is an Englishmen through and through. He’s never been exposed to any alternative form of culture, similar to the one he will encounter in Africa, and he has no idea about the drastically different culture that exists out there. Throughout the book, Conrad, via Marlow s observations, reveals to the reader the naive mentality shared by every European. Marlow as well, shares this naivet in the beginning of his voyage. However, after his first few moments in the Congo, he realises the ignorance he and all his comrades possess. We first recognise the general naivet of the Europeans when Marlow’s aunt is seeing him for the last time before he embarks on his journey.
Marlow’s aunt is under the assumption that the voyage is a mission to “wean those ignorant millions from their horrid ways”(18-19). In reality, however, the Europeans are there in the name of imperialism and their sole objective is to earn a substantial profit by collecting all the ivory in Africa. Another manifestation of the Europeans obliviousness towards reality is seen when Marlow is recounting his adventure aboard the Nellie. He addresses his comrades who are on board saying: “When you have to attend to things of that sort, to the mere incidents of the surface, the reality-the reality I tell you—fades. The inner truth is hidden luckily, luckily. But I felt it all the same; I felt often its mysterious stillness watching over me at my monkey tricks, just as it watches you fellows performing on your respective tight ropes for—what is it? half a crown a tumble—(56).” What Marlow is saying is that while he is in the Congo, although he has to concentrate on the petty little everyday things, such as overseeing the repair of his boat, he is still aware of what is going on around him and of the horrible reality in which he is in the midst of. On the other hand, his friends on the boat simply don’t know of these realities. It is their ignorance, as well as their innocence which provokes them to say “Try to be civil, Marlow”(57). Not only are they oblivious to the reality which Marlow is exposed to, but their naivet is so great, they can’t even comprehend a place where this ’so called’ reality would even be a bad dream!
Hence, their response is clearly rebuking the words of a “savage” for having said something so ridiculous and “uncivilised”. Quite surprisingly, this mentality does not pertain exclusively to the Englishmen in Europe. At one point during Marlow’s voyage down the Congo, his boat hits an enormous patch of fog. At that very instant, a “very loud cry” is let out (66). After Marlow looks around and makes sure everything is all right, he observes the contrasts of the whites and the blacks expressions. It was very curious to see the contrast of expression of the white men and of the black fellows of our crew, who were as much strangers to this part of the river as we, though their homes were only eight hundred miles away. The whites, of course greatly discomposed, had besides a curious look of being painfully shocked by such an outrageous row. The others had an alert, naturally interested expression; but their faces were essentially quiet. (67). Once again, we see the simple-mindedness of the Europeans, even if they were exposed to reality. Their mentality is engraved in their minds and is so impliable, that even the environment of the Congo can’t sway their belief that people simply don’t do the horrible things Marlow recounts.
On the Nellie, Marlow explains to his comrades, the basic difference between living in Europe, and being in the Congo. He states: “You can’t understand. How could you? With solid pavement under your feet, surrounded by kind neighbours ready to cheer you or to fall you, stepping delicately between the butcher and the policeman, in the holy terror of scandal and gallows and lunatic asylums—how can you imagine what particular region of the first ages a man’s untrammelled feet may take him into by the way of solitude—utter solitude without a policeman—by the way of silence utter silence, where no warning voice of a kind neighbour can be heard whispering of public opinion(82)?” In Europe, there are “kind neighbours” who are there to make sure that everything is all right. The European lives his life “stepping delicately between the butcher and the policeman”. Everywhere he looks, there is always someone there who can “catch him if he is falling”. On the other hand, once a man enters the Congo, he is all alone. No policeman, no “warning voice of a kind neighbour”…no one! It is now when Marlow enters the Congo and begins his voyage, that he realises the environment he comes from is not reality, and the only way he is going to discover reality is to keep going up the river… There is one specific theme in Heart of Darkness in which the reader can follow Marlow’s evolution from the “everyday European” to a man who realises his own naivet and finally to his uncovering of his own reality.
Marlow, as his aunt declared something like a lower sort of apostle , plunges deep into the darkness of both a continent and his own soul to find out the reality. As Collin Burke clearly acknowledged the travel of Marlow has symbolic significance and implications.
As the Heart of Darkness snakes its way into the savage shadows of the African continent, Joseph Conrad exposes a psycho-geography of the collective unconscious in the entangling metaphoric realities of the serpentine Congo. Conrad s novella descends into the unknowable darkness at the heart of Africa, taking its narrator, Marlow, on an underworld journey of individuation, a modern odyssey toward the center of the Self and the center of the Earth. Ego dissolves into soul as, in the interior, Marlow encounters his double in the powerful image of ivory-obsessed Kurtz, the dark shadow of European imperialism. The dark meditation is graced by personifications of anima in Kurtz black goddess, the savagely magnificent consort of the underworld, and in his porcelain -skinned Persephone, innocent intended of the upperworld.
On the other hand, Freud saw that society creates mechanisms to ensure social control of human instincts.. For Freud, the past is not something that can be completely outgrown by either the individual or society but rather is something that remains a vital and often disruptive part of existence. The emphasis on the past being alive in the present is a central theme in psychoanalytic approaches to the individual and society.(origins). For this reason Freud understood culture as an expression of desires in conflict with one another and with society. He thought religion, art, and science could be richly rewarding. But he emphasized that culture is the product of impulses denied a more directly sexual or aggressive satisfaction. If these cultural practices fail to alleviate the conflicts at the heart of the human psyche, what then, Freud asked, are the consequences for the individual? If forms of social life fail to meet basic psychological needs, what then are the consequences for society of these unfulfilled desires? These remained for Freud the vital questions about the relation between our civilization and ourselves. Hence, he was fascinated by ancient objects as if they were witnesses to humanity s deepest impulses covered over by thousands of years of the civilizing progress. The presence of these objects seemed to speak to him of the distant, yet still active, past. (ders notlar ) For this reason he said: The primitive stages can always be re-established; the primitive mind is, in the fullest meaning of the word, imperishable.sigmund Freud, 1915
The conflicts that Freud stressed were within the psyche: people at war with themselves and sometimes with the cultural authorities they had internalized. But he thought that the way we managed (or failed to manage) those conflicts had everything to do with the explosions of violence that marked the modern world. Freud did not propose solutions to how one might escape this violence. Instead, his writings on the connection of culture and conflict identified fundamental problems for the century. Heart of Darkness can be seen as an example of answer proposed by Conrad to these fundamental problems.
However, as Freud claimed; It is easy, as we can see, for a barbarian to be healthy; for a civilised man the task is hard. Early in the novel it becomes apparent that there is a great deal of tension in Marlow+s mind about whether he should profit from the immoral actions of the company he works for which is involved in the ivory trade in Africa. Marlow believes that the company is ignorant of the tension between moral enlightenment and capitalism . The dehumanization of its laborers which is so early apparent to Marlow seems to be unknown to other members of the Company’s management.
In Heart of Darkness, there is a real contrast between what is light and what is dark. These contrasts work within the reality of what is considered civilized and uncivilized. The light representing civilization or the civilized side of the world and the dark representing the uncivilized or savage side of the world. Throughout the book, there are several references to these two contrasts. In Conrad’s novel, black and white have the usual connotations of evil and good. However, as we mentioned earlier, in Heart of Darkness we can find many symbolic contrasts of dark and light; it is used to depict the contrast between capitalism and moral enlightenment. The tension between capitalism and moral enlightenment in the first twenty pages of this story is evident. Conrad uses Marlow to depict a seemingly good-hearted person caught in the middle of the common dilemma of moral ethics and desire for monetary success. Marlow knows that there is a great deal of repugnance in what he is doing, yet he finds himself forced to deal with it in his own personal way, which is justify it or ignore it. It is clear that the company also is forced to deal with this same issue, but it does it simply by pretending that it is not dehumanizing its entire work force. This blindness allows the Company to profit and prosper, but only at the expense of the lives of the workers in the jungle who have no way to protest or escape and the “white collar” workers like Marlow who have to live with their hypocrisy.
The word pilgrims was used by Conrad many times throughout the novel. We were forced to make the same contrast between capitalism and moral enlightenment. Because, as is known, pilgrimage is a religious journey in order of moral enlightenment of the soul, that is to say, in order to serve God and reach spiritual prosperity. However, in Heart of Darkness, we see pilgrims who serve capitalism which is associated here with ivory.
As Marlow travels up the river, he is constantly preoccupied with Kurtz. From the beginning of his trip, he is compared to Kurtz by all people that he comes into contact with, and a great deal of his thoughts are of Kurtz.
The setting also plays a critical role in describing how Marlow feels about the entire adventure he endured. From the very start of the novel, there are signs of what is to come. The colors of items and objects help to foreshadow the tragedy that is to come to Marlow. There are a couple of instances in particular that elude to the difficult future Marlow will face. Further along in the novel there are many more examples of the contrast between light and dark. The ending of the novel also proves to continue to contrast between light and dark, especially when speaking of the savages Marlow encounters when attempting to save Kurtz. The ultimate contrast of light and dark occurs with the death of Kurtz on the boat after he is saved and being brought back down “The brown current (that) ran swiftly out of the heart of darkness…” This quote being perhaps the ultimate description of the savagery and uncivilization of the Congo as Marlow and Kurtz try to quickly escape the savagery and death of the Congo. With their escape and these words comes the title of the book, Heart of Darkness.
In the novel, Marlow’s aunt represents capitalism. Her efforts to get him a job are significant because of the morally compromising nature of the work of which she seems totally ignorant. When Marlow expresses doubts about the nature of the work, she replies, “You forget, dear Charlie, that the labourer is worthy of his hire” (12). It is clear that Marlow has mixed feelings about the whole idea. At one point, trying to justify his actions to himself, he says, “You understand it was a continental concern, that Trading Society; but I have a lot of relations on the living continent, because it’s cheap and not so nasty as it looks they say” (12). Marlow finally takes the job, however, and tells himself that the pain and unusually harsh treatment the workers are subjected to is minimal.
During the tests and the requirements that he has to undergo before entering the jungle Marlow feels that he is being treated like a freak. The doctor measures his head and asks him questions such as, “Ever any madness in your family?” (15). In this part of the story Marlow is made to feel small and unimportant. Any feelings or concerns that he has are not important to the company, and as a result, he feels alone. It is only logical that Marlow would have been second guessing his decision and feeling some kinship with the other (black) workers who are exploited, but he does not reveal any such understanding.
Upon reaching his destination in Africa, Marlow finds that things are just the same. At the point when he is denied rest after traveling twenty miles on foot he sees things are not going to change. Marlow then tells of how disease and death are running wild through out the area, which as for Freud It is easy, as we can see, for a barbarian to be healthy; for a civilised man the task is hard. , and the company does nothing in the way of prevention other than to promote those who stay alive. Marlow’s theory on why the manager was in that position was that “…he was never ill” (25). This is a bad situation for Marlow because he sees his boss as a simple man with little else to offer the company other than to be a mindless foreman over the operation. This is an example of the company stripping self worth from its workers in the sense that it does not encourage or expect input from them. This is all significant because Marlow finds himself in a position where he is giving up a big piece of himself and his beliefs to make money.
The sickness of the individual is ultimately caused and sustained by the sickness of his civilization.– Herbert Marcuse, 1955
Science is not illusion. But it would be an illusion to suppose that we could get anywhere else what it cannot give us.– Sigmund Freud, 1927
Objects from the Depths: Freud was fascinated by ancient objects — as if they were witnesses to humanity’s deepest impulses covered over by thousands of years of the civilizing process. The presence of these objects seemed to speak to him of the distant, yet still active, past.
The book [Future of an Illusion] testifies to the fact that the genius of experimental science is not necessarily joined with the genius of logic or generalizing power.– T.S. Eliot, 1928
The Longings of Religion For Freud, religion was a primitive attempt to deal with the frightening realities of the world and the impossibility of satisfying our fundamental desires. Religion, in his view, was a response to that fear and longing. Love for and fear of the father found symbolic expression, he thought, in the major religious traditions.
[It] is easy, as we can see, for a barbarian to be healthy; for a civilized man the task is hard. Sigmund Freud, 1938
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