Heart of Darkness: the Journey in to the Unconscious

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Marlow’s journey in Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, traverses not only the volatile waters spanning the Congo, but also ventures in to his unconscious self. It is a voyage into the depths of the human heart and mind, leading to enlightenment revealing of the crevices of the hell existing within each and every one of us. Although through Marlow, Conrad depicts a journey into the Congo, his use of symbolic language evokes that it is something much more profound, a journey in to the self.

Starting at the very beginning of the novel there are many major indications giving foresight that the voyage that is to occur is indeed an inward one. Initiating on the Nellie the first indication of this is Marlow’s posture. The narrator describes Marlow such that “he had the pose of a Buddha preaching in European clothes and without a lotus-flower. ” His mediatory position, often used in the pursuit of an understanding of human nature, gives the reader the first inclination that his journey is actually within himself.

Also when Marlow goes in to “The Company” to “show myself to my employer, and sign the contract” Marlow is greeted with two silent women spinning black wool. The women represent the Fates of Greek mythology, which spin threads of wool which symbolizes a person’s life. The fact that these women’s thread is black creates a foreboding effect. Once Marlow signs the contract he is then left for “yet a visit to the doctor”, the doctor checks on him and then continues to engage in phrenology measuring the Marlow’s Crania.

He then tells Marlow that “the change takes place inside” referring to inside his brain again indicating the notion “That Marlow might be setting on a journey into the unconscious”. (Journey into the Unconscious) “Marlow’s trip from Europe to the Outer, then to the Central, station already tests his capacity to discriminate between good and evil” (Journey into the Self) as Marlow forges further toward “the Heart of Darkness” his ‘superego’ is tested, his ability to repress the Id that embodies the humanly desires.

He desires to join the natives in the ‘mysterious nature’ to “go ashore for a howl and a dance” but his restraint keeps him at bay. But the trip does takes its toll, once attacked by natives Marlow deliriously removes his new boots and throws them off the ship into the river with no reason other than “out of sheer nervousness”. Marlow’s obsession with Kurtz become’s consuming to him he admits that he was “cut to the quick at the idea of having lost the inestimable privilege of listening to the gifted Kurtz”. There is an inexplicable link between Marlow and Kurtz that Conrad highlights.

Specifically throughout the book Marlow and Kurtz are the only two people in the novel who are addressed by their actual names every other character is characterized by their title or profession, such as the accountant, the harlequin, the manager and the Intended. The text creates the an analogy concerning the two characters that basically goes such that Kurtz is the man who jumps off the edge of sanity and plunges into the darkness of insanity. Marlow is the man who goes to the edge of sanity, looks over the edge, and has enough strength not to go over to the other side.

It is said that “All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz” and the subsequent fact that Kurtz went mad in the wilderness suggests that even the best of men are liable to the go mad. Also the fact that Marlow states “I confounded the beating of the drum with the beating of my heart” shows that, like Kurtz, he has reached the ‘heart of darkness’ and has not gone insane. This supports and upholds Anglo centric values. The novel is centred on the presence of light and dark within everyone, and in Marlow’s journey the question is often posed of which is most dominant.

Within the book there are occasions where darkness leads the light as well as times when light is stronger than darkness. However, the darkness, which symbolises evil, usually tends to prevail. Conrad is implying that a sense of evil resides in the core of every human, and therefore reigns at the centre of humanity, however veiled by morals, civilization and repression. This is one of the main ideas Marlow confirms on his journey, for he sees darkness everywhere, even when there is light. In Marlow’s journey up the river Congo light and dark become symbols of civilisation and savagery.

Marlow describes his trip up the river so; “Going up the river arms was like travelling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, and impenetrable forest. The long stretches of the waterway ran on, deserted, into the gloom of the overshadowed distances”. In the one of the very first paragraphs of the book the narrator describes civilisation as “the sacred fire” (light). Just as the line between light and dark is blurred, the barrier separating civilization from savagery is equally complicated.

In Congo, Marlow repeatedly encounters natives, and the crew on the steamer is comprised of twenty cannibals. As they progress deeper into the heart of the forest, we can take note that black people are dehumanized. They are perpetually referred to in animalistic terms, and are treated as such. However, it is these “savages” who survive and thrive in the heart of darkness, and whose ways eventually engulf Kurtz, a symbol of European brilliance. These “savages” lack civilisation, they are often referred to as shadows, not distinguishable from any other though it is them who survive in such the bounds of such incredulous nature.

It is apparent that civilization is utterly futile in such surroundings. Kurtz demonstrates the fall of civilized man who submits to his barbaric side due to his environment. Regardless of the respect and admiration showered upon him by his peers, he is consumed by his greed for ivory. Kurtz is also a symbol of the evil within our society, for people described him as the “emissary of science and progress. ” He represents the person found deep within the centre of our unconscious, the core of darkness ever-present beneath the feeble layers of civility and refinement.

“One evening coming in with a candle I was startled to hear him say a little tremulously, ‘I am lying here in the dark waiting for death. ‘ The light was within a foot of his eyes. ” This quote demonstrates that symbolically, Kurtz is utterly consumed by darkness that he is blind to light no matter if the light is less than a foot away from him. This is also shown in an oil painting done by Kurtz, depicting a blindfolded woman surrounded by darkness but carrying a torch which casts a sinister light over her face.

The blindfolded woman can be representative of the common Western symbol of justice and liberty, things that man has created to separate himself from the beasts and savages. The fact that the woman is surrounded in darkness with only insufficient torchlight to guide her makes an important social comment on our western society The end of Marlow’s journey leads into the heart of darkness, or Hell. Heart of Darkness fosters the allusion that hell is within us that it is the evil existing deep inside our souls. Marlow visits this place when he finally encounters Kurtz, and his English morals are challenged.

He views firsthand the cruelty and brutality man is capable of, and the journey begins to take on all the properties of a nightmare. When Kurtz himself is lying on his deathbed, he sees into his own heart, looks at his personal hell, and utters things which give Marlow a grim enlightenment as to what lies within the darkness. Kurtz’s final words, as he ends his voyage into his own heart of darkness, are “The horror, the horror! ” referring to what he sees inside himself. The journey Marlow undertakes leads him to a darkness that resides within us all which is defined in savagery and primtivity.

He pursues Kurtz in hope of finding a man who has the same curiosity towards the mysterious wilderness but finds a man consumed by his environment so much so that his actions become cruelly inhumane such that his last words enforce a depressing reality of darkness with in all living entities. Marlow’s lie to Kurtz’s Intended at the end of the novel is Marlow rejection of complete acceptance of Kurtz’s worldview. Marlow refuses to believe that things are as bad as Kurtz believes them to be and his lie is a way to suppress those beliefs. And so to remain sane we must cling on to our own civility and oppose Kurtz’s view.

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