Heart of Darkness Analysis Essay
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The heroic journey. This is a familiar feature of many stories. From Odysseus of ancient Greece to Harry Potter of popular culture, this archetype remains a predominant feature of a myth. From gypsies sitting around campfires telling tales of magic and wonder, to twenty-first century audiences crowding around their television screens, stories that we tell are to enlighten, advise and entertain. The structure of creating tales with archetypes composes an enthralling piece of work and a story line that keeps readers engaged and interested.
These archetypal patterns are woven into Joseph Conrad’s story Heart of Darkness. The novella encompasses the frames of the ancient myths and the hero’s myth along with the archetypes which reveal the hero’s inner world. Symbolically, the Hero’s journey represents the descent into the unconscious. In Heart of Darkness, the hero is represented in Marlow and his personal unconscious is represented by the jungle, or the forest; the forest is traditionally dark, like a labyrinth.
The most developed stage of Marlow’s journey is to realize his Shadow.
When he reaches the jungle, he recognizes it. In the story the shadow character is Kurtz. The other archetypes aren’t quite as well developed; nevertheless, their meaning is very important in the understanding of the story. A hero is character that remains almost exactly the same throughout the ages; as it has distinct qualities and characteristics that each adhere to. As Campbell states, the Hero must feel that “something is missing in life” (Campbell) and it should evoke his desire to leave the familiar space and enter the unknown.
For Marlow, a spur to go on a quest was his, “the mariner’s, not being on a voyage for long enough and desire to visit the place he had wanted to go since childhood”(Conrad Pg. 21). His desire to go to Congo was so strong that having failed by himself, Marlow asked his relatives to help him get appointed for a job there; as that notion drove him. Marlow was eager to go to the jungle because there was a river which “resembling an immense snake uncoiled … had charmed [him]” (Conrad Pg. 22), when he had looked upon a map.
A strong impact of the idea on Marlow’s onscious reveals that it was caused by the hero which typically creates either outward or inward necessity for changes. Being a wonderer he could do without traveling. Therefore, the longing for voyages implies that the hero got tired of the surroundings of the land and needed an escape to the sea or a river. However, the need for a change in surroundings may be symbolically viewed as a need of a change in one’s mind. Campbell claims that the hero has to cross the threshold of consciousness and adds that the entrance is not free and is protected.
The guardians “mark the point of no return” (Campbell). In Heart of Darkness the symbolic threshold is the Continental Concern Marlow worked for. Here Marlow’s first entering the company should be considered. He entered the building of the Company through an “immense double door ponderously ajar” (Campbell Pg. 45). The door shares its meaning with the threshold. It is a transitional point from one place to another, from lightness to darkness. What concerns Marlow was that he was invited to move from the conscious to the unconscious and discover the different realms.
Nevertheless, the manner of his entrance was of great importance; he, the hero “slipped through one of these cracks” (Campbell Pg. 47). The contradiction of the “immense double door ponderously ajar” and “the crack” suggests that the other realm is entered through a narrow passage; a secrecy which creates the feeling of danger. Campbell claims that when the hero reaches his unconscious, another realm, he is overwhelmed with doubtful thoughts and sometimes despair.
This is all considered to be a part of the process during the journey of the hero and coming to a realization and understanding, as well as obtaining the “elixir” Not only does Marlow feel uncomfortable, but the reader finds him doubtful, too. When he signed the contract, he “began to feel slightly uneasy …and there was something ominous in the atmosphere” (Campbell Pg. 49). Marlow tried to justify his eerie feeling and explained that in the following way: “A queer feeling came to me that I was an impostor.
Odd thing that I, who used to clear out for any part of the world at twenty-four hours’ notice, with less thought that most men give to the crossing of a street, had a moment – I won’t say of hesitation, but of startled pause, before this commonplace affair. The best way to explain it to you is by saying that, for a second or two, I felt as though, instead of going to the center of a continent, I were about to set off for the center of the earth. ” (Conrad Pg. 93) The very fact that Marlow felt as if going to the center of the earth sharpens its geographical parallel with the human psyche.
The movement in the geographical space represents the movement in the hero’s unconscious. One of the key elements in the Hero’s journey and self-acceptance is the realization of the shadow. However, the shadow may contain some positive features if a person under certain conditions represses his positive side and lives out the negative. The shadow embodies the qualities the person dislikes in others and therefore represents the opposite side of the hero. In Heart of Darkness, the man of dark mystery is Kurtz.
He is the Shadow figure of the hero Marlow. The first parallel between the hero and his shadow is that these two characters are the only two in the story who are given names. All the other are addressed by their profession, with the exception of the Russian. If the shadow is the opposite of the hero, Kurtz and Marlow respectively, it means that they both have the positive and negative aspects of the character. On the assumption that the hero assumes his shadow as a remarkable person it may be stated that the shadow possesses some good qualities.
Consequently, Kurtz as the shadow encompasses both the negative and the positive. Kurtz, archetypally the hero’s Shadow, “presented himself as a voice” (Conrad Pg. 92) and all the other characters “were so little more than voices” (Conrad Pg. 92). The fact that the characters were no more than voices reveals their intangible nature. It may be assumed that the unconscious communicated with the conscious self using voices and the strongest of them was the voice of the Shadow. Kurtz’ ability to talk was the main characteristics he was adored for by other people.
Among all his talents Marlow distinguishes the gift to express himself: “The point was in his being a gifted creature, and that of all his gifts the one that stood out preeminently, that carried with it a sense of real presence, was his ability to talk, his words – the gift of expression, the bewildering, the illuminating, the most exalted and the most contemptible, the pulsating stream of light, or the deceitful flow from the heart of an impenetrable darkness. ” (Campbell Pg. 61) Although, Marlow is presented as a perfect story teller, it can be assumed that until he integrated his shadow he was an introvert.
Marlow recalled that when he was going to the jungle he felt “the idleness of a passenger, my isolation amongst all these men with whom I had no point of contact” (Conrad Pg. 67). Due to his reserved nature, the hero’s shadow appeared as an eloquent person implying the quality the conscious needed. The outward experience or the hero may help one to repress the shadow’s drives and impulses. The hero can be defined “as an inner guiding factor that is different from the conscious personality and that can be grasped only through the investigation of one’s own dreams” (Conrad Pg. 8). However, the shadow may possess “valuable, vital forces, they ought to be assimilated into actual experience and not repressed” (Conrad Pg. 83). In such a case the hero must live out what initially seems to be dark, but truly is not. In Heart of Darkness the archetype of the mentor is symbolically represented by the character of the Russian whom Marlow met at Kurtz’ station: “There he was before me, in motley, as though he had absconded from a troupe of mimes, enthusiastic, fabulous. His very existence was improbable, inexplicable, and altogether bewildering.
He was an insoluble problem. It was inconceivable how he had existed, how he has succeeded in getting so far, how he managed to remain – why he did not instantly disappear. …The glamour of youth enveloped his parti-colored rags, his destitution, his loneliness, the essential desolation of his futile wanderings. …Glamour urged him on, glamour kept him unscathed. He surely wanted nothing from wilderness but space to breathe in and to push on through. His need was to exist, and to move onwards at the greatest possible risk, and with a maximum of privation. ” (Conrad Pg. 72)
The mentor is an archetype pointing to the wholeness of psyche. It is a state when an individual does not have any secret wishes. The Russian’s need to exist “with a maximum of hardship” shows that the mentor is not obsessed by the wishes, opposed to the shadow who is greedy. The mentor urges the hero to move forward and often suggests the ways how the hero should act in order to overcome the obstacles. In the story, it was the Russian who had helped Marlow to face Kurtz. Another archetype of which is distinguished in the novella is that of a woman, the temptress and destroyer of man.
In Conrad’s story, the archetype of the temptress is a complex one, since it is represented by the two distinctive women characters and is not directly connected with the hero, but is rather viewed in relation to the shadow embodied in the figure of Kurtz. One is the native woman whom Kurtz met in the jungle and another is her opposition; his fiancee in Europe whom Kurtz called “My Intended” (Conrad). Nevertheless, the two women have an indirect impact on Marlow, since “to him the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outside”(Campbell Pg. . Thus, it may be assumed that, according to the archetypal pattern of the Hero’s journey, Marlow happens to recognize the possible variations of the two-fold temptress. After confronting Kurtz in the jungle and persuading him not to join the natives in their rites, Marlow brought him on the deck of the steamboat and saw the native woman who was Kurtz’ mistress: “She walked with measured steps, draped in striped and fringed cloths, treading the earth proudly, with a slight jingle and flash of barbarous ornaments.
She carried her head high; her hair was done in the shape of a helmet; she had brass leggings to the knee, brass wire gauntlets to the elbow, a crimson spot on her tawny cheek, innumerable necklaces of glass beads on her neck; bizarre things, charms, gifts of witch-men, that hung about her, glittered and trembled at every step. She must have had the value of seven elephant tusks upon her. She was savage and superb, wild-eyed and magnificent; there was something ominous and stately in her deliberate progress. (Conrad Pg. 102) The description shows the native woman as fascinating and abominable.
Marlow found her “superb” and “magnificent”, self-assured by her femininity as she walked “proudly” and “with measured steps”. But at the same time she was “savage”, “wild-eyed” and “ominous”. Since the savage woman is related to Kurtz and represents the wilderness where he resided, it should be noted that Kurtz both desired and hated “all this and somehow couldn’t get away” (Conrad Pg. 99). Marlow described the state of Kurtz as “the fascination of abomination – you know, imagine the growing regrets, the longing to escape, the powerless disgust, the surrender, the hate” (Conrad Pg. . The black woman embodies the negative temptress.
The temptress kept Kurtz by her “charms”, however, he strived to get back to his fiancee. He was tempted by the wilderness which was embodied by the native woman. She “had taken him, loved him, embraced him, got into his veins, consumed his flesh, and sealed his soul to its own by the inconceivable ceremonies of some devilish initiation” (Conrad Pg. 102). Marlow wasn’t lured into temptation since he recognized the danger of temptation with its devastating effects through his contemplation on Kurtz’ life.
Her appearance suggests an element of a female warrior ready to fight for the possession of Kurtz. When seeing her, the Russian said that “if she had offered to come aboard I really think I would have tried to shoot her” (Conrad Pg. 89). Since the figure of the Russian represents the very determination of the mentor, and tries to not allow the temptress to approach the hero, it suggests that the temptress was eager to draw the Shadow, manifested in Kurtz, back to the jungle.
Therefore, it may be assumed that she tried to prevent the integration of the shadow, but failed as Kurtz had stayed on the steamboat and left for Europe. The temptress, try as she may, was unable to keep Kurtz in the jungle with her. Another representation of the temptress is shown through the figure of Kurtz’ fiancee. Marlow describes her in the following way; “She struck me as beautiful – I mean she had a beautiful expression. …She seemed ready to listen without mental reservation, without suspicion, without a thought for herself.
She came forward, all in black, with a pale head, floating towards me in the dusk. …I noticed she was not very young – I mean not girlish. She had a mature capacity for fidelity, for belief, for suffering. …This fair hair, this pale visage, this pure brow, seemed surrounded by an ashy halo from which the dark eyes looked out at me. Their glance was guileless, profound, confident, and trustful. She carried her sorrowful head as though she were proud of her sorrow. ” (Conrad Pg. 12) As the passage shows, for Kurtz, his fiancee represents an ideal woman in every way possible.
She represents the capacity for personal love in man’s psyche. She claimed that “it was impossible to know him [Kurtz] and not to admire him” (Conrad Pg. 116). Moreover, when Marlow kept hesitating to tell her the last words of Kurtz since they were very heavy ones; “The Horror! The Horror! ” she cried “don’t you understand I loved him – I loved him – I loved him! ” (ibid, 204). In her case, the fact that she repeated it three times suggests the spiritual nature of her love.