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The Subconscious in Characters in Gordimer’s Essay

 

She feels bewitched and cut off from reality. Marlow experiences a similar sense of insecurity as he travels up the Congo, a journey he describes as a timeless voyage “back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings” (30). He feels lost and insignificant in his surroundings, which irritates his pressure of being European. Marlow refers to himself and his boatload of pilgrims as wanderers who “could have fancied ourselves the first men taking possession of an accursed inheritance…

We could not understand because we were too far and could not remember, because we were traveling in the night of the first ages, of those ages that are gone, leaving hardly a sign – and no memories” (44). Bam and Maureen also experience this psychological transportation from one reality to another. This would explain their unconsciously developed habit of speaking about life outside of the village in the past tense: Whites in the pass offices and labor bureau who used to have to seal with blacks all the time across the counter-speaking an African language was simply a qualification, so far as they were concerned, that’s all.

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Something you had to have to get the job. – What are you lecturing about? -But he hadn’t noticed he had spoken of back there in past tense (Gordimer, 44). Nature provides an important influence the development of the subconscious in both novels. Conrad depicts Europe as the “conquered earth,” whereas Africa is described as “monstrous and free. ” The unfamiliarity and immensity of Africa’s nature to the Europeans heightens their sense of insecurity. Maureen often stares into the wild expanse of the bush, the borders of her freedom, feeling lost and “pathetic, a cat at a mouse-hole, before that immensity” (Gordimer, 43).

During the night, she feels that even “the moon and stars had been stifled” and the dense bush “that hid everything was itself hidden” (Gordimer, 47). Marlow also remarks on how the vastness of nature causes him to feel small and lost: “Trees, trees, millions of trees, massive, immense, running up high; and at their foot, hugging the bank against the stream, crept the little begrimed steamboat, like a sluggish beetle crawling on the floor of a lofty portico. It made you feel very small, very lost” (Conrad, 104).

As Marlow is recounting a spiritual voyage of self-discovery, the Smales, particularly Maureen, also take a journey into the hidden self. For Maureen, the end result of having to live a life on mere necessity uncovers the selfishness and darkness within. Eventually, she becomes less and less of a wife and mother and drifts apart from the family. When the helicopter is heard at the end of the story, Maureen is more vibrant and happy than she’s ever been since she arrived in the village, and runs for the helicopter, forgetting her family whom she no longer loves or feels obligated to.

Little consideration is taken into the consequences she might bring upon her family or to July’s people. Marlow’s deep psychological journey into his own darkness leads him to the confrontation of the impulsive savagery in his unconsciousness he had never acknowledged while in the deceptive milieu of a “civilized” existence. Much of this reflection is based upon Marlow’s final meeting with the power-hungry egomaniac Kurtz, in which he describes him as “lack[ing] restraint in the gratification of his various lusts, that there was something wanting in him” (Conrad, 133).

The modern odyssey the characters take toward the center of the Self within the primitive wilderness of Africa uncovered much of the character’s personality– the personality that had been hidden under the influence and pressure of being European. The African experience stirred the unconscious forces within the self, bringing out all the true, repressed dark aspects of the personality.

Word Count: 1,490 — Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness, New York: Dover, 1990. Gordimer, Nadine. July’s People, London: Penguin Books, 1981. McLynn, Frank. Hearts of Darkness: The European Exploration of Africa. New York: Carol & Gey, 1992. Show preview only The above preview is unformatted text This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE Joseph Conrad section.

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