Heart of Darkness: Journey to Subconsciousness

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Heart of Darkness: Journey to Subconsciousness

Post by Archer on Sat Jan 15, 2011 12:29 am

The novel “Heart of Darkness” clearly shows the influence of psychology and psychiatry which were emerging as developed sciences in Conrad’s time. “Heart of Darkness” gives us vivid descriptions of Marlow’s outward experiences in the Congo and of the thoughts and ideas which crossed the mind during his stay in Congo.

Marlow appears not only as a man of action but also as a thinker who reflects upon everything that he observes. He is a meditative man who always keeps examining his own thoughts arising in his mind. Thus the book is to be treated as Marlow’s exploration of his conscious and sub-conscious mind. The phrase “Heart of Darkness” means the interior of the Congo and also the inmost depths of the human mind.

The novel gives us the internals and the externals. The externals are the scenes, incidents and the persons with whom Marlow meets while the internals are Marlow own thoughts which rise in his sub-conscious. In the beginning, Marlow is described sitting in the pose of a Buddha. He tells that the city of Brussels made him think of a “whited sepulchre”. When speaking about his encounter with the two knitting-women, he also describes his mental reaction to them:

“Hail, old knitter of black wool. Those who are about to die salute you!”

After seeing the knitting-women and after meeting his aunt, Marlow feels as if, instead of going to the centre of a continent, he is starting for the centre of the earth. He describes his reactions to the doctor who examines him that during his travels through the Congo he really became a subject for a psychiatrist.

'The old doctor felt my pulse, evidently thinking of something else the while. "Good, good for there,"
he mumbled, and then with a certain eagerness asked me whether I would let him measure my head.

Being a passenger on a steamer, Marlow had no duties to perform and he felt his isolation among the members of the crew. Then on seeing a warship firing into the forest aimlessly, he finds the action of the warship unintelligible and feels a touch of insanity in it. Later, he sees half a dozen black men linked together with a chain. This sight produces a deep effect on Marlow, giving rise to awful thoughts in his mind.

I could see every rib, the joints of their limbs were like knots in a rope; each had an iron collar on his neck,
and all were connected together with a chain whose bights swung between them, rhythmically clinking.

Marlow’s encounter with the manager of the Central Station and the brick-maker also gives rise to many thoughts in his mind. The manager seems to be a man with nothing inside him, while the brick-maker appears to be cunning. He makes no bricks but acts as a spy for the manager. He further says that no man can convey to others a dream-sensation or the life-sensation of his existence. Marlow then adds:

“We live, as we dream – alone.”

Marlow continues to meditate upon whatever he sees and overhears. At the very outset he says that, in performing the daily duties, a man comes to know the surface reality of life. In command of a steamer on river Congo, Marlow feels like a blind-folded man driving a motor-van over a bad road. Then Marlow describes his reactions to the scenery which he witnesses. He says:

“We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness.”

Marlow discovers a book on the subject of seamanship in the deserted hut. Such a book being found in that hut was something wonderful, says Marlow; but still more surprising were the notes written in pencil in the margin. The notes seemed to be in cipher. Later, Marlow learns that the notes were written not in cipher but in the Russian language. Here Marlow also observes that no man in this world is safe from trouble at any stage in his life.

Marlow’s reflections upon his cannibal crew are also noteworthy. Marlow feels amazed to find that, in spite of their gnawing hunger, they did not kill the white men on board. Marlow looks at these cannibals with great curiosity. He asks whether it was superstition, patience, fear, or some kind of primitive honour, which prevented those cannibals from attacking the white men. Marlow says:

“It takes a man all his inborn strength to fight hunger properly.”

Then Marlow gives reflections upon the helmsman killed by a native. The gloomy and scary expression in the dead helmsman’s eyes haunts Marlow. He says that the helmsman had been lacking self-restraint. There are also Marlow’s reflections upon Mr. Kurtz. He has been told that Mr. Kurtz had collected, more ivory than all the other agents taken together. Mr. Kurtz was gifted with eloquence.

Marlow also gives his own intriguing reactions in telling the facts about Mr. Kurtz. Mr. Kurtz has now become an embodiment of evil. To Marlow it seems that Mr. Kurtz has taken a high seat among the devils of the land. Mr. Kurtz's repute has begun to cast upon Marlow’s mind. Marlow later became a devoted friend of Mr. Kurtz and begins to admire him despite his demonic character. Mr. Kurtz was “the nightmare of his choice”. When Mr. Kurtz has slipped away from the ship into the forest, Marlow shows his loyalty by bringing him back. When Mr. Kurtz fiancée asks him what Mr. Kurtz's last words before death had been, Marlow tells her a lie and says:
"The last word he pronounced was – your name."

As Mr. Kurtz had done no favour to Marlow, this loyalty can only be taken as Marlow’s own response to the primitivism and barbarism. If Marlow had stayed for some time longer in the Congo, he too would have followed the same path which Mr. Kurtz had begun to tread. It is here that we really find Marlow’s subconscious mind working. Marlow has been able to convey to us indirectly and subtly the influence of Mr. Kurtz’s primitivism upon himself. In the last one-third of the novel Marlow tires to lay bare his sub-conscious mind.
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