Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Heart of Darkness

Psychoanalysis and Deconstruction of The Heart of Darkness
Joseph Conrad’s novella, The Heart of Darkness, is an arresting tale of the horror that resides inside of individuals and the situations that allow this depravity to reveal itself.  The depth of Conrad’s work presents the opportunity to read it from many angles, but Freudian psychoanalysis and the deconstruction of Derrida seem like the most profitable approaches.
The Heart of Darkness is everything its title implies.  It is a journey into the heart of man and a revelation of the darkness that resides therein.  Conrad takes the reader beyond the surface civility of human beings to see “the horror” that lies underneath. Psychoanalytical literary theory examines texts to illuminate Freudian themes like repression, projection, the lack of harmony between the conscious and the unconscious, and the elevation of the Ego in narcissistic personalities.  Conrad’s Marlow gives ample opportunity to see this Freudian highlight glow.  Freud, in writing about hero stories, said that “the feeling of security with which I follow the hero through his dangerous adventures is the same as that with which a real hero throws himself into the water to save a drowning man” (50).  Freud connected this to a narcissistic egoism when he wrote, “(i)t is this very feeling of being a hero which one of our best authors has well expressed in the famous phrase, ‘Nothing can happen to me!’ It seems to me, however, that the significant mark of invulnerability very clearly betrays—His Majesty the Ego, the hero of all day-dreams and novels” (51). In Conrad’s Marlow, this is seen specifically in regards to how he interacts with Kurtz’s partner.  Rather than exposing this weaker vessel to the horror of “the horror,” Marlow determines to heroically bear the brunt of what he has encountered. He will be the hero to this lady.  At the same time, he is thankful that he did not die a humiliating death, which for Marlow meant a death for which he would not have a legacy to leave through his final words.  “I was within a hair’s-breadth of the last opportunity for pronouncement, and I found with humiliation that probably I would have nothing to say” (70).    
Deconstruction focuses on the use of language, both in text and context. A deconstructionist reading of the context of The Heart of Darkness would see a great deal of value in how Conrad utilizes binary opposites.  Some of the binary opposites in Conrad’s novella include: white vs black, aesthetic beauty vs pragmatic value (in regards to the ivory), sanity vs insanity, reality vs appearance, and culture vs nature.  The juxtaposition of reality against experience is found in the voice of Marlow (and Conrad through him) when Marlow engages in cultural criticism.  Hans Ulrich Seeber notes that “Throughout his narrative Marlow employs, when adopting the role of a cultural critic, the binary opposition reality vs appearance” (90).  The greatest example of this contrast between reality and appearance is the contrast between the barbaric human nature and cultured civility with the role that culture plays in clothing this naked reality. The progression of Kurtz as a memory - civilized member of society, “first-class agent…very remarkable person” (19) - to Kurtz as reality - raving ivory addict who “lacked restraint in the gratification of his various lusts” (58) and “was mad” (57) - displays this contrast.
Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness can be read to great profit utilizing deconstruction and psychoanalytic theories. By guiding the reader below the psychological surface of the conscious and ideological surface of linguistic norms, the reader is able to sift through the dirt and mine the true treasures that reside in this work.


Works Cited
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. N.d.: Public Domain, 2006. Print.
Freud, Sigmund. “The Relation of the Poet and Daydreaming.” Creativity and the
Unconscious: Papers on the Psychology of Art, Literature, Love, Religion. Ed. Benjamin Nelson. New York: Harper and Row, 1958. 44–54. Print.

Seeber, Hans Ulrich. “Surface as Suggestive Energy: Fascination and Voice in Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”.” Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations: Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 2008. 79-94. Print.