The evil that lies within one being can be difficult to shed light on. Joseph Conrad attempts to shine a bright light on the dark parts of the soul in his novella Heart of Darkness. Marlow becomes obsessed by the will of one man because he thinks he has found his equal, while Kurtz is wholly unaware of this infatuation and is more concerned with exerting his will on the world. To fully understand the message of the novella one must turn a critical eye to character development and imagery. Applying psychoanalysis practiced by Jacques Lacan to the relationship between Marlow and Kurtz will show how the ego attempts to preserve its integrity no matter the circumstance. In contrast, subverting the power dynamics of a traditional view of a story, in which the human characters are the key figures, by applying the deconstruction of Guilles Delueze, will demonstrate the real main character is nature. This analysis will show that deconstruction is a more powerful tool in reaching the inherently fickle nature of aesthetic meaning in literature.
Within western culture and the developed world individuals, or the I, play the largest role in shaping philosophy. Marlow is a pseudo philosopher of sorts and attempts to establish an old maxim that state the individual, or the essence of the individual, can be reached through thought and meditation. A thinking, rational world is set up by Marlow. The reality is one of distortion — a reflection of psyche. Lacan states that the mirror stage can be seen as “the transformation that takes place in the subject when he assumes an image” (619). Marlow assumes the image of Buddha and establishes himself as an authority, granted, this is through an account by the narrator and can be viewed as a projection by them onto Marlow. The importance identifying Marlow as reflecting the Buddha is two-fold. As stated above, it will show how Marlow has elevated beyond the I, and also to allow the reader to identify with Marlow and assume his role in the story. The issue at hand is that Marlow never really transcends the veiling of his ego in the jungle. “The fact is that the total form of the body by which the subject anticipates in a mirage the maturation of his power is given only as Gestalt, that is to say, in an exteriority in which form is certainly more constituent than constituted…” (Lacan 619). In Marlow’s case the Gestalt, or spirit, he sees reflects him is Kurtz. The ideal image is set up and rather than losing his ego in the jungle, Marlow is able to maintain the object-subject split, the I, by seeing Kurtz as a whole and not having to construct his own image. This ego reflection is best demonstrated when Marlow states “I saw it — I heard it. I saw the inconceivable mystery of a soul that knew no restraint, no faith, and no fear, yet struggling blindly with itself” (Conrad). Marlow has assumed Kurtz’s internal struggle, but it is merely a reflection of the struggle Marlow himself is going through. Marlow is in “a drama whose internal thrust is precipitated from insufficiency to anticipation — and which manufactures for the subject, caught up in the lure of special identification, the succession of phantasies that extend from a fragmented body-image…” (Lacan 621). Marlow preserves his ego in the end by dismissing the issue as a matter of pure evil within the heart of one man.
In contrast to reaching the depths of the soul for one individual, deconstructing this novella will reveal the importance of nature and its will in driving the plot by mere presence. Marlow places a temporality on the jungle initially stating it has “primeval mud” and being a “primeval forest.” This would refute the idea that the jungle is in a state of becoming. However, “becoming does not tolerate the separation or the distinction of before and after, or past and future” (Deleuze 471). It is the entrance of the jungle into the mind of Marlow that enters him into a state of confusion. The sheer immensity takes Marlow off track and he begins to question the reality of the story. By attempting to ascribe conformity to nature Marlow has lost his wits. The jungle is infinite in its ability to destroy, chaos is the only order. This paradox of chaotic order chews up all that go inside, but what of the natives? The natives have no name, or are denied this opportunity by the invading whites. Allow the situation to be reversed. It is the imposition of order on an already ordered system that creates havoc. It is “the reversal of cause and effect” (Deleuze 472). In attempting to make progress, and create an effect, the colonizers are the ones that become the beasts as shown by Kurtz. “Paradox is initially that which destroys good sense as the only direction, but it is also that which destroys common sense as the assignation of fixed identities” (Deleuze 473). The mistress is able to live in unison with nature by letting the present take hold of her being, Kurtz and Marlow attempt to maintain proper distinctions and end up losing. When contemplating the jungle, Marlow loses his direction, but Kurtz attempting to master the jungle shows his descent into madness and loss of common sense.
Following the psychoanalysis of Lacan allows the reader to parse out the different shades of evil hidden within a human being, but it leaves out much of the important bits. Psychoanalysis keeps its focus on the granular level and the individual and loses sight of larger metaphysical questions presented to the reader. Following a deconstruction of the novella one can uncover how a stifling nature can exert its own will on a Being. It takes the curtain away showing how uncaring the world is and how humans struggle in vein to master that which makes no sense.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Project Gutenberg. 2009. Ebook.
Deleuze, Gilles. “What is Becoming?.” Literary Theory an Anthology. 3ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Oxford: WileyBlackwell, 2017. 471–473. Print.
Lacan, Jacques. “The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience.” Literary Theory an Anthology. 3ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Oxford: WileyBlackwell, 2017. 618–623.Print.